education reform

The Pols Are Out And So Are Their Grades: American Conservative Union Releases Virginia General Assembly Scorecard

The General Assembly wrapped up its 2013 business, officially, April 3, at the conclusion of the "Veto" session. Since then, a flurry of scorecards have been released by several organizations, including the Family Foundation's late last week. Usually released throughout the year to coincide with fundraising galas, elections or other events, many organizations this year dropped their ratings in advance of the Republican Convention this weekend and the June Democrat primary. Today, the American Conservative Union released its third annual Virginia General Assembly Scorecard (click here for complete results). The ACU, founded in 1964 by a coalition of prominent national conservative organizations, is known for its annual Congressional Scorecard, considered the "gold standard" of Congressional ratings. In 2011, it decided to take that success to the state level, with a goal of annual rating all members in each of the 50 state legislatures. That year, it graded five, Virginia being the first of those (this  year it will score 20). Consequently, the General Assembly is the first to be scored three times — more firsts for the Old Dominion.

The ACU Scorecard offers three awards: Defender of Liberty Award, for those who score 100 percent; the ACU Conservative Award for those who score above 80 percent, and the not-so-coveted True Liberal of the Commonwealth Award for those who get a zero — and there are a few of those. However, the number of members in both chambers who scored 80 or higher dropped precipitously, with some who have reputations as conservative stalwarts not even even getting to 80 percent.

The reason? Not only were there several immensely important and substantive votes this year on significant policies with massive ramifications, they were voted on multiple times. For instance, the tax increase bill (HB 2313) was voted on three times (scored twice). An ironic twist is that the House budget, which normally rates as a support because of its pretty tight spending parameters and policy language, was opposed by the ACU when it came out of conference committee with the Senate, specifically because the rejection of the Medicaid expansion was stripped out. That also got a second vote because of a gubernatorial amendment. The Obamacare health insurance exchange also made the list and several conservatives got nicked on that, as well.

The ACU Virginia Scorecard is not only the most comprehensive one of its nature in Virginia — complied annually, with more than 20 floor votes on everything from spending, taxes, education reform, securing voting rights, second amendment rights, religious liberty, right to work, life and marriage, and all else that make up the conservative agenda, it's one the most comprehensive state scorecard in the country, as many legislatures, especially part-time ones, rarely let so many significant votes get to the floor. The ACU only scores floor votes and does not score unanimous or immensely lopsided votes, nor partisan votes, with the exception of significant policy shifting bills.

In a statement released today by the ACU, its Chairman Al Cardenas, said:

On behalf of the American Conservative Union, I am pleased to announce the winners of our 2013 State Legislative Ratings for members of the Virginia General Assembly. For 40 years ACU has set the gold standard for Congressional ratings, and we are now able to offer that same level of transparent information to the voters of Old Dominion so they can hold their elected officials accountable at the state level as well. In our third year rating the Commonwealth, we applaud conservatives in the Virginia General Assembly who continue to fight against higher taxes, against Obamacare and for the rights of the unborn.

The ACU's philosophy in its scorecard system is to track . . .

a wide range of issues before state legislatures to determine which issues and votes serve as a clear litmus test separating those representatives who defend liberty and liberal members who have turned their backs on our founding principles — constitutionally limited government, individual liberty, free markets, a strong national defense and traditional values. The votes selected for our Virginia Legislative Ratings were chosen to create a clear ideological distinction among those casting them.

The Defenders of Liberty Award winners are:

Delegates Rob Bell, Ben Cline, Scott Garrett, Todd Gilbert (TFF Legislator of the Year Award winner), and Margaret Ransone; and Senators Tom Garrett, Jr., Mark Obenshain and Ralph Smith.

ACU Conservative Award winners are Delegates Richard Anderson, Richard Bell, Kathy Byron, Mark Cole, Barbara Comstock, John Cox, Mark Dudenhefer, Matt Fariss, Peter Farrell, Greg Habeeb, Chris Head, Tim Hugo, Sal Iaquinto, Steve Landes, Jim LeMunyon, Scott Lingamfelter, Bob Marshall, Jimmie Massie, Jackson Miller, Randy Minchew, Israel O’Quinn, Brenda Pogge, David Ramadan, Roxann Robinson, Nick Rush, Beverly Sherwood, Lee Ware, Jr., Michael Webert, Tony Wilt, and Tommy Wright, Jr.; and Senators Richard Black, Steve Newman, Richard Stuart, Bryce Reeves, Steve Martin, Bill Stanley, Jr., and Ryan McDougle.

