School choice reforms in Virginia

School choice reforms in Virginia

A look at the reforms seeking to expand parental choice

During the pandemic, parents started thinking about educational options like never before. But, if their local district school wasn’t the right fit for their children, many parents didn’t have choices unless they could homeschool or afford to pay for private education.

Lab schools and charter schools can change that by offering a tuition-free option for parents who are looking for a better pathway forward for their child’s education.

These are public schools but are managed differently so that parents the decision-makers when it comes to where their children are educated.

Some choice schools already exist in Virginia, but not nearly enough to serve enough children in enough areas – and procedural barriers stifle more from developing. That’s why three bills have been introduced into the Virginia legislature that seek to ease and improve lab and charter school authorization and autonomy so that Virginian families can be given more opportunities for choice.

The first bill – HB 346/SB 598 – would allow any public or private college, university or private business (in partnership with a college) to establish a lab school. The legislation also requires that the Virginia Board of Education shall give substantial preference to any application from a historically black college or university or applications that seek to establish lab schools in underserved communities. Lab schools are publicly funded but privately run – as all charters are ­– but they are specific to universities where they study the effectiveness of different learning techniques.

Another bill – HB 344/SB 608/SB 635 – would expand the Virginia Board of Education or local school board’s ability to receive and review public charter school applications. It would also give the Virginia Board of Education the ability to establish public charter schools – and to revoke charters if necessary. Currently, charter schools in Virginia must go through a cumbersome process to become established.

The last bill is HB 356/SB 125. The bill authorizes the Virginia Board of Education to establish a regional charter school division made up of two or three localities that will be supervised by the school board and will also grant charter school boards the ability to approve public charter school applications in the covered region. The key to this bill is that currently, charter schools in Virginia need approval from local school districts – the same school districts that would be competing for students if the charter school were to develop – creating a conflict of interest. This bill would eliminate that.

These bills seek to address the shortcomings of the current school choice laws in Virginia and, if passed, could provide the necessary framework for alternative schools to thrive and allow for parental choice.

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