Virginia Moves to Embrace Virtual Education
Bills Supporting Online Schools Approved by Wide Margins
Online schools aided by state funds appear to be heading to Virginia after both chambers of the legislature last week passed virtual and charter school measures pushed by Gov. Bob McDonnell.
The Senate approved bills March 9 that would give the state a role in the creation and financing of such schools, despite objections from some lawmakers that doing so would raid public school funding in a time of unprecedented budget cuts.
The state House of Delegates had approved the measures the day before. Gov.McDonnell, a Republican, said the legislation would particularly benefit at-risk and disadvantaged students.
“Steps like we have taken today will bring hope to our young people, new resources to our teachers, and help for our parents,” he said in a statement.
Senators voted 35-5 to require the state to develop policies for approving and monitoring providers of online education, while they also voted 27-12 in a related vote to allow the state department of education to help providers of charter schools with their applications. The House passed the bill on online schools by a vote of 80-18 on March 8.
The efforts were in part an attempt to capture up to $350 million in federal funding through President Barack Obama’s Race to the Top stimulus funding for K-12education. Virginia found out two weeks ago it didn’t make the cut for the first round of finalists. The state can reapply in June. ("Race to Top Enters Home Stretch," March 10, 2010.)
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While the charter school measure drew more opposition, virtual schools also would compete with public schools for state dollars, because the funding follows the student.
Virtual schools already operate in the state, but the state board of education has no control over them. State Sen. Stephen Newman, a Republican, sponsored the bill, which would allow the state to regulate new online schools and designate preferred vendors for such operations. He said the legislation would move the state forward.
A related bill to establish publicly funded laboratory schools run by state universities passed on a 25-15 vote in the Senate and a77-20 vote in the House, both March 9.
Sen. Yvonne Miller, a Democrat, and others argued against the measure, saying that Virginia should focus on improving the public schools that are already in place. She argued that the measure would hurt the schools that poor students attend.
Gov. McDonnell’s administration countered the charge that charter and online schools would hurt poor students, noting that such schools have wide Democratic support, including from President Obama.
“The educational initiatives backed by the governor and President Obama are focused on bringing new learning opportunities to all schoolchildren, particularly those who are at risk and disadvantaged,” said J. Tucker Martin, a spokesman for the governor.
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