charter schools

"Tebow Bill," Charter School Bill Face Vital House Floor Votes Tomorrow

One of The Family Foundation's highest priorities this year will be voted on in the House of Delegates tomorrow. HB 63, often called the "Tebow Bill," is legislation that would assist home school students in participating in public school sports (see the video of the House Education Sub-Committee debate here). The home school sports bill, once again this year patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), would break down barriers that prevent home school students from playing public high school sports by prohibiting localities from joining the Virginia High School League, a pseudo-state/private entity that regulates public school sports (and which lobbies the legislature contrary to its own bylaws). Under the provisions of the measure, localities would not be able to contract with VHSL if they don't allow home school students to participate. Half the states in the nation have some type of measure that provides opportunities to home school students to try out for public school sports. Polling indicates that nearly two-thirds of Virginians support fairness for home schoolers.

No home school student is guaranteed an opportunity on a team. They are simply given the opportunity to try out. After years of angst over the proposal in other states, once passed, the fears of the education establishment have gone unproven. In Florida, the executive director of that state's high school sports league said:

There was great opposition; principals felt like if my school is not good enough for you, why should my athletics be good enough? Now everybody's pretty much accepting of it. We had a big fuss over not much.

The children of families who pay taxes that support the local public schools and are part of our communities, continue to be denied the ability to try out for an activity that they are funding for the simple reason that they are home schooled. This discriminatory practice must end.

Also on the House floor tomorrow, delegates will vote on HB 388, a bill that makes the charter school option more accessible to special needs children. Patroned by freshman Delegate Glenn Davis (R-84, Virginia Beach), HB 388 levels the charter school funding playing field for special needs students. The already allocated money will follow the student if this bill becomes law, preventing school districts from using it for their conventional public schools. It has no fiscal impact to the state or school districts and is another incremental step toward more school choice and education competition.

Critics unsuccessfully tried to paint this bill as an unfunded mandate. But, in fact, it ensures existing money is passed through the school system properly. It protects charter school funding — and therefore school choice for special needs students — from being used by school districts for other purposes. The already allocated money would then be applied to fixed costs, such as hiring teachers, purchasing equipment and other essentials, so that charter schools and disabled students have the same opportunity students at other public schools have.

Both bills faced tough roads in the Republican dominated Education Committee. HB 63 got by on a 13-8 vote, while HB 388 reported only by a 12-10 vote. In short, there are enough potential votes to derail either or both bills. Please contact your delegate and ask him or her to vote for both HB 63 and HB 388.

ACTION: Please click here to contact your delegate today and urge them to vote in favor HB 63 (the "Tebow Bill") and HB 388, to help further school choice in public education for special needs children!

Student, Parental Rights Bills Advance!

Yesterday was "crossover," the mid-point of the 2013 General Assembly session and the day when each chamber must complete work on its own bills. It's also a day that saw two substantial pro-family victories. The Senate passed a priority for The Family Foundation — legislation that protects the free association rights of students on public college campuses. SB 1074, patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), ensures that the current practice on the majority of our campuses will continue and that religious and political organizations will not be discriminated against because of their beliefs and values. The bill passed 22-18 with several Democrats joining Republicans to pass the legislation. The House companion bill, HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock), passed 80-19 late last week.

In the House, legislation protecting parental rights as fundamental passed 70-30! The bill, HB 1642, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City County), reflects a recent decision by the Virginia Supreme Court that recognizes parental rights as fundamental. However, 24 states have reduced parental rights from fundamental to "ordinary," making it easier for government bureaucrats to interfere with families. This is significant because courts give special deference to "fundamental" rights and putting it in the Virginia Code secures it from a future Virginia court from rewriting the recent decision. Currently, Virginia law is silent on the status of parental rights, instead relying on hundreds of years of common law, which has granted parents fundamental in principle.

A similar bill previously passed the Senate, but because the bills are slightly different, we will continue to work with the patrons and representatives of parental rights groups to bring them into "conformity" for final passage later this session. The Senate bill is SB 908 and is patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Spotsylvania) and will be in the House Courts of Justice Committee today.

In the past two days, other legislation supported by The Family Foundation also advanced, including bills that combat human trafficking, help ease restrictions on the creation of charter schools, and provide a definition of bullying for the Department of Education as it works on guidelines to help schools combat that serious problem.

Unfortunately, all news today wasn't good. The Senate decided to send SJ 287, a religious liberty constitutional amendment, back to committee, effectively killing the bill for this year. Based on an amendment that passed last year in Missouri, the amendment would have given Virginians the opportunity to vote to re-establish our right to pray at the start of government meetings and protect students' religious liberty rights. As we continue to watch the federal government infringe upon our God given right to express our faith in the public square, Virginians want to be able to respond. Our goal will continue to be to reinforce our First Freedom, through statute and, if necessary, a constitutional amendment. We thank Senator Bill Stanley (R-20, Moneta), the resolution's patron, and Senator Bill Carrico (R-40, Galax), the chief co-patron, for their very hard work and inspired and passionate words yesterday on the Senate floor.

In the coming days we will again notify you to take urgent action on key bills. Thank you to everyone who has contact their legislators so far! You voice does make a difference.

Wild Day At General Assembly Ends With Several Victories

With the first two weeks of this year's short session progressing at a less than brisk pace, it was inevitable that the start of the last week before "crossover" would be hectic. Monday did not disappoint. No less than three important sub- or full committee meetings, starting at 8:00 or 8:30 a.m. with maxed-out dockets, were scheduled. The House Privileges and Elections Sub-Committee on Constitutional Amendments offered up the first good news of the day when it voted to report HJ 684, patroned by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), which would allow the Board of Education to approve charter schools as a way to get around obstructionist local school divisions that now have sole authority to approve them — and the reason Virginia only has four charter schools.  Then the House Education Committee heard debate and voted to report HB 1442, the "Tebow Bill," patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Albermarle), which would allow homeschooled students to play sports for their local public school; HB 1617, patroned by Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Shenandoah), which protects college student groups from allowing membership to those who fundamentally disagree with the organization's mission; and HB 1871, a bullying definition bill successfully amended to ensure that it punishes bullies not based on the characteristics of the victim, but on the act of the bully. Additional language added to the bill ensures First Amendment protections.

