Charter School Reform Fails

Obenshain’s Proposed Amendment One Vote Shy Of Required Majority

Posted: January 29, 2013

HARRISONBURG — The Senate on Monday shot down Sen. Mark Obenshain’s proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution giving the state Department of Education the authority to create charter schools.

The party-line vote was 20-19, with one Democrat abstaining.

Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg, needed 21 votes in the 40-member chamber for his legislation to pass because the measure was a constitutional amendment. For the same reason, Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling could not offer a tie-breaking vote for the GOP.

The bill, which is part of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s legislative agenda, empowers the state department to authorize charter schools at the local level.

Today, only local public school divisions have that ability in Virginia.

Democrats and local officials like it that way.

“Local school boards elected by local citizens are in the best position to determine what’s appropriate for their community,” said Scott Kizner, superintendent of Harrisonburg City Schools. “I’m not necessarily opposed to another model …  if it’s going to better address the needs of students. But that decision should be made at the local level.”

In a statement, Obenshain said, “With their vote today, Senate Democrats sided with special interests over a much more fundamental one: every child’s interest in receiving a high-quality education.”

Obenshain did not respond to messages for further comment Monday afternoon.

Democratic leaders also could not be reached Monday afternoon.

Obenshain has said the amendment was about offering parents educational choice for students who do not thrive in the traditional school setting, or where public schools were failing.

In Virginia, charter schools must meet certain benchmarks, including Standards of Learning test requirements, but they are free from staffing and curriculum requirements. Because charter schools receive state dollars yet have less strict standards, local educators rebuff setting up the alternative schools.

Virginia has only four charter schools and consistently ranks low compared to other states for how easy it is to start one.

Although Obenshain’s bill went down to defeat, the amendment isn’t quite dead yet this session.

On Monday, a House of Delegates subcommittee approved identical legislation regarding charter schools from Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge.

If the full House OKs Lingamfelter’s bill, it will go before the Senate for another vote.

A constitutional amendment must pass in successive years in the General Assembly and then win approval from voters in a referendum to go into effect.

Contact Preston Knight at 574-6272 or pknight@dnronline.com



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