The direction of Virginia education policy may be decided in a few weeks. The commonwealth’s gubernatorial candidates have very different views on how Virginia’s children should be educated. Republican Ed Gillespie supports giving parents wider options for their children like charter schools, home schooling, and others. Democratic Governor Ralph Northam wants to focus on providing more funding for traditional K-12 education.
Their differences are very stark when it comes to charter schools, which are public schools operating with more freedom than traditional school settings. There is support for charter schools across the political spectrum, with many Democrats joining Republicans in backing them as an alternative to traditional schools. However, Virginia does not have robust charter school programs – it has only eight in existence. Governor Terry McAuliffe has opposed legislation that would give the state power to open charter schools, a move that would curtail the authority of local boards of education to stop these schools from opening.
Proponents of charter schools see them as a way to give children who are struggling in traditional school settings more options to succeed. Opponents contend that charter schools take money away from the school system, giving a few students an advantage at the expense of others.
Lt. Governor Northam is married to a school teacher and is not shy about expressing his skepticism of alternative educational options. When it comes to vouchers for private schools or expanding charter schools, he says, “With regards to charter schools or vouchers, we need to make sure that we fund K-12 first before we move on to other things like charter schools.” He also objects to charter schools for monetary reasons, saying, “the charter proposals seen in Virginia would ultimately divert much-needed funding from school divisions, often those that are in the most need.”
Ed Gillespie takes the opposite view. He embraces charter schools as part of a wider plan to expand educational choice in the commonwealth. On his website, he says, “Through more opportunities, we can improve public schools and provide families greater choices. As governor, I will diversify educational opportunities by strengthening our charter schools, expanding the Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit, establishing education savings accounts and promoting policies that are fair to homeschool families — like the Tebow Bill.”
The Republican legislature has passed legislation along the lines of what Gillespie is proposing in his educational platform. If he is elected, it seems likely that many of his ideas would be popular with legislators. If voters return a GOP legislature but give Lt. Governor Northam the governorship, Virginians can expect another four years of stalemate over school choice policy.
Do you support focusing on funding traditional schools over charter schools or vouchers? Or should Virginia expand its charter school network to give children more choices?