Passage of the homeschool sports bill and the college student group protection act are legislative priorities for The Family Foundation. The latter would allow student groups at Virginia state colleges to organize according to their beliefs. Unfortunately, some universities around the country have enacted "all-comers" policies that essentially eliminate these groups from being able to set criteria for their members and leaders. Free association is protected by the constitution and this bill seeks to clarify that. It passed by a 19-2 vote. It also passed a similar bill affecting children of military personnel who constantly are re-stationed at various bases or deployed, but whose children stay in the same area with a relative.

Then, the shocker of the day: Overcoming the predictable opposition of the public schools, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 8-6 to report the Parents Rights Bill, SB 908, patroned by Senator Bryce Reeves (R-17, Fredericksburg). It reaffirms Virginia court rulings that parental rights are "fundamental" into state code. This is significant, because fundamental rights are treated with much more deference by the judiciary than "ordinary" rights.

The afternoon was busier. Senator Ralph Northam (D-6, Norfolk) introduced his second bill of the session in the Education and Health Committee to repeal the ultrasound update to Virginia's informed consent law. Because of its redundancy, committee chairman Senator Steve Martin (R-11, Chesterfield), wasted no time in public debate and it died quickly on an 8-3 vote, prompting Senator Northam to call the committee a "kangaroo court."

The House Courts of Justice Committee had a full docket as well. After debate, it killed on a 10-6 vote HB 1644, patroned by Delegate Vivian Watts (D-39, Annandale), which would have changed the definition of birth control in the Virginia Code to include abortifacients, including the morning after pill. While advocates claimed it was an innocuous bill, it would have forced pharmacists against their conscience to dispense abortifacients to those 17 and younger. Later, after many questions of concern their Senate counterparts did not have, the committee voted to pass by until Friday the House version of the Parents Rights Bill, HB1642, patroned by Delegate Brenda Pogge (R-96, James City).

Please contact members of the House Courts of Justice Committee and urge them, especially if your delegate is on the committee, to pass HB 1642, to secure basic, fundamental rights of Virginia parent in state code! 

Please also contact your senator to vote yes on SB 908 on the Senate floor and no to any motion that would re-refer it to committee or otherwise kill it.

If that wasn't enough, sub-committee meetings started in the evening, highlighted by one of the most talked about bills of session, "The Right To Farm Act," a property rights bill. The highlight of that meeting is detailed in a brief, must read post, here.

Things are moving quickly this week. Please watch your e-mail, this blog and our Facebook and Twitter accounts — which often allow us to update you on events much more quickly — to get the latest news and information on what action to take with your delegates and senators in promoting traditional, conservative family values policies  in Virginia.

Despite Survey, Freedom Isn't Very Free For Virginia Parents

As we celebrated the birth of our nation over the weekend, a George Mason University Mercatus Center study pronounced Virginia the "ninth" freest state in the nation (Richmond Times-Dispatch). Taking into consideration tax rates, criminal law, education and several other factors, the study proclaimed Virginia the freest state in the South. Juxtaposed to this study is an editorial in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal that announced 2011 as “the year of school choice.” According to The Journal, "No fewer than 13 states have enacted school choice legislation in 2011." From Florida to Maine to Utah, state legislatures have enacted policies that advance the cause of freedom for parents of school children.

The piece goes on to say:

School choice proponents may have had their biggest success in Indiana, where Republican Governor Mitch Daniels signed legislation that removes the charter cap, allows all universities to be charter authorizers, and creates a voucher program that enables about half the state's students to attend public or private schools.

Unfortunately, Virginia is not one of the states that has advanced in the area of education freedom. In a state where its politicians tout its business-friendly environment seemingly on a daily basis, parents are unfortunately left with little or no option when it comes to where they can send their children for their education. Unless financially able, most parents lack the freedom to choose the school that best meets their children's needs.

While many other states recognize the advantages of education freedom and its benefits for both families and our economy, Virginia remains stuck in the past, bowing to education elites and failing to live up to its perception of liberty. Unfortunately, this is not just a partisan issue, as some Republicans who wouldn't dare vote against anything that would hinder business in Virginia are all too happy to vote against freeing families from education purgatory, joining Democrats who have blocked even the most modest education freedom legislation for years. All seem fearful of the Virginia Education Association, the state chapter of the powerful National Education Association, which just endorsed President Obama in his 2012 presidential bid despite his Republican opponent not yet being chosen. The VEA leads the opposition to Virginia educational freedom and many elected officials in Virginia march in lock step with the VEA.

The Family Foundation has fought for education freedom since its early days and will continue to do so. Providing families with multiple education options for their children remains one of our highest priorities. Virginia’s ranking as a "free" state would be more believable if parents were actually free.

Virginia News Stand: March 29, 2010

Annotations & Elucidations Obsessed Thee With KC

Never before has a Virginia attorney general dominated the headlines and driven the debate (nationally as well as in state) as Ken Cuccinelli — and he's only a little more than two months into his term. He's everywhere — it's impossible to keep up with the national television interviews and articles. But, according to sources (as they say) it may not be cutting well with fellow Republicans, and Democrats seem to be salivating over his early and frequent actions. Are these the same people who have misread the growing conservative and independent grassroots pushback against ever expansive government control of our lives? Perhaps they misread at their own politcal futures.

No matter the motivations or interest, members of both parties are obsessed with the AG. Dr. Bob Hollsworth, at his Virginia Tomorrow blog, fielded comments from unnamed Republicans about the Cuccinelli phenomana and Norman Leahy at Tertium Quids follows up, both in the Analysis bin today, as the Richmond Times-Dispatch sets the table with its piece in the News section. Also in Analysis is a Style Weekly (Richmond) symposium on the AG, with cute liberal headlines, such as "Right Hook" and "Fight For The Right," as well as the ever-present hit-you-over-the-head, "Sorry Politics."

