House Backs Bill to Give State Authority Over New Charter Schools

Legislation that would give the Virginia Board of Education the final say on the establishment of local charter schools narrowly passed in the House of Delegates today.

House Bill 3 was approved on a 50-48 vote.

The bill aims to amend the state constitution to divest local school boards of their sole authority to establish charter schools in their jurisdictions and transfer that authority to the state board. If the bill passes in the Senate, the question would be placed on the ballot this November.

The Loudoun County School Board issued a resolution last week opposing the legislation. The fear is that the state education board could approve a charter school to open in a locality, even if the locality could not afford it or residents didn’t want it.

“It takes away our ability to reject a charter school application and gives the Board of Education the right to just put one in our county,” Vice Chairwoman Brenda Sheridan (Sterling) said last week.

At the committee level, Leesburg Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-10) was the swing vote to send the bill to the House floor. He said he didn’t want his “no vote” to kill the bill in committee and preclude the rest of the General Assembly from weighing in.

But he voted against the bill in the House today. He said he supports the expansion of charter schools, but doesn’t think that the state Board of Education should undermine a local school board’s decision on the matter.

“I do not think that it is good public policy to allow for charter school applicants to take their applications originally to the Board of Education, a body comprised of unelected gubernatorial appointees, rather than first to the local elected school boards,” he said.

He also noted that Loudoun is a “pro-charter school county,” with two approved charter schools, more than any other Virginia jurisdiction.

The list of delegates who supported the bill in today’s House vote has not yet been posted on the Virginia General Assembly website.

The bill will now go to the Senate for a vote. Tomorrow is what lawmakers refer to as Crossover Day, the deadline for each chamber to act on legislation proposed by its members and move it to the other chamber for review.

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