Great News On School Choice: Virginia's First Charter Elementary School Approved . . . For NowOct 07, 2008
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.