The lead in National News is more concern about doctors retiring than joining the Obama adminstration, as all health care workers will de facto be when the new law is fully in effect. After all, about the only job growth now is in the federal government (ABCNews.com). In Commentary, we feature Andrew McCarthy and Ed Morrissey of National Review's The Corner blog and HotAir.com, respectively, who reveal more devastating ills of the health care takeover only now discovered. (Nancy said it would be like this!)

Meanwhile, Governor McDonnell manages a headline. He puts his (contributors') money where his mouth is for charter schools. Plus, sad news: Former U.S. Representative Stan Paris passed away. He was 80 years old.

News

Cuccinelli vows no letup to restrain federal power (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

VEA opposes requiring local employees to begin paying share of pension costs (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

McDonnell inaugural fund gives $25,000 to charter school (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Virginia diversity-contract program is faulted (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Man charged with threatening to kill Cantor, family (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Hugo, O'Bannon to compete for House GOP caucus chairman (Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog)

Former six-term Rep. Stanford E. Paris dies at 80 (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Analysis

The Virginia Scorecard 3-28-10 (Dr. Bob Hollsworth/Virginia Tomorrow)

Inside Republican thinking (Norman Leahy/Tertium Quids)

Fight for the Right (Peter Galuszka/Style Weekly)

Right Hook (Warren Fiske/Style Weekly)

Sorry Politics (Margaret Edds/Style Weekly)

George Allen's wrenching presence (Jeff Schapiro/Richmond Times-Dispatch)

National News

Health overhaul likely to strain doctor shortage (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Palin to tea party rally: Don't sit down, shut up (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Obama announces 15 recess appointments, scolds GOP (AP/GOPUSA.com)

White House defends special appointments (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Crist, Rubio face off in 1st Fla. Senate debate (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Commentary

Thugoracy Whips Capitalism (Andrew McCarthy/NRO's The Corner Blog)

Another ObamaCare mandate we had to discover after its passage (Ed Morrissey/Hot Air)

The Law of Unintended Consequences (Doug Patton/GOPUSA.com)

The Record Speaks For Itself (Harris Sherline/GOPUSA.com)

The Constitutional Crisis Started Long Ago (Frank Salvato/GOPUSA.com)

General Assembly At Crossover: Education Reform

Virginia won't truly prosper until it reforms public education. To do that, massive reforms must be made. We must have education freedom and choice. I like to tell people the analogy economist Walter E. Williams: Suppose your local government drew an arbitrary line around your home and said you can only shop at this one grocery store. How good do you think this store's meats, fish and vegetables would be? What about its service? It's prices? Even the quantity of its stock? With a government contrived monopoly, the answer to all of those questions is, not very.  With that in mind, here's a rundown on education reform legislation we are tracking:

» Delegate Jimmie Massie’s (R-72, Henrico) HB 599 would provide better education opportunities for many Virginia students through scholarships created by funds donated by businesses and individuals which would receive a tax credit for such donations. Despite fierce opposition from the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Education Association, the bill passed the House of Delegates 55-44. It now goes to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill was crafted in such a ingenious way as to ensure that there will be no negative fiscal impact to the state — something valuable in today’s economy and something that not many tax credits can boast. In fact, the bill will increase per pupil spending in school districts that lose students to private schools because they will have the same share of federal and local funds to educate less students.

This is a high priority Family Foundation bill and we are working to get a fair hearing in the Senate Finance committee. Unfortunately, this committee has been very hostile to any legislation that provides education freedom to families. Already this session, it voted 9-6 to defeat similar legislation (SB 133) introduced by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg).

Believe it or not, however, this was progress. Last year, no one on the committee made a motion on Senator Obenshain’s bill. This year, they at least had the courage to go on record!

» A bill patroned by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), HB 331, already passed the House by a vote of 95-4. This charter school bill would provide transparency to the charter school application process, requiring local school boards to provide reasons for rejecting charter school applications. Currently, school boards can reject applications without any notice and without providing reasons. The bill now is in the Senate Education and Health Public Education Sub-committee.

» One of Governor Bob McDonnell’s highest priorities is the expansion of Virginia’s charter schools. Public charter schools were designed nearly two decades ago to empower teachers, parents and communities to come together and create a new form of public school that was free from restrictive regulations and systems. The Family Foundation has made the advancement of charter schools a high priority, as we support any option that will increase parental choice in determining the best educational environment for their child. Unfortunately, Virginia’s charter school law is one of the most restrictive in the nation.

Last week, Governor McDonnell held a news conference announcing legislation concerning charter schools. Senator Stephen Newman (R- 23, Forest) is the patron of SB 737 and Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-30, Woodbridge), along with a bi-partisan array of co-patrons, has introduced its House counterpart, HB 1390. These bills seek to make the charter school application process more transparent and requires that the procedures are in place for receiving, reviewing and ruling upon applications for charter schools.

Most significantly, it establishes an appeal process to the state if the local school district rejects the application — which happens with disturbing frequency in Virginia, thus the paucity of charter schools here (three, with a fourth to come, in more than 10 years). Governor McDonnell believes passing this bill would prove Virginia is committed to supporting charter schools and improves its chances for receiving $350 million in federal funding from a multi-billion dollar program President Obama has proposed for charter schools.

» A second McDonnell bill that Senator Newman is shepherding in the Senate and Delegate Richard P. "Dickie" Bell (R-20, Staunton) is patroning in the House, involves virtual schools, which allow public-school classroom programs to be taught in a student’s home via Internet. It meets the same requirements for the student’s attendance, testing and Standards of Learning curriculum that the public school must meet.

» The third bill Senator Newman is carrying would establish "laboratory schools," in which universities set up schools with specialized programs. Delegate Chris Peace (R-97, Mechanicsville) has the House version.

We will work for these reforms and urge you to contact your delegates and senators to do the same. If you don't know your lawmakers, click here to find them. To guarantee to stay on top of these critical issues, which assuredly will shape the Commonwealth's future, click here sign up for our e-mail alerts and forward this link to like-minded friends.

