RICHMOND, Va. (AP) – A Republican push to expand the number of charter schools in Virginia suffered a significant blow Monday with the defeat a proposed constitutional amendment in the GOP-controlled Senate.
Two Republican senators joined Democrats to reject a constitutional change that would give the Virginia Board of Education the power to authorize charter schools. That authority now rests solely with local school districts, which so far have approved just nine.
Supporters of the legislation said local school boards’ resistance to charters has trapped students in failing schools. Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain said its “immoral” for lawmakers to stand by while some Virginia children get a “world-class” education and others get a “third-world” education.
“By god, we have kids we are ruining and are forgetting about and we’ve got a chance to give their communities the opportunity to come together and offer that opportunity to families and their children,” said Obenshain, who introduced the measure.
The Virginia Education Association has been lobbying heavily against the proposal, which opponents have portrayed as a power grab by Richmond. The teachers’ union says local school districts should be the only ones to green light charter schools because they’ll bear the brunt of the costs and that lawmakers should focus instead on pumping more money and resources into cash-strapped traditional schools.
“The concept of someone at the state government coming down with a big hand and saying we know best … and we don’t care that the local school board doesn’t feel that this is the proper application or the proper way to go in their school district is totally the wrong thing to do,” said Democratic Sen. Barbara Favola.
Proposed changes to Virginia’s constitution have to be approved by the General Assembly two years in a row – with an election in between – before they can be put on the ballot. The charter school constitutional amendment passed both chambers last session, but appears headed for defeat this year after its 21-19 failure in the Senate Monday.
Similar legislation has been narrowly approved by the Republican-controlled House of Delegates, but it will likely meet the same fate as the Senate bill. Even if the proposal is ultimately approved by the General Assembly, voters would get the final say.
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