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Charter School Constitutional Amendment: Devolution in Reverse

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test-150Perhaps the most radical education proposal before the General Assembly in the upcoming session is Delegate Senator Obenshain’s SJ 256, which empowers the Board of Education to “establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth.”

Currently, this power rests with the local school boards.  For example, the Richmond City School Board established the Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts a stone’s throw from my home.

Senator Obenshain’s proposal dramatically shifts this decision away from a local school board, which is directly accountable to the people by virtue of election or by appointment by those who are elected, to a state level policy board appointed by the governor.

Think of the implications!  Nine members of the Virginia Board of Education, appointed by the Governor, could require your locality to build, staff, and administer a charter school regardless of local needs or desires.   

The fiscal implications are contrary to the lesson of the Pied Piper, “He who pays the piper calls the tune.”  Let’s look at the example of Arlington.  The state provides only 12% of the funds, on a per-pupil basis, to run Arlington’s schools, but under the Obenshain proposal, the state could require Arlington’s taxpayers to foot 85% of the bill for establishing a charter school.

Research does not support the override of the authority of the local school board inherent in Obenshain’s amendment.  The findings of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) found that:

Some charters do better; the majority do the same or worse. CREDO also moved beyond individual student performance to examine the overall performance of charter schools across multiple subject areas. They found that while some charter schools do better than the traditional public schools that fed them, the majority do the same or worse. Almost one-fifth of charters (17 percent) performed significantly better (at the 95 percent confidence level) than the traditional public school. However, an even larger group of charters (37 percent) performed significantly worse in terms of reading and math. The remainder (46 percent) did not do significantly better or worse.

The CREDO findings are consistent with other mainstream research on this topic.

Further, there is significant documentation of fraud and abuse within the charter school movement.  “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud And Abuse,” authored by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education, echoes a warning from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General. The report draws upon news reports, criminal complaints and more to detail how, in just 15 of the 42 states that have charter schools, charter operators have used school funds illegally to buy personal luxuries for themselves, support their other businesses, and more.” 

Senator Obenshain is a self-proclaimed fan of President Ronald Reagan; however, his proposal flies in the face of one of Reagan’s core principles – devolution. Let’s leave the charter granting authority closest to the people with local school boards. 


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