Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) vetoed a bill this week that would have eased the creation of charter schools, delivering a blow to the push to increase the number of charters in a state where they have struggled to gain a foothold.
The bill from the Republican-led legislature would have permitted the state education board to create regional charter school districts for school systems that have at least one chronically under-performing school and appoint boards to oversee the creation of charter schools in those areas.
Bill sponsors Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham) and Del. R. Steven Landes (R-Augusta) said charter schools would offer a “lifeline” for children stuck in schools that have repeatedly failed to meet state benchmarks. The bill, they said, could have expanded options in a state that has been historically hostile to charter schools.
Virginia has nine charter schools. That is one of the lowest totals in the nation.
McAuliffe said in a statement Thursday that the bill is “in conflict with the Constitution of Virginia” because it strips local school boards of authority to make decisions about public schools in their own jurisdictions and would have shifted education funding away from mainstream public schools.
“We should always consider new and innovative ways to provide a world class education to all of our students, but this particular governance framework is not viable within the parameters of Virginia’s constitutional structure,” McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe also vetoed a bill that would have required schools to notify parents when students are assigned educational materials that are deemed sexually explicit, calling the bill unnecessary and potentially burdensome for educators. The bill would have required schools to provide alternative materials for students who opted out of books deemed sexually explicit. It has been called the “Beloved” bill because it originated with an effort to get the Toni Morrison classic banned in Fairfax County schools.
Some parents argued that they are too busy to read every book assigned to their children — particularly when high school students can be assigned more than a dozen — and that schools should be obligated to flag material parents might find objectionable. They said it was akin to the state’s requirement that schools notify parents about sex education materials.
Educators and free speech advocates pushed back, saying that labeling a work “sexually explicit” could lead parents to dismiss a book’s educational value.
McAuliffe, who vetoed a similar bill last year, said in the statement that state law already provides parents an opportunity to object to educational materials assigned to their children and to ask for alternatives. The state board has already determined that “existing state policy regarding sensitive or controversial instructional material is sufficient and that additional action would be unnecessarily burdensome on the instructional process,” McAuliffe said.
This week’s executive actions helped McAuliffe break the record for the most vetoes for a Virginia governor, a reflection of the deep division between him and the Republican-dominated General Assembly.