Charter Schools Aren't the Solution for Virginia

Principal George Wolfe of the Loudoun Academy of Science greets students of the academy, a magnet science program at Dominion High School.
Principal George Wolfe of the Loudoun Academy of Science greets students of the academy, a magnet science program at Dominion High School. (By Richard A. Lipski -- The Washington Post)
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Sunday, July 12, 2009

The Obama administration and The Post are fascinated with charter schools [editorial, July 5], but charters do not make sense for Virginia. Maybe charter schools are needed in the District or Chicago, but in Virginia they are a solution looking for a problem.

The first question to consider is whether charter schools actually work. A recent study by the Rand Corp. suggests that they produce about the same results as traditional public schools.

Charter schools haven't flourished in Virginia because our school boards already have the autonomy to create specialty schools. In the Richmond area alone we have schools that specialize in the arts; engineering; communication; languages; the humanities; technology; international studies; leadership and government; global economics; the military; science and mathematics; and technology. We have governor's schools, magnet schools and centers for the gifted, and the list goes on and on. Virginia school boards, unlike those in states where charters have proliferated, don't need charter legislation to allow flexibility and innovation. Our school boards have great autonomy and flexibility. They are free to innovate, and they do.

A candidate for governor in Virginia would do well to research why and how charter schools work in some places and why they are not needed in others. The same candidate also should consider the principle that he who pays the piper calls the tune. When the state, for example, pays only 13 percent of the cost of supporting the schools in Falls Church and less than half the cost statewide, should the state Board of Education be able to dictate to Falls Church what schools it must create?

With local governments providing the majority of the funding for Virginia schools, it is difficult for local taxpayers and school boards to accept a proposal from a candidate for governor to transfer their authority to oversee their schools and their tax dollars to a state-appointed board. Such a transfer of authority probably would require a change in the state's constitution as well.

Virginia is blessed with a strong system of public education. It is one we should constantly strive to improve. Continued experimentation with charter schools can be part of that effort, but undermining the established role of local school boards by having a state that is not funding its fair share of the cost of public education dictate the establishment of charter schools seems unwarranted, not to mention unwise.

The writer is president of the Virginia Education Association.

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