Friday, February 13, 2015

Virginia: Let's Kneecap Public Schools

How soon they forget.

It wasn't that long ago that Virginia was taking advantage of North Carolina's terrible education policies by trying to poach NC teachers. Now, some Virginia voices are calling for their own edu-mugging.

Every state has its own set of whacky politicians who open their mouths and let the crazy fly out. Virginia has David Brat, who brings it to the national level.

Brat, you may or may not recall, is the Tea Party candidate who booted Eric Cantor out of Congress. He's an economics professor at Randolph-Macon College, a small liberal arts college in Ashland. The folks who have been poring over his background since he upset Cantor suggest that he's a Randian who attributes 19th century advances in government, economics and science to Calvinism.

He has some thoughts about education as well, and has chimed in on the current budgetary debates in VA, as reported by Will Ragland at Think Progress. If you've come across this story, it was probably under the money quote which was

Socrates trained Plato in on a rock and then Plato trained in Aristotle roughly speaking on a rock. So, huge funding is not necessary to achieve the greatest minds and the greatest intellects in history.

But Brat has ideas far more alarming than simply teaching from atop a hunk of stone.

He began his remarks by saying, “The greatest thinkers in Western civ were not products of education policy,” before mentioning Socrates and Plato. He later went on to say that he thinks the answer to improving education in this country “would be to get private sector folks into every one of our schools, get the CEOs in the schools and move beyond this just narrow policy debate and really have a revolution.”

But Virginia is not content to simply send some educational dismantlery to DC. They've got some ideas of their own.

Senator Mark D. Obenshain has introduced SJ 256, a constitutional amendment dealing with charter schools. What the bill proposes is simple-- let Virginia charter schools be authorized by the Governor-appointed state Board of Education.

I can't imagine a much better way to pit the state government against the state school system. With one constitutional amendment, the Governor becomes the overseer of a system created to put public schools out of business. With creativity, this can provide all sorts of political leverage ("Do it my way, or you'll find a dozen charter schools opening in your district, right across the street from your local public high school.") But ultimately, this is a bill that would give Virginia's governors and his hand-picked education chiefs the power to simply swamp their own public school system. If this passes, local public school teachers could be lucky to find a full-sized rock to stand on to teach.

The current system in Virginia requires local school districts to authorize charters, not unlike volunteering to have a bucket of leeches released in one's own bathwater. Unsurprisingly, charter growth has been slow under this system. Obenshain is concerned that Virginia is falling behind other charter-friendly states and that nationally there are oh-so-many moms and dads waiting in line to get junior into a lovely charter school.

The measure has passed the Virginia Senate and is expected to scoot on through the House. The vote was along party lines, though when you break it down into individuals, we are once again reminded how bizarre ed reform has made the political terrain. Senator Chap Peterson is a lawyer who is representing a charter that is fighting against a local school district that won't give them approval, but he voted against the measure because he feels it takes away the power of the local school board and destroying local control. Peterson is a Democrat, so go figure.

As a constitutional amendment, the measure has a long journey yet to travel. That means folks in Virginia have lots of time to gather rocks, whether they want them to throw, to stand and teach upon, or to check underneath for any politicians that might be hiding under them.

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