RICHMOND, Va. (WSET) -- Governor Terry McAuliffe signed six pieces of legislation Thursday that he said would undermine support for Virginia's public education system.
The first and second are House Bill 1400 and Senate Bill 1240.
McAuliffe said the bill would create a new executive branch agency known as the Virginia Virtual School. This entity, governed by an independent policy board, would facilitate the provision of full-time, online education programs for students throughout Virginia.
This bill is virtually identical to HB 8 (2016), according to McAuliffe, and he said the Office of the Attorney General advised that it was unconstitutional.
In establishing the Virginia Virtual School outside of the jurisdiction of the Board of Education, and most importantly, local school boards, this legislation raises significant constitutional concerns, McAuliffe wrote.
Students throughout Virginia need and deserve access to a wide variety of high quality virtual learning opportunities, including both blended and full-time options. Following my 2016 veto of HB 8, the Secretary of Education and Virginia Department of Education convened a workgroup composed of a broad range of stakeholders to explore alternative policy proposals to expand access for students. The workgroup’s recommendations formed the basis of new legislation, proposed this year at my request, which would have expanded access for students in every corner of the Commonwealth. This would be accomplished within a constitutionally-sound governance model that provided flexibility for local school divisions and maximized necessary supports for enrolled students.
It is unfortunate that despite this alternative proposal, the legislature instead chose to send me unconstitutional legislation nearly identical to that which I vetoed last year.
HB 1400 and SB 1240 would create a new state agency outside the constitutional framework governing school divisions and boards.
Third is House Bill 1605.
McAuliffe wrote that this bill would divert state funds from our public school systems and redirect those funds to “Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts” to pay for educational services outside the public school system.
He said this legislation raises significant constitutional concerns.
In requiring local school divisions to transfer the bulk of a qualified student’s state SOQ funding to an outside “Education Savings Account,” the bill would deprive those schools of critically-needed resources.
Additionally, the funds that would be withdrawn from the public system bear no relationship to the cost of the private education to be provided. Since the bill requires only state funding to be transferred, the amount received by eligible families would vary widely, depending on which locality a student is from.
Finally, it should be noted that the bill lacks accountability standards for participating schools. There thus is no assurance that these state funds will be used to provide students high quality education.
House Bill 1605 raises constitutional concerns, diverts funds from public schools, and creates an inequitable system across different school divisions. It fails to support the goal of using state resources to strengthen and improve public education throughout the Commonwealth.
Fourth is House Bill 2191.
McAuliffe wrote that this bill would require schools to notify parents if their child is enrolled in a course in which the instructional materials or related academic activities include sexually explicit content or the potential for sexually explicit content.
The legislation would also require teachers to provide alternative instructional materials if request by a parent.
The Virginia Administrative Code specifies that “Local school boards shall be responsible for the selection and utilization of instructional materials.” The same section of the Administrative Code requires each local school board to have policies in place enabling parents to inspect all instructional materials and to challenge the inclusion of materials that might be considered “sensitive or controversial,” for any reason.
McAuliffe wrote that the Virginia Board of Education examined the issue and determined that existing state policy regarding sensitive or controversial instruction material is sufficient and that additional action would be "unnecessarily burdensome on the instructional process."
Fifth and sixth is Bill 2342 (and Senate Bill 1283).
This legislation would permit the Virginia Board of Education to create regional charter school divisions through which eligible school divisions could establish regional charter schools.
Additionally, McAuliffe said it would permit the state's share of the student's Standards of Quality funding to be diverted from the local school division to the regional charter school.
In establishing regional governing school boards that remove authority from local school boards and their members, this legislation proposes a governance model that is in conflict with the Constitution of Virginia. Public charter school arrangements are already available to divisions at the discretion of the local school board, which makes the ultimate decisions about the establishment, renewal and dissolution of charter schools within its division.
We should always consider new and innovative ways to provide a world class education to all of our students, but this particular governance framework is not viable within the parameters of Virginia’s constitutional structure.