The highest scoring Democrats were Delegates Johnny Joannou and Joe Joe Johnson at 73 and 64 percent, respectively. The both  topped some Republicans, such as Delegate Chris Jones, who scored only 60 percent. Delegate Jones wasn't alone. Speaker Bill Howell only managed to match Delegate Joannou. Senate Republicans saw similar slippages. For example, Senators Jeff McWaters and Frank Ruff, who had scored at least 80 in the first two scorecards, dropped to the low 60s. Majority Leader Tommy Norment and Senator Harry Blevins, who retired recently in mid-term, scored 60 and 57 percent, respectively. Senator John Watkins rated a dismal 48 percent.

Last year, more than 70 Republicans from both chambers scored 80 percent or higher. This year, only 45 did.

The members who earned the True Liberal of Old Dominion Awards are Delegates Delores McQuinn and Roslyn Tyler; and Senators Kenneth Alexander, Janet Howell and Linda Puller.

Quote Of The Day: Educrat Style

Today's Quote of the Day involves your humble blogger. The Conservative Caucus annual legislative agenda news conference had hardly ended when the entire educrat establishment rushed the House Briefing Room as if there was great anticipation for its reply news conference to Governor Bob McDonnell's education reform event yesterday. They were all there: The VEA, the superintendents association, the school board association, you name it. Two men each had two huge stacks of red folders. I politiely asked for one. The first man rejected me, saying they were for the media. I mentioned that he had about two dozen and there were only about eight media in the room. Didn't matter. I then told him, "I do the blog for The Family Foundation." He said if there were any extra I could get one.

So, I approached the other, equally well supplied man, for one:

Admin: May I have one of those?

Educrat: They are for the media.

Admin: I write the blog for The Family Foundation.

Educrat: They're for the Mainstream media! 

Oh! I get it! Any wonder the education establishment is viewed as isolated, statist and the only roadblock to reform of our failing education system? Publicly, their motto is, "It's about the children." In reality, it's all about them.

After I left and it was apparent they had an abundance of leftovers, they supplied our intern one. She taped the event, as well as the Conservative Caucus news conference. We hope to have both up tomorrow.

Exclusive: Governor McDonnell's Education Reform News Conference In Its Entirety!

In a media exclusive, we have Governor Bob McDonnell's entire news conference on education reform from earlier today. Among those who also spoke were Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson, Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico), the patron of school choice bill HB 2314, and Delegate Algie Howell (D-90, Norfolk), one of the bill's co-patrons.

"A child's educational opportunities should be determined by their intellect and work ethic, not their zip code."

Secretary Robinson: 115,000 students in seven states benefit from similar law.

Delegate Howell: "No student should be left behind because they can't afford to attend a great school."

New Jersey: A Nice Place For Education Reform

There's an old saying that, "New Jersey is a nice place to be from." Despite its reputation and the brunt of numerous jokes, New Jersey soon may be the place for cutting edge education reform. At least from an education freedom viewpoint, our friends to the north are getting closer to bringing education freedom and choice to families than we are here in Virginia. Earlier this month, the New Jersey Senate advanced a bill similar to legislation The Family Foundation advocates for here in Virginia that creates a tax credit for donations made to private scholarship foundations. The foundations then can give scholarships to students that meet certain eligibility criteria so that they can attend a school of their choice. Unflattering, and deceptively called a "voucher" by opponents and the mainstream media, these scholarship programs have seen great success in several places, from Florida to Pennsylvania.

The fact that New Jersey is attempting to join the growing list of states that offer this education freedom while Virginia continues to stall shows just how quickly we are falling behind more modern education movements in other states. The legislation in New Jersey faced the opposition of the powerful New Jersey Education Association (sister to our own anti-reform, left-wing Virginia Education Association). But through the leadership of Governor Chris Christie and several Democrat legislators, including a key committee chairman, the bill is advancing — complete with the drama of the Senate committee moving its meeting outside the capitol so that thousands of school choice advocates holding a rally could hear the debate.

Opposition to education reform, such as scholarship programs, continue to be stuck in the past. African-American leaders and legislators all over the country are beginning to reject the typical accusations that these tax credits will "drain money from public schools" or reestablish segregation. Even the Newark Star-Ledger, which has one of the most liberal editorial boards in the nation, has endorsed the tax credit bill.

In fact, the bill introduced by Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico) during this year’s legislative session would have saved the state and local governments money while reducing class sizes (children leaving for private schools), thereby improving teacher-student ratios, something the education establishment claims it wants. Far from hurting low-income families in urban areas, the private-aid scholarship program the bill would establish would provide them a way out of failing schools that are not meeting their needs nor preparing them to be able to compete in a global economy.

Momentum for school choice is growing. Successful programs in Florida, Arizona and other states are improving education outcomes for many children, despite efforts to block them. In the Arizona case, the U.S. Supreme Court will review a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision declaring education freedom is unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit is the most overturned appeals court in the nation and is infamous for its overtly radical decisions. Stay tuned. There will be a lot of action in on this important matter in New Jersey, Arizona and even here in Virginia.

