Loudoun County school leaders are speaking out against legislation that would give the Virginia Board of Education the final say on the establishment of local charter schools.
House Bill 3 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, the question would be placed on the ballot this November.
In its meeting Tuesday night, Loudoun County School Board unanimously supported a resolution opposing the bill.
“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.
Joey Mathews, president of the school employee advocate group Loudoun Education Association, pointed out that, if the constitutional amendment was successful, Loudoun may be required to build, staff and operate a charter school it doesn’t want and can’t afford.
For example, in 2012, the state Board of Education approved an application for the Loudoun Math & IT Academy. The Loudoun School Board ultimately rejected the proposed charter school, citing significant gaps in its academic and financial plans. Loudoun has approved two charter school applications in the past three years, more than any other Virginia school division. Middleburg Community Charter School opened in the fall of 2014 and Hillsboro Charter Academy will open in September.
“Let’s keep control of our charter schools at the local level,” Mathews said.
The bill narrowly passed at the committee level. Leesburg’s Del. J. Randall Minchew (R-10) was the swing vote and one of nine delegates who supported the legislation in the House Privileges and Elections Committee. In an interview today, he said he didn’t want his “no vote” to kill the bill without the rest of the General Assembly weighing in.
He’s still unsure whether he will support the amendment on the House floor. He said he first wants to know whether local school boards will be left to pay for a charter school that they opposed or if the state board will cover the costs.
“If the answer is that this charter school has to be paid for this local school board with money from the local Board of Supervisors I will not be able to vote for it,” Minchew said.
The House is scheduled to vote on the bill Friday.
With an 7-1-1 vote, the School Board also approved a resolution to oppose legislation that would allow parents to take 90 percent of their child’s share of state school funding and put it toward other educational expenses, like private school tuition.
House Bill 389, sponsored by Loudoun Del. David LaRock (R-33), has been assigned to the Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee. Two other Loudoun legislators are patrons of the bill, Del. Thomas “Tag” Greason (R-32) and Sen. Richard H. Black (R-13).
School Board member Debbie Rose (Algonkian), the sole dissenter, said of her vote, while families in Loudoun may not need this flexibility, “it is probably a much needed option in other jurisdictions that may not be doing such a great job.”