private schools

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.

McDonnell Backs School Choice Bill, Howell Provides QOD

At a news conference this morning, Governor Bob McDonnell (see news release) announced his support for Delegate Jimmie Massie’s (R-72, Henrico) legislation that would create education freedom in Virginia by providing tax credits for corporate donations to scholarship programs for private school enrollment. This is an issue The Family Foundation has worked on for years — to provide education freedom to Virginia families (see post about data supporting school choice).  Delegate Massie's bill, HB 2314, is similar to programs that exist in several states, including Pennsylvania, Arizona and Florida. In those states, more than 100,000 students now have educational opportunities they would not otherwise have if they remained captive to failing public schools. Each of these programs began as small efforts but, once law, became extremely successful and were expanded by decisive bipartisan majorities.

At today's news conference, a bill co-patron, Delegate Algie Howell (D-90, Norfolk), and a member of the Legislative Black Caucus who lived through the Civil Rights Era, gave us our Quote of the Day in support of the bill:

I supported school choice before school choice supported me.

That's a reference to Virginia's history of segregated schools and the accompanying disparity in education between white and black students during Massive Resistance. The bill targets low income families that face especially difficult educational issues in urban schools. Delegate Howell noted his personal experience: His two grandchildren left public school to attend Saint Patrick Catholic School in Norfolk. When his son-in-law was transferred to Indiana, the children enrolled in a public school and were tested. Their scores were so far above the school district's norms, district officials wanted to meet them.

In an effort to raise awareness to and support among lawmakers, hundreds of Virginians and students are attending Family Foundation Day at the Capitol on Thursday, February 10 (click here to register or call 804-343-0010). A coalition of groups that day will sponsor a rally for education freedom in Capitol Square (and it wouldn't hurt to contact your delegates and senators now to raise their awareness).

This legislation will help low-income children receive the best education possible. Providing education freedom for parents and children fulfils the Commonwealth's promise to ensure a quality education for everyone, and noted the enormous importance of this transforming issue.

As we have noted repeatedly, momentum for education freedom is growing nationwide and in Virginia because parents and families want more opportunities. The cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all education model of the past century is inadequate for today's society. Public policies must empower families to choose the best environment that meets their children's specific needs. For some, that will be public schools; for others it will be a quality private school.

Delegate Tag Greason (R-32, Loudoun) also is a co-patron of HB 2314. Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) is the patron of a similar Senate version (SB 1194).

Join Us February 10 For Family Foundation Day At The Capitol

With the 2010 elections over, Thanksgiving behind us and Christmas just around the corner, most people are giving politics a rest right now. Deservedly so. However, the General Assembly will go into session in early January and The Family Foundation is gearing up for another heated session. With issues such as wrongful death for the unborn, the federal repeal amendment, and a renewed emphasis on school choice, now is not the time for us to rest on our laurels. Our staff is busy preparing to stand in the gap in the upcoming session for the values that we hold dear. With that in mind, please commit for one day — Thursday, February 10 — and attend our annual Family Foundation Day at the Capitol, at the Greater Richmond Convention Center (directions). This is a change from the last few years when our lobby day was on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. This year we will focus on school choice and, in particular, a bill that Senator Mark Obenshein (R-26, Harrisonburg) and Delegate Jimmie Massie R-72, Henrico) will carry. The bill would provide tax credits for contributions to scholarship foundations that in turn sponsor children to attend the school of their choice.

We believe that competition in education and true education freedom are key components to the reforms our current education system needs. In addition to our normal Lobby Day at the Capitol activities, we will join with several other groups for a rally for school choice at the bell tower on the capitol grounds.

A similar bill by Delegate Massie passed the House of Delegates last year but died in the Senate Finance Committee (see how it went down). We need a strong show of support from people across Virginia to convince our senators that school choice is the right choice for Virginia.

So, we encourage you to mark your calendars for Thursday, February 10, and join us in Richmond. Registration for this free event is as easy as clicking right here.

Several private and Christian schools are participating with us in this effort. If you have children in a private or Christian school or have a relationship with one in your area, please forward this link with them. Also, you can e-mail us @ FamilyFoundation@familyfoundation.org and let us know of any schools in your area that might be interested in participating. We will be happy to follow up with them. For more information about the event, call Roger Pogge at 804-343-0010.

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.

