It's been accurately observed by cultural commentators that the real new year begins each late August or early September — when the school year begins — because so much of our lives really revolve around the ebbs and flows of school. Whether we attend school or work in education ourselves, have children in school or college, or are just college sports fans, the academic calendar — and its ripple affects — dictates much of our living patterns. But alas, nothing is new this school year in Virginia. What was greeted with optimism in May has become a nightmare. Years after the state enacted a charter school law, the city of Richmond was to have started its first charter school and what would have been the state's first charter elementary school. Slower than a snail's pace, but at least a smidgen of education reform and choice. Maybe this would ignite momentum around the commonwealth. The school board voted 5-2 (with an abstention and an absense) to create the Patrick Henry Initiative at the city's old Patrick Henry Elementary School. After months of agonizing detail used by Richmond Public School educrats to sabotage the proposal, the school board trumped RPS with an emphatic vote and overwhelming parent and neighborhood support. The only detail remaining after May was to finalize the contract with the Patrick Henry Initiative.
But who said educrats can't teach? They actually did teach us something after all. If you can't outright defeat a much needed reform, just derail it bureaucratically. Apparently, RPS drew up a contract that was so bad it would do nothing but condemn the charter school to failure (see Times-Dispatch article here). School Board member Keith West, the leading school choice reformer in Richmond and a leader in School Choice Virginia, recognized this and reluctantly voted against the contract when it came up this past Tuesday. His vote ultimately killed the deal.
So Virginia still lacks a charter elementary school anywhere, and the number of charter schools in Virginia is appallingly low. Virginia's charter school law must be amended to make it reasonably efficient to create multiple charter schools in public school districts because the same people who manufacture the bureaucratic hassles that prevent the creation of charter schools are the ones responsible for the public education mess to begin with. Conflict of interest, anyone? It confounds logic how the same people who scream about uncompetitive monopolies, real or imagined, tolerate public education monopolies. How long would you live in a neighborhood that only allowed residents to shop at one grocery store? Not long, because a grocery store with a built in monopoly would have no incentive to provide quality service or goods. Sound familiar?
Help is on the way. It will take time, as the Richmond School Board vote proves. The setback is evidence of the educrats' dug in and fortified redoubts. But you only dig in when superior forces begin to encroach upon your weakly controlled territory. As with all untenable positions, these unnatural fortresses also will crumble one day.