school choice virginia

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.

Delegate Chris Saxman Decides To Retire

In an unusual move, Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20, Staunton) today announced he would not seek re-election this November, despite being in the middle of a campaign as the GOP nominee (see Harrisonburg Daily News-Record). The fact that Saxman, 43, first elected in 2001, is considered a rising figure in Virginia GOP circles (he flirted with running for the U.S. Senate in 2006) added to the surprise. He wrote, this, in part, to his constituents today:

The responsibility of representing you requires, and you deserve, a full-time commitment. As I have recently felt pulled to pursue new opportunities to serve my community and our Commonwealth, I believe the time has come for me to step away from my current elected position. As such, I have decided that I will not seek re-election this November to the Virginia House of Delegates.

I've always believed in a part-time legislature and that our Founding Fathers thought it a good idea to leave the State Capitol for a while and recharge. I have had a view of state government from the inside for eight years as an elected representative, and I now have a better understanding of how our government can be improved. However, if you are only looking out, as I have been, you can't always see clearly what needs to be done on the inside.

I continue to have a strong commitment to public service, and I plan to remain active working to advance commonsense conservative solutions and work on issues about which I am passionate. There are many ways to serve, and I am blessed that several new opportunities to continue this service have presented themselves. I know that now is the time to pursue those projects fully, and I look forward to sharing more details about each of these projects in the near future.

For the past eight years, I have been working diligently on issues that I know will help our families, our Commonwealth and our nation. One of these projects is school choice and ensuring that every child has access to the educational options that will give them the best opportunity for success. It is an issue I have fought for in the legislature, and as many of you know, a year ago I launched School Choice Virginia to further our efforts in this arena. I now look forward to taking a more active role in promoting this issue, which I believe I can better do outside of the confines of the legislature.

The last line rings of soon-t0-be-ex-Governor Sarah Palin. But we do look forward to seeing what endeavors Delegate Saxman will embark upon as he tries to advance school choice, something with which we also fully support. In fact, we partner with him in his School Choice Virginia organization. 

Of course, as it is Virginia, and campaigning is perennial, questions quickly popped about who would take his place on the ballot. The Daily News-Record reports it will be 13-year Staunton City Councilman Richard Bell.

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.

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. 

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.

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.

A Bit Of Breaking News: Saxman To Close RNC Tonight

Look for Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20, Staunton) tonight at the Republican National Convention. He just announced via e-mail that he has been asked by RNC officials to make the Sine Die motion to adjourn the convention after Republican Presidential nominee John McCain's acceptance speech. Delegate Saxman also doubles as chairman of School Choice Virginia, a coalition of groups interested in bringing options in education to families across Virginia, to which The Family Foundation is a part. However small his role tonight may seem, it is a traditional part of any convention, and the nod to Virginia may signal yet another sign of how serious the McCain-Palin campaign is taking the Democrats' challenge to end Virginia's red state presidential voting streak, which has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1964.

Welcome To The Blogosphere School Choice Virginia

Last month, we twice commented on a new coalition we joined to help bring real school choice in public education to Virginia. The group, School Choice Virginia, was founded by Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20, Staunton). Less than a month old, School Choice Virginia has got itself off to a great start, generating press coverage all over the Commonwealth and highlighting the critical need for the freedom parents must have to choose the best possible public education for their children. It also started its own blog where people can stay up to date on new developments in this important issue. We added it to our lengthy blogroll and encourage you to take a look at it from time to time.

Education is important because it affects all citizens. When people fail in life or do not make use of their full potential because of the lack of a quality education, it often manifests itself in crime, poverty and broken families, among other social ills that burden the public at large. The sooner we can create freedom in public education in Virginia, the sooner public education will improve — as will the quality of life for all Virginians. 

