Virginia, School Choice and Charter Schools – The National Map

by James C. Sherlock

One of the most curious aspects of discussions about Virginia, school choice, and charter schools is that Virginia progressives attack both as a conservative plot.

And mostly get away with it.

The claim is demonstrably preposterous, but effective so far because Republicans don’t offer an organized response.

I offer a map of the United States annotated with the percentage of public school kids attending public charter schools in 2019.

If Virginia progressives can discern some pattern of red states vs. blue states, they should speak up.

State laws vary, but each of the states with significant numbers of charters has a state-appointed charter authority that is not dependent upon approval by local school boards.

“Conservative” Washington, D.C., had 43% of its public school kids in charters.

Far from being totalitarianism, as goes the progressive line in Virginia, this is the result of popular constitutional amendments in virtually every state shown above in green.

Seems voters in those states wanted parents with kids in their worst schools to have options.

So will the voters of Virginia. Just show them the map during the campaign.

In 2019, Virginia was in a small class with West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming and Washington with few if any charter schools. Mississippi and Alabama have since then worked to expand charters through state authorizer boards. Iowa just passed and the Governor signed one of the most sweeping school choice laws in the country. So did Kansas.

West Virginia offers parents an education savings account (ESA) program and intra-district and inter-district public school choice via open enrollment.

Wyoming, with 580,000 people, has five charter schools and a state charter authority.

Virginia, with more than 8 million people, has six charters and no state charter authority. So we are the ultimate outlier.

Five small Northern tier states had no charter school law in 2019. Of those, Nebraska and North Dakota offer inter- and intra-district public school choice via open enrollment.

Vermont’s Town Tuitioning Program

was launched in 1869, making it the oldest school choice program. The school voucher program provides educational options for students whose towns do not have public schools. The sending town pays school tuition directly to the “receiving” school, which can be any public or private, in or outside Vermont.

Virginia is thus on an island with the states of Washington, South Dakota and Montana offering no real school choice.

Virginia’s charter school law, by requiring charters to be issued by school divisions, purposely ensures there will be few if any. Virginia has no inter- and intra-district public school choice.

We need a constitutional amendment in Virginia to create a state or state-appointed authority to grant charters to rescue kids in our worst schools and school divisions from a lifelong sentence of lower quality lives than they deserve.

The same amendment should mandate inter- and intra-division public school choice.

Show Virginia voters the map.