Charter school amendment passes this session

A proposed constitutional amendment empowering the Virginia Board of Education to create charter schools has cleared this year’s final hurdle—approval from the House of Delegates.

By Michael Melkonian

A proposed constitutional amendment empowering the Virginia Board of Education to create charter schools has cleared this year’s final hurdle–approval from the House of Delegates.

Now the resolution and its sponsor, Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, must wait out another election season before the measure can return to the General Assembly floor for the next step.

On Tuesday, the House voted 58-42 in favor of Obenshain’s resolution, SJ 256. It had already passed the Senate 21-17 on February 4th.

If the resolution passes both chambers next year as well, it will go on the ballot in November 2016 for a popular vote. Unlike bills passed by the General Assembly, proposed constitutional amendments cannot be signed or vetoed by the governor.

Charter schools are public schools that have been granted autonomy to operate outside local school district policies. Obenshain said charter schools provide flexibility and specialized instruction for students who would otherwise be left behind in poor-quality schools.

“New York City has 197 public charter schools while Virginia only has seven statewide,” Obenshain said. “If we’re serious about providing families with meaningful educational choices, then that has to change.”

Under existing law in Virginia, a charter school can be authorized only by a public school division. The proposed constitutional amendment would give the Virginia Board of Education “authority to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth.”

The amendment’s opponents say charter schools divert money from already ailing public school districts. They also liken getting into a charter school to playing the lottery, because only a lucky few students will be admitted.

According to the most recent estimates, the United States has about 6,000 charter schools enrolling more than two million students. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have enacted methods similar to SJ 256 for creating charter schools. These states account for 80 percent of charter schools in the U.S.

A companion bill, HJ 577, introduced by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, has also passed the House of Delegates. However, on Monday, it failed in the Senate on a 20-20 vote. The amendment needed 21 affirmative votes for passage.

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How They Voted

How the House voted Tuesday on SJ 256 (“Constitutional amendment (first resolution); charter schools”).

Floor: 02/24/15 House: VOTE: ADOPTION (58-Y 42-N)

  • YEAS – Adams, Anderson, Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Berg, Byron, Cline, Cole, Cox, Davis, DeSteph, Farrell, Fowler, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Hodges, Ingram, Joannou, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, Minchew, Morefield, Morris, Morrissey, O’Bannon, Orrock, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Preston, Ramadan, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Scott, Stolle, Taylor, Villanueva, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yancey, Mr. Speaker – 58.
  • NAYS – Albo, BaCote, Bloxom, Bulova, Campbell, Carr, Edmunds, Fariss, Filler-Corn, Futrell, Helsel, Herring, Hester, Hope, Hugo, James, Keam, Kory, Krupicka, Lindsey, Lopez, Mason, McClellan, McQuinn, Miller, Murphy, O’Quinn, Pillion, Plum, Rasoul, Rust, Sickles, Simon, Spruill, Sullivan, Surovell, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Watts, Yost – 42.

How the Senate voted Monday on HJ 577 (“Constitutional amendment; Board of Education granted authority to establish charter schools”).

Floor: 02/23/15 Senate: Rejected by Senate (20-Y 20-N)

  • YEAS – Black, Carrico, Chafin, Cosgrove, Garrett, Hanger, Martin, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Reeves, Ruff, Smith, Stanley, Stosch, Stuart, Vogel, Wagner – 20.
  • NAYS – Alexander, Barker, Colgan, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, McEachin, Miller, Petersen, Puller, Saslaw, Watkins, Wexton – 20.
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