richmond school board

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.

Great News On School Choice: Virginia's First Charter Elementary School Approved . . . For Now

Congratulations Richmond School Board! You did the right thing and you have our thanks. Last night, after months of wrangling, controversy and approval — only to turn down a flawed contract contrived by the school administration — the board approved by a vote of 5-0 a new, and fair, contract for the Patrick Henry Initiative charter elementary school. The charter elementary school, the first one in Virginia, will emphasize art and science and will be open to all Richmond city elementary school-age students, who must apply for admittance.

Congratulations to Richmond school board member Keith West who carried this to fruition against the greatest of odds and through much travail — he's often outvoted 8-1 — even to the extent of risking no charter school when he killed the first contract because it was a set up for the PHI to fail and thus discredit school choice. But he came back with a new contract and worked with the other board members who conscientiously did the right thing. (West, an education reform and choice advocate, and The Family Foundation, are members of the education reform coalition School Choice Virginia.)

There is one catch to this great news, however, and a big one at that. Notice the vote. Only five of the nine school board members voted. One member was absent, but the other three, who are for the status quo (as if that's working), walked out. (See Richmond Times-Dispatch article here.) Of the five who voted in favor, only two are seeking re-election this November. The next school board could very well vote to cancel the contract — and don't underestimate the power of the teachers union and educrat establishment to protect their monopolistic turf. We'll cross that bridge when we get there.  

In the meantime, we hope the momentum gained from this approval will lead to two things: More charter schools in the commonwealth, now that that other education reformers in Virginia see it is possible. We also hope the General Assembly, in its next session, will update the code of Virginia to allow for an easier, less bureaucratic, less red-tape and less hoop-jumping application process for interested parties willing to create charter schools. These parents and organizations are willing to put themselves under public scrutiny and accountability — something sorely lacking in the teachers union and in many school district central offices — in order to improve educational choice opportunities, competition and excellent education for our children. While they're at it, maybe it can require some of that accountability among the public school educrat establishment.

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.