The two major-party candidates for the Virginia governorship have distinctly different visions of public education. State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) supports charter schools and private schools, while Democratic nominee Terry McAuliffe wants more state funding for the current public education system.
Charter school advocates cite Virginia as having one of the nation's unfriendliest charter school laws. There are only four public charter schools in the state. The state's law gives sole discretion to local school districts to approve or deny charter applications, and school districts mostly deny them. Cuccinelli vows to amend the state's constitution to allow the State Board of Education to approve charter schools, writes Michael Alison Chandler of The Washington Post.
"We have kids trapped in areas where they can't succeed," Cuccinelli said in a radio interview the day he released his education platform in August. "The only quick way to salvage those kids' education is to put it in the control of their parents."
Amending the state's law, which would need legislative and voter approval, to allow the State Board of Education to expand school choice would also permit public funds to flow to private religious schools through voucher-like scholarships or tax credits that parents could use to transfer their children out of Virginia's public school systems.
McAuliffe wants more state spending for public education, which still lags below 2009 levels. He also called for boosting teacher salaries.
According to McAuliffe, education spending is an investment. He does not oppose locally approved charter schools, but he is also not promoting their expansion.
"Over time, the Commonwealth has reduced investment in our schools, undermining our curriculum and school services and shifting the burden to local school districts," McAuliffe said at a campaign kick-off event at George Mason University in Arlington last spring. "It's time to restore and fully fund the standards of quality," he said, referring to the state's share of the minimum requirements for school staffing.
The two candidates are interested in overhauling the state Standards of Learning tests designed to measure what students should know in each grade. Many parents and teachers across the state raised concerns about the tests. Both candidates have said they would work to find ways to make the tests more flexible and reflective of higher-order thinking skills.
According to Cuccinelli, his package of reforms would give parents the right to petition the state to have failing schools turned into a charter.
Cuccinelli is in opposition to Common Core, while McAuliffe said that there could be some value in participating and would consider a move to adopt the standards.
To enhance workforce training or college-preparedness, McAuliffe expressed interest in promoting school partnerships with businesses or community colleges. He also called for reducing the administrative workload of teachers and improving professional development.