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How Virginia Can Energize a Robust, High-Quality Charter School Movement?

Virginia has a valuable opportunity to select from the best charter school practices in the country and choose those approaches that will best meet our own educational needs.


Nationally, there are currently over 6,700 charter schools serving nearly three million students. Nearly two-thirds of these have waiting lists. Forty-two states and the District of Columbia have charter school laws.


Virginia’s present system, in which only local school boards have the authority to approve charters, has produced only very limited charter school success. Advocates of high-performing public charter schools have called for a variety of specific policy shifts to improve the operating climate in Virginia. However, the existing system has proven resistant to making changes that would create more high-performing public charter schools.


Virginia originally passed its charter school law in 1998. While the General Assembly has subsequently revised the law with the goal of helping clear the way for building a stronger charter school movement and attracting high-quality charter applicants, the law is not generally viewed as successfully, having attracted only a small number of qualified applicants.


Today, Virginia recognizes 9 charter schools. These include Virginia’s first elementary charter school, Richmond’s Patrick Henry School of Science and Arts, and first charter middle school, Albemarle County’s Community Public Charter School . But even these strong schools are not afforded the full autonomy for hiring and operations that make the nation’s highest-performing public charter schools so effective.

How Public Charter Schools Work

Charter schools are public, nonsectarian schools of choice, which do not charge tuition. They are held accountable for meeting agreed-upon levels of student academic achievement, and in return are granted special autonomy and given the freedom to be more innovative


Charter schools are open to accept all children, without any special entrance requirements. Charter schools are not religious, and cannot discriminate against students for any reason.


Strong charters can offer a specialized and innovative educational vision, a unique culture for learning, or simply represent a new choice for parents. Charters are often smaller than other public schools, allowing them to offer certain advantages in helping meet individual children’s educational needs. Each charter school has an opportunity to offer innovative learning in specialized areas, like STEM (Science, Technology, Education and Math), fine arts, or classical, liberal arts instruction.


In this way, parents are able to choose an educational setting that best suits their child’s individual needs.

Why Public Charter Schools?

Charter schools foster a relationship between parents, teachers and students to create an environment where parents can be more involved, teachers are given the freedom to innovate, and students are provided the structure best suited for their learning.


By giving teachers the freedom to innovate and try new ways to improve student achievement, charter schools can be more responsive and create an environment tailored to the needs of individual students, while still being held more accountable for student learning. Charter schools are able to make changes more quickly than district-run public schools, operating with increased flexibility as a result of operating outside of district bureaucracies.


While many of the most famous charter schools are located in cities, charter schools also provide new opportunities to help rural children prepare for the 21st century.


Charter schools are some of the top-performing schools in the country – more than a quarter of the Best High Schools in America, according to Newsweek and U.S. News and World Report, are charter schools, even though charter schools make up just over 6 percent of the nation’s public high schools.


A higher percentage of charter students graduate high school, and are accepted into a college or university than students in traditional public schools.


Charter schools are narrowing achivievement gaps in public education for students of color and those from low-income household.

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