Stat Of The Day (It Should Send The Educrats Running For Cover)

House Majority Whip and Appropriations Committee Vice Chairman Delegate Kirk Cox (R-66, Colonial Heights) appeared on Richmond's Morning News with Jimmy Barrett this morning on WRVA-AM, with the Lee Brothers substituting for Barrett. Most of their questions focused on the budget and some of the myths promulgated by the left and certain media types. Delegate Cox was refreshingly candid and said he was tired of the whine coming from certain local government officials, especially when it comes to education funding. Thus, the Stat of the Day:

In Virginia, since 2000, while student enrollment in Virginia K-12 public schools has grown by 7.2 percent, state spending on same has increased 60 percent!

Okay. You know me by now. I can't stop there. Get this:

Two-thirds of the Virginia budget goes to K-12 public education and health and human services.

So much for the liberal charge about those mean conservatives in the House of Delegates who cut, cut, cut education whenever they can. The fact that Virginia has cut public education spending is a myth, plain and simple. There's about as much truth to the fact that public education funding has been cut as there was that we were in a deficit when Mark Warner shoved through the largest tax increase in Virginia history.

But the education establishment (the educrats) use every opportunity to kick, scream and cry about a lack of funding to block any type of reform possible. Worse, they try to block discussion of reform with General Assembly lobbyists paid for by taxpayers and teachers' dues. Thus, Virginia's worst-in-the-country-charter-school-law, which has been on the books more than a decade and resulted in a meager three charter schools (with a fourth on the way).

Now, after eight years, there's a new team in charge. Hopefully, that will be the catalyst for the truth finally to get equal billing with the myths — and for something positive to get done.

Click Here To Listen To The Entire Interview With Delegate Kirk Cox (5:45)

Virginia News Stand: December 8, 2009

Annotations & Elucidations Little News Is At Least Okay

If no news is good news, a little news must be at least okay. Today's headlines are few but bring encouragement. First, a bill has been filed for the upcoming session of the General Assembly that would restore State Police Chaplains' rights to pray in Jesus' name. Second, charter schools and how to get more of them is gaining momentum, and Governor-elect Bob McDonnell is fully behind that. Third, parties are being planned. Not all are for Christmas.

News:

Bill would give OK to chaplains' prayer (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star)

Virginia’s charter-school law gets failing grade by education — reform group (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Gov.-elect says charter school applications to get boost in Va. (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

House of Delegates races set spending record (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Kaine's farewell party (Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog)

If Charter Schools Make No Difference, Why The 40,000 Waiting List In New York?

Educrats and assorted opponents of school choice and competition love to point to statistics that show student achievement in charter schools is no greater than in government-run schools. Therefore, they demand that we stop "taking away resources" from public schools. (First, can we stop using the euphemism "resources"? It's taxpayer money, for Pete's sake! It doesn't come from the ground or trees or the river, where real, actual, put-to-use resources come from.)

Second, we know what they say about statistics. Third, and most important, if charter schools are so bad or indifferent, why do so many parents and students want in? In New York alone, there is a waiting list of 40,000 students trying to escape the government-run monopoly!

Unfortunately, New York, as does Virginia, has a cap on the amount of charter schools. Different formula, same result — restricting competition and choice as well as the variety of teaching methods and environments. The only thing it does produce is more student failure and teacher inadequacy. But there is hope for New York. Its Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch told Maura Walz of the blog Gotham Schools that she favors raising the charter school cap. There is hope in Virginia as well, since Governor-elect Bob McDonnell, his running mates Lt. Governor Bill Bolling and Attorney General-elect Ken Cuccinelli, and the increased GOP majority in the House of Delegates favor more school competition. With McDonnell's giant mandate, there are rumors of some big idea education reform legislation that may be proposed during the upcoming session of the General Assembly. After all, even President Barack Obama is in the odd position of being on McDonnell's side on this issue. 

For a good briefing on the actual value of charter schools, here's part one of an interview with Caroline Hoxby, Ph.D., the Scott and Donya Bommer Professor of Economics at Stanford University, conducted by the Show-Me Institute in May (for the other three parts, click on this YouTube link and the the "more info" link on the right):

If charter schools are so bad, why are is there a waiting list of 40,000 students in New York?

New State Poll: Virginians Overwhelmingly Favor Education Choice

We are part of a wide-ranging coalition of organizations that earlier today released results of a statewide poll and a study on education choice in Virginia. Among our release partners are School Choice Virginia, the Virginia Catholic Conference, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of AmericaVerizon Virginia, the Black Alliance for Educational Options, the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, The Lexington Institute, the Virginia Council for Private Education and Markel Corporation. From corporations to think tanks to religious organizations and minority advocacy groups — all agree: Virginia needs vastly more options in education that it currently provides.     The poll was conducted in October by Braun Research, Inc., and an accompanying study was authored by Paul DiPerna of The Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. While it shows that while Virginians support public schools, it also shows they overwhelmingly support education freedom and choice, something clearly lacking in the commonwealth right now. (For example, Virginia only has four charter schools.)

Survey highlights include:

» Broad support among Democrats, Republicans and Independents for tax-credit scholarship programs and school vouchers.

» 64 percent of Democrats support for tax-credit scholarships.

» 53 percent support school vouchers.

» They are more likely to favor, rather than oppose, these policies by +43 percentage points and +15 percentage points, respectively.

Also, these stats are sure to blow away the educrats:

» While the survey found that 62 percent of Virginians believe the public school system is "good" or "excellent," when given the choice between sending their child to a public school or an alternative (private, charter or homeschooling) 54 percent said they would choose the alternative.

» Among parents whose children attend Virginia public schools, 40 percent would keep their children there while 39 percent would choose an alternative. (Currently, 90 percent of Virginia’s school children attend public schools.)

Poor educrat monopolists! No one wants to be entrapped by their product. When will government learn that people want choice. Choice is natural and instinctive. It breeds competition and produces better products and services. So when given a choice, people prefer choice to that which is state-run. See the complete survey and study here.

