- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 26, 2016

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - House Republicans called Tuesday for sweeping reforms of Virginia’s education system, including more power for parents to choose where their kids learn under proposals facing intense pushback from the state’s biggest teachers union.

Republicans, who control the House and Senate, want to allow parents to take 90 percent of their child’s share of state school funding and put it toward other educational expenses, like private school tuition. They’re also pressing for a constitutional amendment that could significantly spur charter school growth in the state, among other things.

Republican Del. David LaRock said his measure to create “education savings accounts” would dramatically improve education in the state by allowing parents to choose the “educational opportunities best suited for their children.”

The bill states that expenses from the accounts would be audited and reviewed, but the Virginia Education Association said it’s concerned about the potential for the money to be misused and the impact such a law would have on public schools.

“When you look at the fact that Virginia currently stands 41st in the nation in support for public schools and now we want to take this money away from public schools and put them where there’s no accountability, I don’t know why our legislators think this is a good idea,” said Meg Gruber, president of the association.

A similar program in Nevada was put on hold earlier this month amid legal challenges by opponents, who argue the new law runs afoul of the state constitution by diverting money from public schools. That state has received about 4,500 applications, which would represent about $20 million redirected from districts to parents

Among the other measures being pushed by Republicans this session is a constitutional amendment that would grant the Virginia Board of Education the power to approve charter schools. That authority is currently in the hands of local school districts, which have been hesitant to do so.

The constitutional amendment passed by just one vote last year. To go into effect, the amendment must be approved again this year and get the green light from voters. Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe wouldn’t get a say on the measure.

Brian Coy, a spokesman for McAuliffe, wouldn’t comment on whether he would support a measure to create education savings accounts. But he said the governor has proposed several “innovative ideas” for the state’s education system and is eager to continue that discussion with lawmakers this session.


Follow Alanna Durkin Richer on Twitter at twitter.com/aedurkinricher. Her work can be found at https://bigstory.ap.org/author/alanna-durkin.

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