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Commonwealth's Counties

The latest on education bills

As mentioned at County Government Day, the constitutional amendments that would have allowed the Board of Education to approve charter schools failed to advance this year. However, two bills on the same topic remain in play. As amended, HB 2342 (Landes) and SB 1283 (Obenshain) would allow the Board of Education to establish regional charter school divisions in regions where each school division has an enrollment of more than 3,000 students and one or more schools in each school division have been denied accreditation for two of the past three years. A school board would be appointed for the regional charter school division, with eight members to be appointed by the state Board and three members to be appointed by the governing bodies of the localities of the underlying school divisions – a composition that is heavily weighted toward state appointees. VACo has historically opposed decisions about local schools being removed from the hands of local school boards. SB 1283 narrowly passed the Senate (21-19) and is headed to the House floor. HB 2342 is headed to the Senate floor. The McAuliffe Administration has stated its opposition to these bills.

HB 1605 (LaRock) and SB 1243 (Dunnavant) provide for Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts and are variations on legislation that has been considered in previous years. SB 1243 failed on the Senate floor (20-20 with the Lieutenant Governor voting against). The House version, which as introduced would have allowed all students who attended public schools for two semesters to apply to participate, has been conformed to the Senate version, which is more narrowly drawn and applies only to children with Individualized Education Programs who live in families with incomes less than or equal to 300 percent of the poverty. The bill allows for the transfer of state Standards of Quality funding to the families of qualified students for use in a variety of education-related expenses, such as tuition at private schools (which could be sectarian or non-sectarian) and fees for standardized tests. VACo has historically opposed such measures due to their diversion of funding away from public schools. The Senate Finance Committee added a reenactment clause to the bill (which provides that it will not take effect unless the same bill is passed by the 2018 General Assembly), and it will be on the Senate floor early next week. The House budget contains $380,000 in FY 2018 to fund start-up costs for the three positions at the Virginia Department of Education that would be needed to administer the program; the Senate budget does not contain funding for this purpose.

VACo Contact: Katie Boyle

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