Virginia News Stand: May 20, 2010

Annotations & Elucidations The Left Over The Long Term

Remember Tim Kaine? Barely? Yeah, that's him. He's in the news today, throwing it down at the Republicans. As we say in sports, that's why we play the game. In other news, the guy who succeeded Mr. Kaine, Governor Bob McDonnell, appointed a Family Foundation alumnus to his administration while arrogant academics scream foul at Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli. Also, the AG speaks frankly about what's at stake in the legal battle over the government takeover of health care. Meanwhile, Mark Preston and Dick Morris, in Analysis, get the gold medal in telepathy today with almost identical headlines. You'll have to read their columns to see if they are on the same wavelength about the midterm elections. Christopher Adamo adds his two bits in Commentary.

But there's more to scare liberals than pending elections. Education reform and freedom is gaining more momentum, yet the Left stubbornly resists to a long-failed ideology and continues to pander to unions. Joshua Mercer at CatholicVoteAction Blog comments on a Michael Steele op-ed and the we also posted the op-ed itself. Worse yet for the Left, long term, the pro-life movement looks bright. More and more young people are involved as the pro-abortion crowd dwindles in numbers and energy — a victim of age and technology. David Bass at The American Spectator explains.

News

*McDonnell announces appointments (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Kaine: Democrats will hold congressional majorities (Richmond Times-Dispatch

Cuccinelli: Federalism itself is at stake in health care debate (Woodbridge/Manassas News & Messenger)

Cuccinelli’s demand for U.Va. decried (Richmond Times-Dispatch)

Academics fight Cuccinelli's call for climate-change records (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)

National News

GOP stops $40 billion in future spending for science bill (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Senators press for National Guard troops on border (AP/GOPUSA.com)

'Modifying' Miranda modifies the political debate (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Senate fails to end debate on bank regulation bill (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Obama ramps up criticism of Ariz. immigration law (AP/GOPUSA.com)

Analysis

Open season on political incumbents (Mark Preston/CNN.com)

Open Season on Incumbents (Dick Morris/GOPUSA.com)

The Golden Age of Centrism Wasn't So Golden (Michael Barone/GOPUSA.com)

Commentary

Pro-Choice Twilight Years (David N. Bass/The American Spectator AmSpecBlog)

Another Judicial Power Grab (Thomas Sowell/GOPUSA.com)

Steele: Democrats fail on school program (Michael Steele/CNN.com)

Michael Steele slams Obama for killing DC voucher program (Joshua Mercer/CatholicVoteAction Blog)

Immigration and Liberty (Walter E. Williams/GOPUSA.com

May Primaries And The Coming Electoral Tsunami (Christopher G. Adamo/GOPUSA.com)

Daniel Hannan Speaks To America And Virginia: A Voice Of Reason On Health Care . . . From Europe!

Almost a year to the day that he came to our attention by dressing down his own prime minister at a meeting of the European Parliament, and became an instant international conservative sensation and hero (see video), EU Parliament Member Daniel Hannan appeared on the syndicated Virginia political radio show Freedom & Prosperity Radio where he explained how government-run health care truly works. His insight does not disappoint and lives up to the dynamite first impression he imparted on an international audience when he stormed on to the world stage last year (and which garnered him interview invites on several national news programs here). It is from the perspective of someone who's experienced a socialized health care system both as a patient and a policy maker, and he documents the superiority of the free enterprise system. Hannan may be the leading voice of free-market conservatism in the world, now, and, with interviews like this, will make more friends fast. As for you liberals, and the similar system you are poised to force upon us, he notes that yes, there are death panels in the UK and will be here, too, under ObamaCare.

If you didn't hear this interview because a station in your area doesn't carry the show, not to worry. It's archived online and you can listen to it by clicking below. This edition fo F&P Radio also covers education reform in Virginia and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli's early days.

Click here, then scroll to the link, to listen to the show.

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.

General Assembly Overview At Crossover

Tuesday marked the mid-point of the 2010 General Assembly session. "Crossover" is the day that each chamber must complete work on its own bills. On Monday and Tuesday of this week, each chamber dealt with hundreds of bills during long, exhausting sessions. Members introduced more than 2,600 bills this year, which is less than usual. Observers say there are two reasons for this: The large number of freshman in the House (20) — freshman rarely introduce a lot of bills as they are getting their feet wet, and much of what they do patron isn't overly ambitious; and the budget. Everyone knows new spending is off the docket with the deficit. Even tax reduction bills are rare this year — lawmakers are just as wary about decreasing what they have to spend as they are about spending it. There may not be any new taxes, but forget about the current, regressive ones disappearing. Many bills are duplicates that get "rolled into" each other. Add the ubiquitous commending resolutions for local sports teams or military, fire and police heroes, and the number of policy bills is much smaller than 2,600. But still no less work.

