Senate of Virginia Passes Legislation to Change Charter School Application Process

~ Approved legislation preserves local authority, makes only small changes in application process ~

 

RICHMOND—The Senate of Virginia today passed legislation to change the charter school application process in Virginia but preserve the authority of local school boards to approve or reject charter school applications. The bill passed today makes no changes to the charter school approval process, and only small changes to the charter school application process. No school board will be compelled to approve new charter schools under this legislation.

Virginia already has charter schools— publicly funded schools that are given more freedom in their curriculum—but this legislation will improve the quality of applications submitted to local school boards and make the process more open to the public. Governor Bob McDonnell made reform of Virginia’s charter school structure a priority, but his original bill would have given the unelected State Board of Education veto power over the decisions of local school boards.

Under current charter school law in Virginia, applicants can confer with State Board of Education to prepare an application, and then submit their plan to the local school board which either approves or rejects the plan. If enacted, SB737 will allow an applicant to submit their plan to the State Board of Education for a basic evaluation and then submit their plan to the local school board which approves or rejects the plan. Under the new law, if a school board denies an application they will have to state the reasons, then applicants can work with Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction to make technical improvements to their application. Once the changes are made, an applicant can appeal back to the local board, which then approves or rejects the plan again. The appeal process back to the local school board is the biggest change that SB737 makes to existing charter school law. Localities will not be obligated to approve any new charter schools and will have the final word in whether to approve new charter schools. No outside entity will have more than advisory power in the process.

Senate Democrats raised concerns with Governor McDonnell’s original charter school reform legislation. The bill, as introduced, included an appeal by rejected applicants to the State Board of Elections which is comprised of gubernatorial appointees. This arrangement would have given a group of political appointees veto power over local school boards in violation of the Virginia Constitution which says that “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” The arrangement which passed today was introduced in the Senate Education and Health Committee and is the result of many hours of negotiations between legislators, Governor McDonnell’s office, and education stakeholders.

Education stakeholders, including the Virginia Education Association, opposed plans to take decision-making power away from local school boards, as Governor McDonnell's original legislation did, but they do not oppose the legislation that passed the Senate today.

 

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