Gala Remarks By Family Foundation President Victoria Cobb

Tonight, you are part of the largest crowd to ever attend a Family Foundation Gala. Thank you for joining us and for your support of our work. Tonight is the first time that we have held our gala prior to Election Day. The past two galas, in fact, took place in the days immediately following elections, where we came together to lick our wounds and try to find solace after two miserable election seasons. Of course, we were being blamed for election loses by both politicians and pundits. Conservative principles, we were told, just can’t win. We were encouraged to shut up and go away. Frustration was growing among those of us who still believe in transcendent values, and that those values can win on Election Day.

So last year, I told you that we as pro-family Virginians had a choice. We could allow the frustration we all have felt to drive us to simply give up, see politics as a lost cause, return to our church pews and leave the field. Or, we could regroup, refocus, reshape our message, and work harder than we have ever worked before to make sure that our values are protected. We could ignore the pundits, the politicians and the naysayers and simply outwork those opposed to us.

Of course, there really was no choice. We simply cannot quit at any point, because we know that the values we share are the only values that can save our culture. They are principles that can make the lives of all Virginians better. We have positive solutions to the problems that families face.

Now, a year later, we are on the verge of an election where, perhaps, things will be different. Next week, we may elect pro-family conservatives to all three statewide offices, and even add pro-family legislators. Tonight, we look forward to Election Day with cautious optimism. One might even say we look forward to the future with hope for change. Perhaps, like me, while you anticipate electoral victory, you realize that it is just one small part of the cultural renewal that we seek. Maybe that is why, tonight, my enthusiasm for candidates is tempered by the knowledge that there is so much more to be done.

Let me make something perfectly clear. The optimism we feel, the anticipation for success, is not built on any single candidate or party. While many in this room are working tirelessly for individual candidates, our hope is not predicated on the person, but on the principles those candidates claim, and their record of action that supports those claims.

Last year, I made a commitment to you that The Family Foundation would not back down, would not quit, but would instead work harder than we ever have before. I pledged to you that we would work to reach more Virginians with the positive message of the sanctity of life, the importance of marriage, of freedom, of liberty. I promised that we would build our network of grassroots supporters. I told you that, through Pastors For Family Values, we would reach more pastors than ever before.

And that’s exactly what we have done. Just look around you this evening. Also, can I have all the pastors that are in attendance please stand so that we may recognize you?

Now, I know that our attendance tonight has just a little bit to do with our speaker, but I also believe it’s because you are committed to the mission of The Family Foundation and the work that we are doing. Tonight is simply a reflection of the value each of us places on this work. A moment of renewal; of celebration; of motivation. Leaving this room last November I know many of us had a renewed excitement, a rekindled dedication, and we got to work.

With that new motivation, this year The Family Foundation and our sister organization The Family Foundation Action undertook the largest and most expensive voter education and voter mobilization campaign in our history, called Winning Matters. Thanks to the help of an organization called Let Freedom Ring, we were given the opportunity to create Winning Matters, and thanks to many of you we met the challenge. This campaign is larger than the marriage amendment campaign of 2006 in both scope and cost. Incredibly, in a time where everyone is feeling the pinch of the recession, we raised the money necessary to meet Let Freedom Ring’s financial match.

Because of many of you in this room, we currently have eleven Winning Matters staff, nine of whom have been working with churches across Virginia, meeting pastors, attending community and political events, using social networking — every tool we can think of — to educate and mobilize our voters. Together, we have contacted more than 4000 churches, distributed over 100,000 GA Report Cards — more than twice as many as ever before — conducted or initiated hundreds of voter registration drives; we’ve identified over 40,000 pro-family Virginians who weren’t registered and mailed them forms and encouraged them to register and vote.

Over the course of this week we will be doing several Get Out The Vote Phone calls with Chuck Colson, Mike Huckabee and Alveda King, the niece of Dr. Martin Luther King. And we will be mailing thousands of voter education pieces to key House districts where pro-family conservatives are on the ballot. As we speak we are distributing nearly 1 million voter guides in 38 races to educate voters, including a Spanish statewide Voter Guide. For the first time this year we have also created a video Voter Guide to distribute virally through social networking sites.

We know that pro-family voters make the difference in every election, either by showing up, or not. We can honestly say that this election season pro-family voters have no excuse. They will be registered, educated and mobilized like never before.

But while we anticipate the success of pro-family candidates one week from now, we must remember that this is not the conclusion of our work, it is the beginning. One need only remember that just a few short years ago many of us celebrated the reelection of George Bush, anticipating the success of our principles. And while we were rewarded with two principled Supreme Court justices, we also became frustrated by someone who saw government as the solution to our economic troubles instead of the cause. We must remember that the terms “bailouts” and “stimulus package” didn’t start with President Obama, but instead with someone that many of us in this room helped get elected.

Unfortunately, that isn’t the first time we’ve been let down by those we’ve supported, and it may not be the last. But it is up to us to make it harder for those who claim our values during election season to abandon them once elected.

We expect, we demand, we deserve better. Let me be clear:

We expect that the first budget introduced by the next Governor of Virginia will ban taxpayer funding for Planned Parenthood.

We expect that the first budget introduced by the next Governor of Virginia will fund roads, not the destruction of innocent human life.

We expect that the next Governor of Virginia will restore right of state police chaplains to pray in the name of Jesus.

We expect that the next Governor of Virginia will not stop at Charter Schools, but will open the locked doors of a quality education for all children in Virginia by providing real school choice.

We expect the next Governor of Virginia to reduce, not increase, the tax burden on Virginia’s businesses and families.

We expect the next Governor of Virginia to care more about the culture of Virginia than the road to the White House.

And we will not accept anything less.

But we will not simply leave it in the hands of the elected officials. Honestly, we cannot expect politicians to change the culture alone. I heard a pro-family leader recently who made a very strong statement about politically active Christians. He said that the first people to quit when we lose elections are Christians and the first people to quit when we win elections are Christians.

Again, let me be clear. Regardless of what happens next week, The Family Foundation will not quit. Winning Matters is not the end, it is the beginning.

