Va. push to expand charter schools may make November ballot

WASHINGTON — A push to let charter schools looking to get started in Virginia go to the state for permission instead of local school boards could make it before voters in November.

Debate on the proposed constitutional amendment and related bills in the General Assembly has turned emotional at times, with many Republicans asking why local school boards have not allowed more charter schools as a way to boost education in the commonwealth.

“These are public schools,” Del. Rob Bell, R-Albermarle, says.

Many Democrats in the General Assembly argue that even good charter schools only make things better for a lucky few who win a lottery to get in while taking vital resources away from other schools, so it would be better to invest in making all schools better.

“Since reconstruction, we have operated under the policy that local school divisions, localities, primarily have control over education … the only time we have strayed from that is during Massive Resistance,” Del. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, said during debate on one of the bills Friday.

She emphasized that she was not challenging charter schools, but the bill that would outline the ways many of those schools could open and operate if voters approve the constitutional amendment this fall.

The House of Delegates passed the constitutional amendment Friday, which would allow it to go to a referendum in November as long as related measures are also approved. It passed on a 52-47 vote in the chamber, which is two-thirds Republican.

The Senate version of the constitutional amendment made it to the floor on a 7-6 party-line committee vote earlier this month. Although the Senate could have voted on the amendment any day in the past week, it was passed by each day.

In Virginia, constitutional amendments can be enacted if they are approved by both the House of Delegates and Senate twice, with the second approval coming following a general election. The amendment is then put to voters.

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