Virginia Takes First Step to Expand School Choice

Some happy news for advocates of school choice in Virginia: before concluding its session in early March, the General Assembly passed a resolution proposing an amendment to the Constitution of Virginia that would potentially make it easier to establish charter schools in the Commonwealth. This is a crucial first step in the process of empowering parents and students to chart the course of their own education.

Introduced by Senator Mark Obenshain, Senate Joint Resolution 256 would empower the Virginia Board of Education to authorize charter schools directly. This is in contrast to the current arrangement, wherein charters must be authorized by the public school division. Those who follow the issue of school choice will no doubt understand the reluctance of these public school divisions to establish competition for themselves.

As Obenshain explains, in Virginia there is a need for this reform:

While there are many great school divisions in Virginia, some are simply failing. Children and their families are paying the price, and these school divisions are the most likely to benefit from this change. Under the current system, Virginia has only seven charter schools – that’s right, seven.

A recent American Federation for Children poll notes that almost 70% of Americans support school choice. It also reported that 81% of Republicans and 60% of Democrats support school choice. If we are serious about providing the best education possible to our children, we must change the way we look at charter schools.

Senator Obenshain is absolutely correct on that last point. Education policy affects us all—whether or not we have kids of our own. Students of today will grow up to labor, create, explore, and innovate. Their potential for success is influenced by the quality of their education, and the quality of their education is influenced by us.

For students who find themselves in an inadequate or failing school system, words offer little consolation when they realize that the trajectory of their life is likely to be flatter than others. We must take the necessary steps to ensure that those students willing to put in the effort to succeed are not hamstrung by circumstance. It’s not only unwise to refuse to act on this issue; it’s unconscionable.

SJR 256 passed the Senate 21-17, and the House 58-42. It will need to be voted on by the General Assembly again next year. If it passes, as a resolution it will sidestep Governor McAuliffe’s veto and be put to the people of Virginia for a vote in

2016. That’s a Presidential year, turnout will be higher, and we will hopefully see supporters of school choice out in force—but we must also expect to hear from those who, almost incomprehensibly, have more important priorities than ensuring that Virginia’s parents and students are given the option to pursue the best possible education.

Until then, the resolution is an encouraging sign of things to come.

To learn more about school choice, visit and connect with others using the hashtag #AmplifyChoice on Twitter.