Friday, February 5, 2016

Thanks to Chairman Landes, Thanks to Mr. Speaker, and BIG Vote on Monday

VEA offers special thanks to Delegate Steve Landes, Chairman of the House Education Committee, for including VEA in the work group for the proposed study (HJR112), on "the revision or reorganization of the Standards of Quality with a particulars emphasis on the use of educational technology."
We also thank Speaker Howell for including VEA on the proposed Commission on Employment Retirement Security and Pension Reform (HB665).

It appears that both the House and Senate will vote on the Charter School Constitutional Amendment this coming week.  Here is what we circulated to Delegates and Senators today:

Charter School Constitutional Amendment:  H.J.R. 1 and S.J.R. 6

This Constitutional Amendment radically changes how charter schools are approved in Virginia.

This constitutional amendment shifts the decision making process regarding charter schools from where it rightfully belongs—with the local school board—to the nine member Virginia Board of Education appointed by the Governor.

Nine members of the Virginia Board of Education, appointed by the Governor, could require the localities you represent to build, staff, and administer a charter school regardless of local needs, fiscal constraints or desires. 

This constitutional amendment would take the charter granting responsibility away from the local governments that would provide the lion’s share of funding for the charter school.  

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 this proposal, the state could require Arlington’s taxpayers to foot 85% of the bill for establishing a charter school.

Virginia’s public schools are high performing.  Research on charter schools suggests their educational outcomes are no better than traditional public schools, and oftentimes worse.

Research does not support overriding the authority of the local school board inherent in this amendment.  The findings of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) on achievement in multiple subject areas found that:

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.

Many Virginia schools would be considered charters in other states – we have many public choice options.

Many schools in Virginia would be considered to be charter schools in other states.  For example, we have governor’s schools, specialty schools, magnet schools, IB schools, and Montessori schools.  Virginia law affords great flexibility to our schools boards, and where population density and funding allow, they are providing public school choice options.  Virginia ranks 6thin the nation in the percentage of public schools which are magnet schools.

Virginia’s current charter school law has prevented the fraud and abuse we have seen in other states.  This amendment would open that door to for-profit charters, which have corrupted the charter movement in fifteen states.

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 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. 

Let us not fool ourselves; Virginia’s underperforming schools are the consequence of the concentration of poverty – not the absence of charter schools.

JLARC’s June 2013 report on Low Performing Schools in High Poverty Communities offered the following:

“More than 50 years of research literature documents the negative effects of poverty on students.”

“The research literature is replete with evidence of the importance of having a sufficient number of effective teachers, using sound instructional practices, and providing additional student support services. Unfortunately, many high poverty schools—especially those that struggle—do not have these. The lack of these key practices further compounds the difficulty of negating the effects of high poverty.”

Facing up to these challenges is the real answer.  The charter school debate is a distraction.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

Your vote is not about whether or not we have charter schools in Virginia:  it is about who makes the charter granting decision.  Please leave the charter granting authority closest to the people with local school boards.  Please vote against H.J.R. 1 and S.J.R. 6