School Choice: Whether Educrats Like It Or Not

Despite rabid opposition from the education establishment across the nation, more states are realizing that restoring parents' freedom to choose how their child is educated is critical to guaranteeing the best education possible. In recent years Georgia, Florida, Arizona and Pennsylvania, to name a few, have passed various forms of education choice legislation. Even the District of Columbia has opened the doors of education freedom to parents. In Virginia, the birthplace of liberty in our nation, the idea of extending that freedom to parents of children in elementary and secondary schools is met with ferocious hostility by the education unions and, unfortunately, a majority of legislators. "Choice," it seems, is limited by too many only to abortion. While Virginia government provides direct assistance to families with children in pre-K programs or college, no such assistance is available for kids K-12. In fact, college TAG grants provide essentially the same type of education choice we need in K-12, so for the state to say the general model won't work is a little disingenuous.

We have long advocated for providing parents the freedom to choose the best education environment for their children. As we move through the 21st century, we remain in a 19th century education model — a "once size fits all" approach that fails too many children. Educrats simply offer to continue to pour more and more money into a system — notice their rhetoric is always about the "system" — instead of allowing parents to find the best environment for their children's particular needs.

Tuesday, we were pleased to join several other organizations in Virginia to announce the formation of School Choice Virginia, started by school choice advocate Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20, Staunton). The event garnered a lot of statewide attention (see our post and the news links here, as well as a new article, today, here.) This group will review the myriad of potential proposals and work to bring about real education freedom in Virginia through advocacy and education.

At the Richmond press conference announcing the group, former Washington, D.C., City Councilman Ken Chavous, an African-American Democrat, endorsed our efforts. Mr. Chavous has seen first hand the impact of giving families more opportunities to educate children in communities where far too many never even make it to graduation. He now is traveling the country, working with legislators and organizations, to bring education choice to all of our nation's families.

In his comments, Mr. Chavous made it clear that this is not a partisan issue — it became largely so, as so many others, when it became federalized. Rather, this is an issue of liberty and it's about what is best for our nations' children. We can no longer be held hostage by the education establishment.

Not only will education freedom help students struggling in poor performing schools, but it also will save taxpayers money. Study after study shows that when choice is introduced, enrollment in public schools decreases, but much of the money spent on the students that leave stays with the school. In essence, the schools have more money to spend per child.  Though we know that money isn't the answer, this undermines opponents who claim that school choice will "take money from public schools." Nothing could be further from the truth. Not only that, but the new competition forces public schools to improve — and in many cases they do.

Frankly, school choice is coming to Virginia. It's coming whether the educrat establishment likes it or not. It may take some time, but as more and more states recognize the need for educational freedom, the only question that remains is whether Virginia will take the lead in granting families more liberty, or whether it will once again choose to fall further and further behind the rest of the nation in the area of freedom.

School Choice Now Has A Voice In Virgnia

We will have more on this later, but yesterday we were part of an announcement by Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20, Staunton) that introduced School Choice Virginia, a new 501(c)(4) organization, to lobby on school choice issues. It cannot support candidates. Virginia severely lacks choices in public education. Suppose your local government drew up shopping districts and you could only shop at the grocery store in your district. Do you think the service, quality and pricing would be competitive and the products of high standard? Of course not. It would be a monopoly. That's the case in Virginia with its public education. Not all public school systems are failing to be sure. But where they are, they are failing dramatically, and the only thing that can help them is competition and reform. (For example, look at difficult it was for Richmond to get its first charter school, despite overwhelming parental approval.) Virginia needs more charter schools (which means a drastic improvement over the current law) and more freedom of enrollment within the existing structure among many other options.

We look forward to serving on School Choice Virginia's board, with organizations and individuals such as the Virginia Catholic Conference, home school leaders, Richmond School Board member and reformer Keith West, an independent, and former District of Columbia City Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, a Democrat, and one of the nation's leading school choice advocates.

While it always is exciting to see momentum growing for an issue, evidenced by the formation a new coalition, School Choice Virginia is no reason to believe education reform is anywhere closer to fruition. The General Assembly climate has not been warm to even modest school choice — Delegate Saxman's bill to create private sector funded scholarships was defeated last year — and this new group will need all the grassroots help it can get.