Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee for this year's gubernatorial race, outlined a comprehensive education reform plan during a campaign stop today. Cuccinelli aims to create an easier process for opening charter schools, extend tax credits that send low-income preschoolers to private schools, allow parents to close failing schools by majority petition, expand virtual schooling, and improve curriculum and testing through a new panel.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II unveiled a 12-point education plan on Tuesday that would push for charter schools, offer voucher-like scholarships for preschoolers and empower a majority of parents to close down, convert or overhaul their children’s failing school, according to an outline of his K-12 education plan.
The idea of allowing parents to mount a petition to close or dramatically remake their children’s failing school, for example — known as a trigger law — has caught on among an unlikely coalition of progressives and conservatives seeking to reform the nation’s schools.
Cuccinelli’s educational platform includes establishing a new panel to consist of academics, parents, principals, leaders, educators and students — whose acronym, the plan says, would make it the APPLES Commission — that would review Virginia’s Standards of Learning system and search for ways to strengthen the curriculum and testing...Among its aims would be to find ways to emphasize problem-solving and cognitive abilities in testing more than memorization.
Cuccinelli’s plan calls for using tax credits to create scholarships for preschoolers from low-income families to attend private preschools, including those sponsored by religious organizations...
The second proposed amendment would address what Cuccinelli’s plan says is “one of the most useless charter school laws in the country.” Although such schools are permitted under existing law, they must be approved by the district.
Cuccinelli’s proposed amendment would give the state Board of Education the power to establish charter schools...
Let's examine the notable features of Cuccinelli's plan piece by piece.
1. Charter School Amendment
Charter schools have proven wildly successful in some of the country's toughest areas. These are schools publicly funded but independently run -- free from the often debilitating regulations put in place by local school boards and state and federal governments. Cuccinelli wants a constitutional amendment just like the one Georgia passed last year. Currently in Virginia, local school districts must approve a charter school's creation. Since charter schools are direct competitors to those districts, there is incentive for school boards to deny charters. Cuccinelli's proposed amendment solves this dilemma by empowering the state Board of Education to approve charter schools -- meaning that establishing a charter school should become much easier.
2. Tax Credits for Low-Income Preschoolers
Cuccinelli hopes to expand a program that uses tax credits to provide scholarships for low-income kids to attend private preschools. This approach stands in contrast to President Obama's proposal to offer universal public preschool. By using public money for private preschools already in operation, Cuccinelli would forgo much of the cost associated with the President's public preschool pitch -- and experience shows us that private education tends to do better anyway.
3. Letting Parents Petition to Close Failing Schools
Closing bad schools -- those often termed "dropout factories" -- has been a key element of the District of Columbia's post-2007 reforms, reforms which have already shown their effectiveness. By empowering parents to take the initiative in shutting down failing schools, Cuccinelli would hasten this process.
4. Expanding Virtual Schools
A recent addition to the reform movement, virtual education presents yet another option for families in weak districts. It may be a departure from traditional education, but parents and children are already giving it high marks. Virtual schooling can function just like charter schools by providing competition for local districts -- and it's especially valuable for children who lose out in the charter school lottery game.
5. Establishing a Panel to Improve Curriculum and Testing
Test-taking may not be a student favorite, but it's essential for determining which reforms actually work. So a forum that looks closely at testing and offers suggestions for improvement is a good idea. And, of course, schools can't work without a sound curriculum.
Education reform represents a landmark opportunity for Republicans to capture the high ground on an issue fundamental to the interests of middle and working-class Americans. For Republicans to shed the "Party of the Rich" label, they must become the party that makes public school transformation a priority. Fortunately for them, Democrats are hampered by their financial dependence on teachers unions -- a group that all too often stands in the way of reform. Republican governors across the country are already succeeding in this issue. If Ken Cuccinelli can market himself as Virginia's education reform candidate, there's a good chance he'll have an opportunity to follow in their footsteps.
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