Governor vetoes Republicans' 'educational choice' legislation

Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday vetoed several bills that Republicans say would have increased school choice but McAuliffe said would have undermined public schools.

Two bills, House Bill 1400 and Senate Bill 1240, would have established the Board of Virginia Virtual School as an agency in the executive branch of state government to oversee online education in kindergarten through high school. Currently, online courses fall under the Virginia Board of Education.

"In establishing the Virginia Virtual School outside of the jurisdiction of the Board of Education, and most importantly, local school boards, this legislation raises significant constitutional concerns," McAuliffe stated in his veto statement.

HB 1400 was sponsored by Del. Dickie Bell, R-Staunton, and SB 1240 by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico. The bills were identical to legislation the governor vetoed last year.

McAuliffe also vetoed HB 2342 and SB 1283, which would have authorized the State Board of Education to allow local school boards to collaborate in establishing regional charter schools. Charter schools are public schools that operate independently and are exempt from certain policies regular schools must follow.

"In establishing regional governing school boards that remove authority from local school boards and their members, this legislation proposes a governance model that is in conflict with the Constitution of Virginia," McAuliffe wrote in his veto statement. "Public charter school arrangements are already available to divisions at the discretion of the local school board."

HB 2342 was sponsored by Del. Steve Landes, R-Augusta. Sen Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, sponsored SB 1283. Obenshain was disappointed in the Democratic governor's decision.

"Florida has upwards of 500 charter schools; Virginia has just nine that serve 2,000 students," Obenshain said. "If we're serious about providing families with meaningful educational choices when faced with failing schools, then that has to change."

McAuliffe also vetoed:

•HB 1605, sponsored by Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun. Which would have established "Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts." The governor said such savings accounts would divert state funds from public schools and redirect them for educational services outside of the public school system.

•HB 2191, introduced by Landes. It would have required school boards to notify parents of any material assigned to students that could be deemed as sexually explicit. Schools would have had to provide substitute materials if the parents requested.

Ed Gillespie, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor in this year's election, criticized McAuliffe for vetoing the bills.

"I've never seen a governor so proud of everything he didn't get done for the Commonwealth," Gillespie said. "Unfortunately for Virginians, he's added to his record by vetoing four pieces of legislation to expand opportunities in education. These were common-sense bills that would have helped all Virginia students."

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