Of Charters and Choice In the Old Dominion

For years charter proponents lamented the tight control local boards kept on their school dollars in Virginia towns and counties, and how hard the Virginia charter school market was to crack.


But all that changed in November 2021 with the election of Glenn Youngkin. The dream of having a super-disruptor, a CEO of a mega leveraged buyout firm, stage the ultimate takeover of some of the very best school systems in the country looked like a sure bet.


The plan was straight-forward. No more incrementalism. Attack on all fronts at once, in a concerted all-out blitzkrieg.


Attack the organizational infrastructure


Attack with every kind of new school, private conversion scheme you can think of to siphon money from local public schools while creating the illusion of something new and shiny.


And cloak it all with massive media and micro-targeted public relations campaigns using carefully crafted messaging about how it is all for the parents and takes back control for individuals.


So, what would the schools look like if the school choice lobby and Glenn Youngkin’s hostile takeover was accomplished? What is the school choice vision for the commonwealth’s children?


1. Any participation of women, blacks, or otherwise “different” people in the history of Virginia and its building will be disappeared - illegal to mention in a school room as divisive. That’s what the anti-CRT movement is about. History will only be about people who own property and have high status. The new 5 proposed Youngkin appointees to the state school board will be poised to usher in the new-old history of Virginia in June when the rewrite of the History Standards of Learning is scheduled to begin.


2. The schools will be more segregated - racially and economically. Because transportation is not provided for charter/privates only students with parents who can drive them to the “choice” schools will get to go to them. Students who are expensive to educate - those with special needs will be counseled out of the “choice” schools. The initially small, unregulated schools will be less resourced as management companies gather up tuition dollars. Though charter schools currently are not religious by federal policy, the school choice movement is litigating that in the courts, and vouchers/savings accounts can create school choice that increases more sectarian divisions. They will be more ideologically driven by private religious beliefs, and less open to scientific ideas. Parents will have little say when private charter management companies make decisions about their children with no appeal.


3. Poor families will be priced out of the market with their local schools being looted of the resources that enabled much needed services. The state currently only funds about $5.4K per student, the average cost of educating a student in VA whether in public or private schools is about $14K. The $9,000 difference is not likely to be affordable for working class families.


4. Choice schools will be unstable, as the 3-5 year MOUs expire and out of town school managers take the money and run. Even Nina Rees, the CEO of National Alliance for Public Charters acknowledges that charters are meant to be closed if they are not working, not improved.


So, why should local parents be concerned, cautious, and leery of this complete overhaul of their top rated public schools, currently run by people who live down the street and in the neighborhood, and staffed by teachers, 62% of whom have master’s degrees or higher, trained at highly rated Virginia universities that others around the nation call “public Ivys?”


The more pressing question is: Why would we even consider a change to charters?