On Friday, June 17 Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin fulfilled his campaign promise of 20 new charter schools in the form of university and college affiliated lab schools that will have their own independent governing boards.
The legislature gave him 100 million dollars to start them; dollars that won’t go to public schools at a time when Virginia still ranks 41st in per pupil spending for public school students, somewhere between Mississippi and Missouri.
The lab schools are also promoted by Go Virginia, the Chamber of Commerce’s program for increasing K-12 workforce training for Virginia’s major companies. Private religious universities such as Liberty and Virginia Union will be eligible to start lab schools and able to access the millions available.
But what will those lab schools look like?
Will they be elementary schools that provide high quality academic opportunities for children of faculty and staff of the university, as some lab schools around the country do?
Will they be elementary schools that focus on career choices in grades 1-6 as some have suggested?. Taking the “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question to a whole new level of concentration?
Will they be urban centers for under-served youth in grades 9-12 in the handful of colleges that exist in less affluent neighborhoods?
Will they be variations on the Career and Technical programs already provided across 21 career fields by existing high schools and community colleges?
It is hard to tell at this point. Though a few universities and colleges have been in behind the scenes talks, no new application processes have been posted to the DOE website yet, and the details won’t be revealed until we see the individual applications.
Another problem is how to structure a deal in which the legislature’s bill and regs require a 5-year financial plan, but the budget bill only provides 1-year of seed funds.
For parents and universities there are more questions than answers:
Do I want to risk my child’s education on a program that is funded for one year; for which
there is no stated curriculum and the teaching perspective is oriented toward job
training, rather than educational excellence?
For colleges and universities:
Do we want to invest time, energy and resources in developing a program that is highly
dependent on one party holding a slim majority in the legislature, and stretches our expertise from educating young adults to educating children?
How will establishing a new K-12 charter school under the auspices of the universities’ business department or a private management company serve the mission of the larger institution?
So, Governor Youngkin has his charter/lab schools, but two central questions for Virginians still remain:
Who do the charter/lab schools really serve?
And why does Gov. Youngkin want to move toward a privatized charter model which has failed so thoroughly across so many other states?