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An Overview of Charter School Legislation

Legislation that would erode local school board authority in regard to the creation of public charter schools is meeting different outcomes in the House of Delegates and the Senate. Charter schools are meant to provide options for parents and students while allowing communities and educators to create innovative instructional programs that can be replicated elsewhere in the public school system. Under current Code, the establishment and operation of public charter schools must involve the consent and approval of the local school board of the school division in which a charter school applicant wishes to operate. According to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), there are currently seven public charter schools operating in Virginia. VACo does not oppose charter schools or innovative approaches to education, but does have a long-held legislative position that opposes legislation that removes authority from local school boards and divisions to establish charter schools.

SB 608 (Suetterlein) and SB 635 (Chase), as originally drafted would have permitted the Board of Education to receive, review, and rule upon applications for public charter schools and enter into agreements for the establishment of public charter schools, among other provisions. This would remove the requirement for local school board authority in this measure. Both bills were passed by indefinitely by the Senate Education and Health Committee, 9-6, on February 10. VACo opposed these bills. The House companion, HB 344 (Davis), has been referred to the House Education Committee. A potential substitute for the bill, which would address local school board authority concerns has been posted, however, the bill was taken by for the day at the February 9 meeting of the committee.

HB 356 (Tata) would authorize the Board of Education to establish regional charter school divisions consisting of at least two but not more than three existing school divisions in regions in which each underlying school division has (i) an enrollment of more than 3,000 students and (ii) at least two such local school divisions have grades three through eight math and English reading Standards of Learning assessment performance in the bottom quartile of the Commonwealth, among other provisions. This bill would also remove the requirement for local school board authority. VACo testified in opposition to the bill when it was heard in subcommittee, however the House Education Committee voted 12-10 on February 9 to report the bill. An identical bill as introduced to HB 356, SB 125 (Obenshain), failed to report from the Senate Education and Health Committee on a vote of 7-8.

In addition to bills specifically addressing public charter schools, two bills seek to modify the existing provisions of code that relate to laboratory schools. Laboratory schools are public schools established by contract between the governing board of a college partnership laboratory school and the Board of Education. Under current code, eligible college partnership laboratory schools are limited to public, nonsectarian, nonreligious schools in the Commonwealth established by a public institution of higher education, or a private institution of higher education that operates a teacher education program approved by the Board of Education. For a variety of reasons, laboratory schools have been underutilized by institutions of higher education.

SB 598 (Pillion) would allow laboratory schools to enter into a memorandum of understanding with any individual or entity to provide apprenticeships, career training, faculty training and support, and equipment, resource, and curriculum support. It would expand eligible institutions of higher education to include any institution of higher education. In reviewing and ruling on applications to form a laboratory school, the Board of Education would be required to give preference to any application form a historically black college or university, any application establishing a laboratory school in an underserved community, and any joint application submitted by an institute of higher education in partnership with one or more local school boards. It would also consider any students enrolled in a laboratory school to be students at the local school division for the purposes of calculating average daily membership (ADM), an important factor in state basic aid funding to local school divisions. The bill was reported and referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee on February 10 by the Senate Education and Health Committee on a vote of 15-0. Though similar to SB 598, HB 346 (Davis), is not a specific in its prescriptions for the Board of Education approval process or funding of the laboratory schools and impacts on ADM calculations. HB 346 was reported by the House Education Committee on a vote of 12-10 on February 9.

VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett

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