Education Freedom = Racism? Some Senate Dems Say Yes, Others Remain Silent

I’ve been working for The Family Foundation for over a decade and thought I’d seen it all, but this morning’s display by several members of the Senate Finance Committee while debating a school choice bill went far beyond anything I’ve ever seen. Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-78, Henrico) presented HB 599, a bill that would provide a tax credit for donations to private school scholarship programs. After several organizations, including The Family Foundation, the Virginia Catholic Conference, a private schools association and a Richmond Jewish school, spoke in support of the bill, the committee took over. From there, the normal decorum of the Senate vanished into a cloud of pure anger.

The hostility of several Democrat members of the Finance Committee to parents and education freedom went on full display. I cannot with words adequately describe what then took place. But you don’t have to take my word for it — we have the entire shameful sequence on video (see our YouTube channel as well)! Here is the entire committee hearing in its entirety:

Part 1, Delegate Massie's Presentation:

Common sense stuff from Delegate Massie and a host of expert witnesses.

Part 2,  Supporting Statements Continue:

An eloquent, passionate, personal and intellectual presentation by Chesapeake resident Alberta Wilson.

Part 3, Finance Staff — No Fiscal Impact And The Outrage Begins:

Senator Howell should know the answer before she calls the witness!

Part 4, More Race Cards, Conclusion and Vote:

Senator Miller: This bill is akin to "selling people" but she'd still vote for it once public schools are fully funded!

In addition to all of this, Senator Henry Marsh (D-16, Richmond) criticized the bill without reading it: He accused the bill of subsidizing parents who send their children to private schools, but the bill plainly states the student must currently be enrolled in public schools to be eligible for the scholarships! I urge you to take the time to watch these short videos. I know you will be as dismayed as I was sitting there watching.

In a nutshell, opponents to the bill implied over and over that efforts to provide education freedom for low and moderate-income families is racially motivated. Without actually making the claim it was clear what they were saying. The harsh tone and rhetoric on display was simply appalling. Perhaps most disappointing is the fact that the children who are suffering most from poor government schools are African-American children in urban areas. It is private schools in those areas that offer true hope for children who otherwise have little chance at success. In fact, one of the most compelling testimonies in favor of the bill came from an African-American woman, Alberta Wilson, a champion of school choice!

Question: Do Senators Colgan, Reynolds and Houck, who also voted to kill the bill, agree with their Democrat colleagues' assessment that school choice is essentially racist?

After watching the videos, ask them yourselves:

Senator Charles Colgan: district29@senate.virginia.gov, (804) 698-7529

Senator Roscoe Reynolds: district20@senate.virginia.gov, (804) 698-7520

Senator Edd Houck: district17@senate.virginia.gov, (804) 698-7517

This morning’s antics are emblematic of the philosophical divide between the political class in Richmond and families. But the anger displayed also is indicative that these legislators are beginning to feel the heat! Just two years ago, school choice bills didn’t even register a procedural motion in Senate Finance. Today, they generate heated responses.

I’ll say it again as I’ve said before — school choice is coming to Virginia! It might not be this year, it might not be next year, but it is coming. Families are demanding it. Watch the video so that you can see exactly whom it is that stands in the way of freedom.

You might not hear much about this in the Mainstream Media, although the Norfolk Virginian-Pilot mentions it toward the end of this article. But that's why we and the New Media are here. And, we'd love to hear from you, too. Let us know what your impressions of the committee hearing are.

Education Freedom Vote Wednesday

Delegate Jimmie Massie’s (R-72, Henrico) bill to provide a bit of educational choice to Virginia students, HB 599, and, therefore, better education opportunities, is in the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday. The bill would provide a tax credit for businesses and individuals that donate to scholarship funds for students in grades K-12. Qualifying families could use those scholarships to send their children to private schools. Despite fierce opposition from the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Education Association, the bill passed the House of Delegates 55-44. The House amended HB 599 in such a way as to ensure that there will be no negative fiscal impact to the Commonwealth — 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. 

Similar scholarship programs in Pennsylvania and Arizona have been huge successes. Thousands of children have been given opportunities for a better education through scholarships created because funding is available. Despite cries of "taking money from children" in public schools, the scholarship programs in those two states have in no way negatively affected public schools.

Unfortunately, the Senate Finance committee has been very hostile to any legislation that provides education freedom to families. Already this session it voted 9-6 to defeat legislation (SB 133) introduced by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) that was very similar to Delegate Massie’s bill.

In two different polls conducted by, or on behalf of, The Family Foundation or other education freedom supporters over the past two years, large majorities of Virginians indicated their support for tax credits like the one created in HB 599. Wednesday, we will see if the Senate Finance Committee is listening to Virginia parents, who want all options for the best possible education for their children; or, to the special interests and education establishment, who have given us such mediocrity that these innovative options are demanded by the vast majority of parents.

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.

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.

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.