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The Virginia General Assembly will convene on Wednesday, January 11, 2017 to begin a 45-day session in Richmond. The 2017 session promises to be an interesting one with respect to a number of key budget and policy issues that will affect public education including legislation aimed at expanding charter schools, school vouchers, the Virginia Virtual School, and other comparable policy changes that may lead to a reduction in local autonomy over schools and less funding for public education in the Commonwealth. During the 2016 Virginia General Assembly session the VSBA and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS), aided by a coalition of other education associations, including VASSP worked to defeat proposed amendments to Virginia’s Constitution granting the Virginia Board of Education authority to establish charter schools. Senate Joint Resolution No. 6 (SGR) failed to pass by a slim margin (21-19 vote). In general, charter schools are not subject to the same accountability standards and regulations as public schools. Currently, the power to establish charter schools resides with local school boards. SJR 6 would have granted the State Board of Education the power to establish charter schools.
Virginia has consistently been a leading performer in public education; and if we want Virginia’s public education system to continue to serve as a model for other states, school leaders must continue to communicate their support for issues that advance public education in the commonwealth and also voice their opposition to legislation that would weaken administrative authority in our schools, subvert the autonomy of our local school boards, and/or divert funds from programs and services that support student learning outcomes.
In 2016, HB 8 and HB 389 passed the Virginia General Assembly, but were ultimately defeated as a result of the Governor exercising veto authority. HB 8 proposed to establish a virtual school and shift public funds away from localities to corporations that provide virtual learning programs. HB 389 proposed to provide parents of IEP students with vouchers to be used toward tuition at a private school program and/or post-secondary education institutions. The summaries of HB 8 and HB 389 are below.
HB 8 Virginia Virtual School; Board established. Virginia Virtual School established. Establishes the Board of the Virginia Virtual School (the Board) as a policy agency in the executive branch of state government for the purpose of governing the full-time virtual school programs offered to students enrolled in the Virginia Virtual School (the School). The Secretary of Education is responsible for such agency. The 14-member Board is given operational control of the School and assigned powers and duties. Beginning with the 2018-2019 school year, the bill requires the School to be open to any school-age person in the Commonwealth and provide an educational program meeting the Standards of Quality for grades kindergarten through 12, with a maximum enrollment of 5,000 students statewide. The bill requires the average state share of Standards of Quality per pupil funding for each enrolled student to be transferred to the School.
HB 389 Virginia Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts; established, report, effective clause. Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts. Permits the parents of certain students with disabilities to apply to their resident school division for a Parental Choice Education Savings Account, to consist of the student’s Standards of Quality per pupil funds and to be used for certain expenses of the student, including (i) tuition, fees, or required textbooks at a private elementary or secondary school or preschool that is located in the Commonwealth and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, or national origin; (ii) educational therapies or services for the student from a practitioner or provider, including paraprofessionals or educational aides; (iii) tutoring services; (iv) curriculum; (v) tuition or fees for a private online learning program; (vi) fees for a nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test, an Advanced Placement examination, or any examination taken to gain admission to an institution of higher education; or (vii) tuition fees or required textbooks at a public two-year or four-year institution of higher education in the Commonwealth or at an accredited private institution of higher education in the Commonwealth. The bill also contains provisions for the audit and revocation of such accounts. The bill contains a reenactment clause.