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Charter School Constitutional Amendment: Giving Opportunities to Students

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Imagine that award-winning teachers proposed a high school for under-performing students adding 23 days to the school calendar, and extending the daily schedule by more than an hour each day.

Imagine further that this school allows students to take an additional credit course each year, provides increased “wrap-around” services for students and families, was endorsed by the local business community and teacher organization, … and would accomplish this for the same per pupil taxpayer cost as the traditional public school system.

Ought to be a shoo-in for approval, right?

Wrong. Because the Fairfax County School Board refuses to approve the proposal, the Fairfax Leadership Academy charter school.

That’s one of the reasons the Virginia Chamber of Commerce believes the state should be permitted to authorize charter schools. There are a lot of good reasons for that … and a lot of benefit for Virginia’s children.

Nationally, charter schools are independent public schools that are allowed the freedom to be more innovative while being held accountable for advancing student achievement. They are open to all children, do not charge tuition; and do not have special entrance requirements. Most emphasize helping underperforming children.

But Virginia has very few of these schools, because only local school boards can approve them. Senator Mark Obenshain’s constitutional amendment would offer an additional option for quality schools that can help students.

During my four years on the Virginia State Board of Education (which can review quality but not approve or deny a charter school), we saw some poor charter school proposals – and we said so. We also saw some excellent proposals – but only one has been approved by their local school board.

Many more die before they are even proposed, because local school boards have made it clear they do not want to offer charter schools the kind of flexibility, innovation, and quality human resource and program control that excellent charter schools need if they are going to help children. And because local Virginia school boards won’t offer that, quality charter school providers with demonstrable success records – like KIPP Academy, Success Academy, Aspire Schools and YES Prep – won’t even apply in Virginia.

The most recent study by the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO)

examined charters in 41 urban areas in 22 states over a five year period, and found that charters collectively provide “significantly higher levels of annual growth in both math and reading compared to their Traditional Public School peersthe equivalent of 40 days of additional learning per year in math and 28 additional days in reading. This echoed CREDO’s 2013 report looking at all charters in 27 states: In reading, 76 percent of charter schools did as well or better than their traditional counterparts. In math, 69 percent did.


Struggling children deserve a decent opportunity to succeed. Senator Obenshain’s amendment would provide another pathway to success. Saying “No” serves only to sacrifice a child’s future on the altar of local control for the sake of local control.

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