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Neither Ken Cuccinelli nor Terry McAuliffe has a clear plan for reducing inequities among public school systems in Virginia.
Sunday, August 18, 2013
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ken Cuccinelli last week put his finger on the core flaw of Virginia’s public education system: disparity.
As his education plan notes, 30 percent of students in Petersburg fail standardized reading tests, double the state average.
Only 59 percent of that city’s teenagers graduate from high school on time, compared to 82 percent statewide.
The primary reason for this disparity is that the state legislature is a fickle partner in funding schools, forcing cities and counties to shoulder too much of the cost. Thus, schools in older cities and rural counties have fewer resources than those in prosperous suburban communities. The trenches of disparity grew deeper during the recession, scarring the futures of young people deprived of a quality education simply because of where they live.
But neither Cuccinelli nor Democratic candidate Terry McAuliffe has a clear plan for reducing that disparity. McAuliffe offers mostly platitudes, while Cuccinelli proposes shifting taxpayer dollars to private and parochial schools, actions that would deepen the inequities among public schools left to compete for shrinking support.
McAuliffe promises to fully fund the Standards of Quality, which set minimum levels for staffing and other educational requirements. His plan also calls for “paying our teachers properly” and “increasing support for pre‑K.” He’s on the right track, but it’s a barely visible path with no specific cost estimates or even a general explanation of how he would define full funding of the SOQs.
Cuccinelli would turn some or all SOQ funding into block grants, but again, details are absent. He has yet to explain how or whether he would preserve formulas that, while inadequate, take into account disparities and offer extra state aid to the neediest schools.
Too much of Cuccinelli’s plan is devoted to private and parochial schools, not public education. He wants to give parents whose children attend failing schools the power to choose an alternative. They can petition for the school to be closed, for it to be replaced with a charter school, for leadership to be changed, or for state tax credits and scholarships so they can transfer students to private, religious or other public schools. Logistics could be messy if the state must decide which parents, stepparents, grandparents, guardians and foster parents can participate, and the candidate doesn’t say what happens if there is no clear majority.
Cuccinelli also wants to amend the state constitution to permit state aid to religious schools. While he says the change is intended only to permit tax credits for students in failing schools, the constitutional change would open the door for other state support to sectarian institutions.
Regardless of which man wins, most Virginians will continue to send their children to public schools in Virginia. Voters should demand that both candidates spell out what they will do to ensure a quality education for all students.
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