The Family Foundation works at the place where our culture, our faith, and our politics intersect. While Winning Matters has concentrated on the political side, it is just part of our mission. We know that the only way we can be sure that our values are truly protected is by winning more people to our cause. There are still too many people who share our pews but don’t share our values or that have not joined the battle. We must reach them. One way we are doing this is our new partnership with Focus on the Family to bring The Truth Project, a comprehensive, transformational worldview-training program, to Virginia. We hope that through The Truth Project thousands of Virginians will be challenged to not just confront the culture, but to transform it. Anyone who has been through the Truth Project, or had the privilege of leading it as my husband and I have, know the impact this program can have.

We will continue to build our grassroots networks across Virginia, one chapter, one county, one Virginian at a time. We will continue to challenge pastors to speak truth to power through Pastors For Family Values. And let me just say how thrilled I am to announce tonight that Bishop Earl Jackson has agreed to be the new Chaplain for The Family Foundation and in that role the new leader of Pastors For Family Values.

Of course, we will continue to do what we do best. We will be there on January 13th when the General Assembly comes to town, advocating for your values in the hallways of the General Assembly building. Legislators can count on seeing our faces as they walk through the capitol building. We will continue to generate tens of thousands of e-mails from people just like you to our elected officials on the legislation, the issues, you care so passionately about. That isn’t going to change.

On the day the Declaration of Independence was signed, John Adams wrote a letter to his beloved wife Abigail. His words ring as true for us more than two hundred years later:

I am well aware of the toil and blood and treasure that it will cost us to maintain this Declaration, and support and defend these States. Yet through all the gloom I can see rays of ravishing light and glory. I can see that the end is worth more than all the means.

As we gaze into the future it is clear that the work we have before us is great, and will cost us dearly. Yet while we have been called to this arena we call politics, while we work day in and day out to affect our culture though civic activism, and that means asking our elected officials to battle on our behalf, our hope, our trust, cannot rest entirely on them. Our trust, our hope, must be on the One who is greater than any. The light and glory that John Adams spoke of came from a recognition that the new nation he was part of founding was birthed with a reliance on God.

The foe they faced was so much greater than we could ever imagine. This rag tag group of independent colonists that bickered among themselves and could agree on little was facing the greatest nation and greatest army on earth. No one in their right mind thought they would be victorious. But we know on whom the Founding Fathers relied.

I am reminded of the words of Psalm 20:

Some trust in chariots, and some in horses; but we will remember the name of the LORD our God.

Tonight, as we look toward the future, while we anticipate new successes, as we hope for a renewal of our culture with the values we hold dear, let us do so with the knowledge and comfort that comes from knowing the one true God of the universe. Yes, we have a duty to carry His banner not just in our homes and churches, but also in our offices, our communities, and our government. And carry that banner we will, with truth and with grace. We will fight with chariots and horses, but we will trust in our God.

Thank you and God bless you.

Told You So: VEA-NEA Say "I Do" To Same-Sex Marriage

Last week, we posted a commentary that related a breaking national news story to a previous post about two Family Life Education reforms we helped get passed and signed into law, and which took effect July 1. The national news story concerned the National Education Association convention, at which it and its member chapters — including the Virginia Education Association — considered adopting a resolution supporting homosexual marriage. Now, it's official. The NEA and its VEA subsidiary voted to endorse the resolution supporting national and state efforts to enact same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partner benefits. But the VEA Web site omits this resolution, while listing issues such as "reducing the dropout rates, properly managing charter schools, controlling infectious diseases in schools, providing resources for boosting teacher quality, protecting substitute teachers, and expanding opportunities for preschool education."

Apparently, when VEA delegation leaders were asked to support a resolution that took no position on same-sex marriage issues, they refused, saying that teachers in Virginia know the issues the VEA is involved with and support them.

Aside from this obnoxious presumption, this means every public school teacher member of the VEA is sending his or her dues money to efforts to bring homosexual-sex marriage to our nation and commonwealth, despite the clear decisions by the General Assembly and Virginia voters to protect marriage. (Remember, homosexual marriage is banned in Virginia by statute and the constitution.)

This latest NEA/VEA absurdity follows a long history of extremist liberal advocacy. Last fall the VEA made news when it urged teachers to participate in "Obama Blue Day" and encouraged voting age students to vote for Barack Obama for president.

It doesn't have to be this way. Pro-family teachers in Virginia have an alternative professional organization that provides similar resources as the VEA — some even better  — without the embarrassing political baggage:

Virginia Professional Educators offers better insurance policies and other benefits without supporting liberal causes and candidates. In fact, it doesn't support causes or candidates.

So, if you are a teacher who feels forced, coerced or peer-pressured to join or remain a member of the VEA, we urge you to look into VPE.

The only way to ensure the VEA is unsuccessful is to defund it. In several states, alternative teacher organizations affiliated with VPE have more members than those states' NEA branches.

As long as teachers continue to send dues to the VEA, they will hire the 40-plus lobbyists they send to Richmond every General Assembly session (not to mention allied organizations and educrat establishment), where they undermine school choice efforts, push for higher taxes, and seek to promote abortion and destroy marriage, rather than advocate for better education.

If you are a teacher, we implore you to either demand the VEA cease to advocate for these extreme causes or join an alternative organization. Last week we wrote this about the impending vote to support homosexual marriage at the NEA convention:

Not exactly what most parents expect from teachers. Most expect them to educate their children. Not indoctrinate them. If, in fact, the NEA goes on record supporting this nonsense, we will watch with a very interested eye as to how its Virginia members treat the new FLE marriage curriculum and whether the administration enforces its implementation as the law now says.

As you can see, we've already started. We hope all fair minded teachers will do the same.

We Had It First: Sampson To Run, Interesting Field Of Democrats

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reports on its Web site this afternoon something we reported Wednesday: That Republican Ernesto Sampson will run for the 69th House of Delegates seat. Sampson, a financial services advisor and VMI grad, will make it official at a campaign kickoff event tomorrow. Interesting headline, however, from the T-D: "Republican expected to seek Hall's House seat," as if Democrat former Delegate Frank Hall owned it. But that's the mainstream media for you.