We are tracking more than 100 bills that can either positively or negatively affect Virginia’s families. Many are priorities and our legislative team meets with legislators daily on these important issues. It is impossible to blog about everything we come across, but The Family Foundation e-mail alert system is one of the best in the state — if not the best. Sign up here to stay up to date on the most important issues of the session.

One thing is sure, though: Dozens of members of the General Assembly know exactly where we stand on every one of these 100-plus bills. Each week, we distributes a "bill profile" to select members of each chamber. The profile lists the bills, their status, and our position on them. In addition, we distribute one-page "talking points" on many bills so legislators have the key information on why the legislation is good or bad.

To this point, several positive, pro-family bills have passed through either the House or Senate. In addition, we have successfully killed Planned Parenthood and NARAL’s highest priority bill — one that would have unfairly regulated pregnancy resource centers. Unfortunately, there are a few measures that we still need to defeat. Beginning today with education reform, and over the next few days, we will update you on the status of legislation that we are following.

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.

Listen To This: Tertium Quids Web Radio Interview On School Choice

We've posted a fair amount recently about the charter school situation in Richmond. At first glance, it may seem as if it is a local issue, not much of a statewide concern. But as we pointed out yesterday, reform must start somewhere, and right now a crucial battle with statewide implications is starting in the capital city. The implications for Virginia's urban centers are even more pronounced: If people from all political sides agree education is key for a stable, productive life, especially for those raised in less than ideal neighborhoods, how will they ever get those opportunities if our lawmakers do not provide the alternatives and solutions to such a transparently broken system? As we announced in July, we've joined a new coalition, School Choice Virginia, headed by Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20, Staunton) to try to bring significant improvement to public education in Virginia. Another organization committed to this is Tertium Quids, which provides a lot of intellectual fire power on this and many other reform issues. Yesterday, on its blog, it announced that it will host a very informative live Internet radio interview with school choice expert Adam Schaeffer of the Cato Institute, who also is senior fellow on education reform at the Virginia Institute for Public Policy.

The interview is set for Tuesday, September 23, at 10:00 a.m. (read more here). Tertium Quids blogger-in-chief Norman Leahy will ask the questions, especially in the areas of, according to Leahy's post yesterday, "where the movement stands, what needs to happen next, and the best strategies, policies and arguments choice advocates can use to achieve success." All of which is valuable information as we see first hand the obstructionist tactics by Richmond's educrats who are trying to keep out an alternative from their monopoly despite the overwhelming support from Richmond parents and school neighbors.

The Webcast is a call in show and listener input is welcome. Interested people can also e-mail Leahy at nleahy@tertiumquids.org to have their questions asked on the air. If form holds, TQ will archive the interview for those who can't listen to it live. We hope you take the opportunity to further learn about such an important and transcendent issue. 

Update: Elementary Charter School Still Alive

Virginia may yet get its first charter elementary school. Richmond School Board member Keith West yesterday proposed a new contract for the Patrick Henry Initiative. Although some on the board threatened to committee it to death or kill it in some other parliamentary procedure, the contract apparently got a fair hearing in the board's legal committee yesterday — five hours worth. It will be taken up again by the committee on September 24, then by the board itself on October 6. West, a champion of alternative education and member of School Choice Virginia, an education reform coalition of which The Family Foundation is a part, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch that he sees progress after yesterday's meeting (read here). As we commented in our earlier posts on this subject, linked at the top of this post, the laws in Virginia regarding charter schools must change, and change ASAP. The entire drawn-out process in Richmond will have an impact statewide because the vagaries of the current law are what allowed the restrictive, and unacceptable, elements of the first contract that the board defeated. No surprise: Richmond educrats, who have a vested interest in seeing alternative education fail, wrote the contract so that the proposed charter school would run almost exactly like a regular Richmond public school, i.e., with little flexibility for innovation. In other words, so it would fail! The entrenched will use all tactics at their disposal to stop real education reform and, in Virginia, their arsenal is considerable. Even the Times-Dispatch noted in a previous article (see here):

And with laws that people on both sides of the Patrick Henry issue say are excessively vague, charter school growth isn't likely without big change.

West's counter offer, the one debated yesterday, "reduces administrative burdens and allows the flexibility for the school to be innovative." He then told the Times-Dispatch:

The more I got into that contract what they really had was a Richmond public school by a different name without as many resources. The whole point of a charter school is, you can give them some flexibility. But that flexibility wasn't there.

Opponents have opened another tactical front, arguing that the school won't be "sustainable" for a lack of fund raising (while, of course, the school district spends good taxpayer money after bad on its schools). However, if West's contract is approved, it may be the first breech in the dam, with a shock to the statewide public school system, especially in urban areas. Still, Virginia educrats have lots of fingers to plug the dike. It won't collapse until the General Assembly acts definitively. 

Virginia Still Without Even One Charter Elementary School!

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.