Governor Bob McDonnell Announces Education Reform Legislation

McDonnell Joined at Unveiling of “The Opportunity to Learn” Legislative Package by

Former Governor L. Douglas Wilder; Republican and Democratic Legislators

Highlights Bipartisan Commitment to Placing Virginia in the Vanguard of the National Charter School Movement; Promotes Virtual and College Laboratory Schools

RICHMOND- Governor Bob McDonnell held an afternoon press conference today to unveil “The Opportunity to Learn,” his education reform legislative package for this current session of the General Assembly designed to offer options and innovation for all Virginia schoolchildren, but especially those who are at-risk or in underperforming school systems.  “The Opportunity to Learn” package is highlighted by measures to facilitate the expansion of high quality charter schools in the Commonwealth, and further utilize and incorporate virtual and college laboratory schools into Virginia’s public school system. McDonnell was joined at the event by a bipartisan group of Virginia leaders, all united in support of greater educational options for Virginia students. Among those in attendance were former Virginia Governor L. Douglas Wilder; Virginia Secretary of Education Gerard Robinson; Delegate Rosalyn Dance (D-Petersburg); and Senator Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg). Also at today’s event were representatives from the University of Virginia and Virginia Commonwealth University, as well as parents and prospective students at the soon-to-open Patrick Henry Charter School in Richmond.  Hampton University President Bill Harvey, a supporter of the legislation, was unable to attend as scheduled due to winter weather. 

Speaking about “The Opportunity to Learn” legislative package, Governor McDonnell remarked, “There is broad support for the basic principle that a child’s educational opportunities should be determined by her intellect and work ethic, not her zip code. We all agree that every Virginia student, in every community, should have the opportunity to learn and to grow and to compete in this global economy. President Obama speaks often of his commitment to expanding educational opportunities and charter schools for young people. I share that commitment. This kind of bipartisan support for increasing opportunities and choices within our public education system can be seen in the distinguished group of leaders here with us today. We all know that when we bring innovation to education the winners are the students, parents and teachers of Virginia. And with the President’s “Race to the Top” program allocating federal grant monies to states that share the Administration’s commitment to educational innovation, Virginia can literally not afford to stick to the status quo.”

McDonnell continued, “It has been 12 years since we passed our law authorizing charter schools in the Commonwealth. However, in a nation with 4600 charter schools Virginia has only three, with a fourth slated to open soon in Richmond. We rank at the very bottom in studies of state’s charter school laws. That represents a failure to follow through with the clear intention of the General Assembly to provide this additional educational opportunity for Virginia students. Part of the difficulty has come from uncertainty regarding how to evaluate charter school applications. Local school boards have struggled to determine a good proposal from a bad one. Our legislation will create a process in which the Board of Education, utilizing charter school experts, will review all applications before they come before a local School Board. This will help provide needed guidance and direction and consistency in the approval process and will also add an appeals process, to allow charter school applicants an additional opportunity to receive approval. Charter schools are public schools with the ability to innovate in the education of our young people. They are not a silver bullet, but for parents and children, seeking new options in the public education system, they can be a positive and rewarding alternative.”

McDonnell concluded, “The 21st Century economy is not limited by regional or national borders, and the 21st Century education system should no longer be limited by traditional brick and mortar. Virtual schools provide excellent instruction, adhere to the same Standards of Learning as all Virginia schools, and bring the world to children in their own cities and counties. We should broaden access to this dynamic means of education. And we should also utilize the incredible resources and talent available through Virginia’s world-class colleges and universities by expanding the number of college laboratory schools in our state. We know education doesn’t stop at the 12th grade, and partnering our institutions of higher learning with the hunger for learning possessed by Virginia’s young people is a smart idea. All of the initiatives in “The Opportunity to Learn” legislative package will help our young people, regardless of where they live, gain the opportunity to go wherever their talent, dreams and hard work will take them. That is a worthy goal, and one that all Virginians can come together to support.”