Sampson, who is originally from Suffolk, is black, and favors charter schools. Whichever one of the three Democrats he faces will create an interesting match-up: Antione M. Green, president of the Richmond Crusade for Voters; Betsy Carr, a Richmond School Board member; and Carlos Brown, a corporate finance lawyer. Green is only 30; Brown either doesn't live in the district yet, or has only moved into it recently; and Carr is white (as is Hall), while the district is majority black.

Depending on how bruising that battle is, and who the eventual nominee is, it may give Sampson an opening, based on race, experience or carpetbagging. Interesting issue note here: Carr was one of the five school board votes that barely approved Virginia's first charter elementary school last year, while Green was a tireless supporter for it. That can't make the powerful teachers union, which plays a big role in Democrat nomination fights, happy. That may cause a further rift. Sampson has made charter schools a major plank in his platform.

"Productivity Collapse" . . . Massive Education Spending Fails Report, But They Want Still More!

We owe our friend Norm Leahy at Tertium Quids a big Hat Tip (here) for bringing this to our attention. It hit us like a hammer over the head last week while putting together the most recent News Stand, where a couple of articles coalesced to drive the point home. The first paragraph has our preliminary commentary on the subject — the relation of government education spending and (lack of) student achievement.  As an April 29 article in the Wall Street Journal on a report by the National Assessment of Educational Progress confirms (here), despite trillions of dollars taxed away from private income at the local, state and federal levels since 1971, standardized test scores for 17-year-olds have improved by exactly three points: by one in English and by two in math. If a three point improvement over nearly 40 years and trillions of dollars of your money doesn't infuriate you, we could elaborate. But Andrew Coulson of The Cato Institute does it better than anyone else. As he posted at Cato's blog (here), and quoted by Leahy at TQ, it's simply a productivity collapse — twice the money for the same results:

"How serious of a collapse is it? Total k-12 expenditures in this country were about $630 billion two years ago (see Table 25, Digest of Ed Statistics 2008). The efficiency of our education system is less than half what it was in 1971 (i.e., we spend more than twice as much to get the same results — see Table 181, same source).

So if we'd managed to ensure that education productivity just stagnated, we'd be saving over $300 billion EVERY YEAR. If we'd actually seen productivity improvements in education such as we've seen in other fields, we'd be saving at least that much money and enjoying higher student achievement at the same time.

My guess is that most people would consider saving $3 trillion per decade and more fully realizing children's intellectual potential are both very important."

Prophetically, Leahy adds:

The knee-jerk response will be to throw even more money at the problem, hoping that somehow, an extra dollop of cash will change everything.

Exactly! On the heels of the report, we have this from the April 29 Richmond Times-Dispatch:

Virginia is in talks with Maryland and Washington about seeking part of an additional $5 billion in stimulus money that will be awarded to states most aggressively trying to improve student achievement.

On what basis is there proof that anything they do with that money will work? When is enough, enough? Certainly not another $5 billion, right?  Solution? Reforms so often blocked by the educationists and unions, such as more charter schools, more choice, more competition. But there's no need to reform when trillions for nothing come your way.

This wasted national treasure reminds me of the refrain of naive liberals about all the money "wasted" on defense spending: "Imagine all the good that could be done with that money instead of building bombs." Never mind that the military constantly improves efficiency and protects our country.

But . . . when it comes to governments, at any level, taxing our hard-earned income and spending it on an education system that has progressed by virtually nothing, it makes us think: Imagine all the good that could have been done with that money if left in the hands of parents to find better ways to educate their children.

Quote Of The Day, Question Of The Day

Delegate Todd Gilbert (R-15, Woodstock) is getting a rep as one of the wittiest guys around the capitol. Tonight, in the House Education Subcommittee on Teachers and Administration, he had a classic. This evening the sub-committee heard Delegate Scott Lingamfelter's (R-31, Prince William) bill (HB 1844) to make it easier for localities to create charter schools by allowing to sunset some of the restrictive language in the statute that created charter schools in Virginia (which critics say was passed not to create charter schools, given the difficulty in creating them and the paucity of them).

Typically, Pat Lacey, a veteran and effective lobbyist for the educrat establishment, which uses its political muscle to block any and every education reform — and even bills that sometimes only remotely affect education — was sitting in the GAB's 4 West conference room's front row waiting to punce on the bill, even after Delegate Lingamfelter amended some of the its language.

After Lingamfelter finished his presentation, Delegate Gilbert opened it up for public comment by asking:

"Would Delegate Lacey like to speak in opposition now?"

The room, knowing Lacey's power may be as great or greater than many lawmakers, errupted in laughter.

However, things are only funny if there's a bit of truth in them, and Delegate Gilbert's keen sense of humor makes a huge point. Powerful special interests funded by huge war chests don't make for a pretty legislative process. But Gilbert wasn't done.

Also speaking in opposition was a man who identified himself as from an organization representing teachers. When he finished his statement, Gilbert pointedly asked, to gain some transparency:

"Do you represent any teachers other than those who work for public schools?"

The man meekly admitted, "No." There. "Teachers unions" don't speak for all teachers and, often enough, not even the ones in their own union. Delegate Gilbert's question should be rote for any education committee member to anyone who claims to represent "teachers," especially those whose mission isn't to educate, but to block reform.

By the way, the bill passed 7-0. Good news for its immediate future. We'll see how it fares down its legislative path. No doubt, the educrats are waiting somewhere along the way, waiting for "Delegate" Lacey and allies to kill it off.

Update: Charter Elementary School To Get Second Life?

That it is more difficult to get a vote on a realistic contract for a charter school in Virginia than extracting crude oil from a banana, as happened in Richmond last week, is proof enough that the issue must be revisited by the General Assembly soon. As we commented on last week, Virginia still has no charter elementary school, although Richmond was on the verge of getting one after its school board approved the Patrick Henry Initiative last spring. All that was left to do was for the school board to approve a contract with PHI. However, the the Richmond Public Schools administration sabotaged the deal by drawing up contract terms so restrictive that it was destined to condemn the school to failure.  Now, Richmond School Board member Keith West, who voted against the contract because of its untenable conditions, will bring the issue back for reconsideration. West, a founder of School Choice Virginia, can do so as one who voted on the prevailing side of the question. As reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch Saturday, West will offer a simpler contract, outlining "what needs to be done, not how to do it."

