Yesterday, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced three new grants to Virginia charter school applicants.
Attracting new federal dollars for Virginia charter schools was a goal broadly discussed by legislators when the General Assembly overhauled the commonwealth’s charter school laws last year. Virginia received federal funding for charter schools once before, but that grant expired in 2003.
The total value of the new 3-year funds, pending satisfactory progress reports and Congressional appropriation for future years, is $1.35 million. The grants are for proposed charter schools in Richmond, Norfolk and Charlottesville. Richmond and Norfolk are both school districts where traditional neighborhood public schools have increasingly failed to meet educational targets posed by the Virginia Standards of Learning and the federal No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB).
Last year, 24 Richmond public schools were designated in need of improvement under NCLB. Mayor L. Douglas Wilder has called for the opening of new charter schools as a tool to help meet the educational needs of underprivileged children. In March, Wilder met with U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings and encouraged her to consider financial support for Richmond charters.
“The arrrival of these grants is very good news for those of us who know that school choice works,” said Delegate L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William), who sponsored the new charter school legislation last year.
The proposed Richmond and Norfolk charters are organized by the leaders of the Park Place School, a private school for learning-disabled children from low-income Norfolk families. The school accepts third-grade children who are struggling in public schools, and returns them by the sixth grade achieving at or above grade level in reading and math.
The proposed Charlottesville charter seeks to offer an arts-based education alternative for academically underachieving children in grades five through eight.
To receive their full share of federal funding, the charters must be approved by their local school boards in time to be operating for the 2006-07 school year. The Charlottesville charter school application is currently under school board review, while the Richmond and Norfolk charter applications are still being prepared for submission.
House Speaker William Howell, who has repeatedly championed charter schools in the General Assembly, observed, “The best charter schools work because they allow for new ideas and innovation in local school systems, and greater choices among educational options for all students and parents, regardless of income.”
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