Former Governor L. Douglas Wilder remarked, “Governor McDonnell knows that our children are the keys to our future here in the Commonwealth.  He and I agree that there is no greater goal then to ensure that they have a first-rate education.  By giving our students and their parents’ options and resources, we are taking the necessary steps to ensure their success.”

Hampton University President Bill Harvey commented, “Virginia is fortunate to have a college and university system that is among the best in the world.  It is absolutely necessary to continue their strength while building on the current foundation of our primary and secondary schools by providing choices and options to our younger students.  I thank Governor McDonnell for his leadership on educational reform and look forward to seeing these bills passed into law, and these new opportunities provided to our students.”      

“The Opportunity to Learn”

Governor Bob McDonnell’s 2010 Education Reform Legislation

Charter Schools

Pre-certification by the Board of Education and Appeal Process for charter applicants denied by local  School Board (Senator Newman, and Delegates Dance and Lingamfelter)

SUMMARY – This legislation is critical to Virginia’s application to the Race to the Top grant by the US DOE – and with it $350 million for Virginia schools and localities. It requires the public charter school applicant to submit its proposed charter application to the Board of Education for review, comment, and a pre-certification recommendation prior to the submission of such application to a local school board.  The Board's review must include a recommendation as to whether the application should be approved by the local school division. Also, provides for an opportunity for a public charter school applicant to appeal a local school board decision, to the State Board of Education.

“As public servants, we must always focus on the needs of Virginia’s children first.  This effort recognizes that while Virginia has a strong system of public education, we can and must do better.  President Obama understands that and these reforms are in line with the innovations and resources necessary to provide access to the quality of education he wants all children to have – here in Virginia, and across the nation.” –Delegate Rosalyn Dance (D-Petersburg)

Virtual Schools

Virtual School Programs (Senator Newman and Delegate D. Bell)

SUMMARY – Establishes virtual school programs of local school divisions around the Commonwealth. The purpose of the bill is to stimulate the growth of these innovative education programs among local school divisions to help students who struggle in a traditional classroom environment and provide parents with an option within Virginia’s public school system.  Virtual school students utilize technology in order to learn full-time through a distance learning environment outside of the traditional classroom. They continue to have the services of a highly qualified, Virginia-certified teacher; must take all mandated state testing (SOLs); and adhere to attendance requirements. In addition, it will encourage the growth of online learning programs by directing the Department of Education to maintain a page on their website that provides information for online learning options for parents across the state.

“It is critical that we provide every tool possible for local school divisions, teachers, parents and students to access information, coursework and expertise regardless of where they live.  It is equally important that we ensure providers of online courses and web based learning are strong, committed partners with our local school systems.  This bill will ensure that happens.” –Senator Steve Newman (R-Lynchburg)

Lab Schools

College Partnership Lab Schools (Senator Newman and Delegates McClellan and Peace)

SUMMARY – Establishes college partnership laboratory schools for the purpose of stimulating the development of innovative public education programs by providing opportunities for greater cooperation and coordination between institutions of higher education and K-12 education systems. The laboratory schools are created by a contract between the higher education institute and the Board of Education.  Students in the K-12 education system that attend College Partnership Lab Schools can benefit from the resources available to higher education institutions and would not be limited by the administrative constraints of traditional public schools.  College lab schools provide for more flexibility, innovation, and autonomy, outside of the traditional public school system. This flexibility will help ensure that students have the opportunity to attend a school that best fits their individual learning style.  The bill is patterned after the legislation originally offered by Delegate Dwight Jones, now Mayor of Richmond. 

“Undoubtedly Virginia's teaching schools are among the best in the nation so it makes common sense that we provide our school-age children with greater access to these educational resources. Led by the best and brightest minds in our university system, College Lab Schools will offer opportunities for all children to succeed in education regardless of whether they need remedial help or want to specialize in science, technology, engineering, and math.” –Delegate Christopher K. Peace (R-Hanover)