Of course, telling a charter school how to do its mission defeats the purpose of charter schools — which is to offer alternative methods of instruction rather than the status quo offered by the educrat establishment, that same expertise that has failed so many, especially in urban communities.

While the chances for rescuing PHI aren't great, they are still alive. Overwhelming parent and citizen involvement got the effort this far and may yet finish the mission. They will need all the wherewithal they can summon to do so. West's new proposal first will be sent to a committee by School Board Chairman George Braxton, if it's not killed outright by the board. Plus, Braxton and another previous yes vote, Vice Chairman Lisa Dawson, hinted they would vote no on West's new contract anyway.

What kind of message does scuttling a first-ever charter elementary school send the rest of the state? It should send one to the General Assembly that this alleged system of educational choice must be revisited now, because although it is ostensibly set up for change, it really protects the same old torn up, infertile  turf of the educrat establishment, not the interests of parents, students and new ideas to advance education.

Interview With Omarh Rajah: Part 1

There's been a lot of talk about "firsts" this campaign season. But it seems as if Chesterfield County was ahead of the curve last year when voters inits Matoaca District elected Omarh Rajah to its school board. He is the first African-American to hold that position and the first teacher elected from Matoaka. Running for office for the first time, Mr. Rajah unseated the entrenched incumbent, who happened to be the board chairman. He's also an unabashed conservative. Today we are pleased to begin a three-part interview with Mr. Rajah where we asked for his thoughts on a number of education issues, both local and statewide, from his perspective as a school board member of one of Virginia's largest public school systems. In fact, according to its Website, one of the 100 largest in the country. The interview, which was conducted via e-mail, will be posted today through Wednesday. All questions and answers appear as they were submitted.

Mr. Rajah, thank you for taking time out of your hectic schedule to take some questions from familyfoundation.org. We greatly appreciate you doing this. By the way, you are the first locally elected official to do an interview with us. Congratulations! ; - )

Ready for some questions? Here we go:

familyfoundation.org: When you won election last year, you won on a conservative, traditional values platform in a year that wasn't supposed to be good for conservatives. Yet you unseated the incumbent chairman of all people in your first-ever run for office. What does that say about candidates running on those issues and/or office holders keeping their promises and voting conservative once elected?

Omarh Rajah: First of all, I'd like to thank The Family Foundation for asking me to participate in this interview. Pro-family voters and volunteers made up the backbone of my campaign last year, so it's wonderful to be able to share with you what's happened during my first six months in office.

This is a great question. I think what my election last year shows is that voters respond favorably to traditional conservative values. The key for candidates who support those values is to articulate them clearly for voters to understand what we believe in. In my campaign, that meant a relentless focus on knocking on doors to let voters know I was running to restore morals, values, and principles to our school system (my campaign called me the MVP candidate). It also meant tapping into the incredible network of conservative, pro-family volunteers to knock on doors with me, and it also meant raising the money to send out mail pieces to communicate that message to voters. In a nutshell, we as pro-family conservatives have the right message, we just can't be afraid to communicate it. One thing that proves that is that I carried the traditionally Democratic precinct of Ettrick by about 300 votes, and I did it with the exact same message I talked about everywhere else in the district. The key was that, unlike a lot of candidates in the past, I spent time in Ettrick talking to voters and spreading the message we believe in.

familyfoundation.org: To hear big-government advocates, money is the only thing that matters when it comes to creating a good educational environment. Is money the most important piece of the puzzle? If not, what is, or are, the most/some of the other most important factors?

Omarh Rajah: The most important factor in creating a quality educational system is the involvement of people, starting with parents. Beyond parents, though, it's vital that we attract and retain the highest quality teachers and administrators, both with enough money, but also with a strong, supportive work environment in which they feel their contributions are truly valued. It also takes the support of leaders in the community, be it political leaders, business leaders, civic leaders, etc. That helps create a real sense in the community, and among our children, that education is important to their future and is something they should care about. Children will follow the example adults set for them.

familyfoundation.org: How important is educational choice — such as charter schools, tax credits for private schools, public school choice and keeping home education from getting over regulated — in improving education? Are we doing enough and what will you try to do in Chesterfield to improve choice?

Omarh Rajah: I support choice in our school system. I strongly believe parents should have the right to decide what educational setting is best for their children, be it public schools, private schools, or home schooling, and our government needs to make it easier, rather than harder, for parents to make the choice that's right for their family. On a policy level, one way to accomplish that is for the money to follow the child, in other words, for parents who feel private schools or home schooling is best for their child to receive tax credits to offset their educational expenses. As a member of the School Board, my job is to make sure our public schools are as strong as possible for those children whose parents feel that is the best option. I believe strongly in public education. I'm a product of public schools, as is my wife, and our children are both in Chesterfield County Public Schools. That's why I ran for the School Board — to make sure our Public Schools here in Chesterfield are as strong as possible for my children and for all the other children whose parents have chosen that option.

familyfoundation.org: Virginia's charter school law is very limited. Other states have a wide ranging approach. What would you like to see done to improve and expand charter schools in Virginia?

Omarh Rajah:In Chesterfield, we have high school specialty centers that draw students who, in addition to taking the traditional high school curriculum, also have certain interests and wish to study those interests with other students who share them. For example, one high school has a technology focus, another has a pre-engineering focus, etc. These schools draw students from all over the county, not just those who live within that school district. I think that's a tremendous idea that other large school systems with multiple high schools should seriously consider if they are not already doing so. While these are not the same as charter schools, I believe they provide a real option to help students get the best possible educational experience. With regards to charter schools, I believe that they are an option school systems should consider for students who are struggling in their current environment. Any changes to existing law would probably need to be done at the state legislative level, but I would do all I could personally to support those efforts.

Update: Jewell-Sherman To Pocket $30K For Consulting RPS While At New Harvard Job