Governor-elect Bob McDonnell and his incoming administration face an historic opportunity to draw from the best of the nation’s 5,000 public charter school leaders and models to help energize a high-performing charter movement for the commonwealth. The right charter school strategy can improve what is already one of the nation’s strongest public education systems by offering new options, especially ones with proven track records serving at-risk students, or children who have performed below their potential in traditional public schools. It would also advance the work begun when Virginia instituted its highly-regarded Standards of Learning and Standards of Quality.
Which policies are best for Virginia? Adopting a new approach that combines a number of the following strategies could be expected to make an important difference:
1. Grant the authority to charter new schools to the leadership of some of Virginia’s well-respectedpublic universities. Those with schools of education, like UVA’s Curry School, would make the most natural partners.
2. Create and fund a new, statewide school division for newly-approved charter schools, drawing from the strongest features of South Carolina’s present system. A Virginia Public Charter School Commission could be appointed to supervise the district and make authorizing decisions.
3. Allow charter school leaders autonomy to hire their own administrators, teachers and other personnel as an alternative to the current system that forces them to rely on central school district offices for all of their personnel decisions.
4. Work with military leaders to establish new charter schools to benefit the 76,000 school-age children of active-duty military personnel currently living in Virginia. Belle Chasse Academy, a charter school located at the Naval Air Station-Joint Reserve Base in the greater New Orleans area could provide a valuable model for both military and civilian families here.
5. Strengthen the State Board of Education’s charter application review process to include expertise from charter school leaders and authorizers and provide technical assistance and guidance to local school boards and new charter applicants to help them work through obstacles in the application process.
6. Add charter expertise to the state Department of Education that can help advance a statewide strategy for opening high-quality charter schools, like providing advice and information for local school boards and would-be charter applicants.
7. Expand online learning opportunities throughout Virginia. Revolutionary new digital learning systems are engaging, fully dynamic and adapt to children’s responses to optimize learning. Their cost-effectiveness and scheduling flexibility often makes them far more attractive to parents.
8. Strengthen charter school contracts statewide by clearly defining how they are different from charter applications, and offer Departmental expertise to streamline the contract process.
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