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Charter schools are a good option for education reform in Virginia
ARLINGTON--With a new school year under way, there are stir- rings of grass-roots interest in Virginia at long last using tools that are available to advance parental choice as a key ingredient of public-school reform.
Over the summer, two dozen parents and educators from throughout the state gathered for an all-day meeting at an Innsbrook office building in Henrico County to study how to submit strong applications to start public charter schools. Charters are public schools granted special autonomy to offer distinctive educational programs that any family in a school district is free to choose.
One of the groups interested in energizing this kind of reform is a newly formed Virginia chapter of the Black Alliance for Educational Options. Nationally, BAEO has galvanized support among African-American parents for greater say in their children's education, particularly when their assigned government schools aren't performing well.
"Low-income families are in need of new educational options to increase parental involvement and exposure," says Robert Ashford, the chapter's president.
Another hopeful sign is the interest that a successful school-management company, Mosaica Education, is expressing in operating a results-oriented charter school in a district of great need, such as Petersburg. The Pennsylvania-based company currently operates 47 schools in seven states.
Until recently, it has been difficult to detect a pulse for a Virginia charter-school movement. The original charter law enacted in 1998 gave local school boards little incentive to give charter applications serious consideration.
"A charter school is appealing to some people because it provides a superior education for less expense to the taxpayer, or because it has smaller classes, or because it has a longer school day and year, or has a greater focus on the use of technology for delivering instruction," observed Mosaica CEO Michael Connelly. "But in every community, parents tell us, the charter school's greatest attraction is that it welcomes parental and community involvement."
A revision sponsored by Republican Del. Scott Lingamfelter in the 2004 General Assembly and endorsed by Democratic Gov. Mark Warner removed some of the obstacles that have held back the charter movement's growth in Virginia. It also sets up a state review board that will certify meritorious applications to local school boards.