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Game changer: Cuccinelli announces education reform proposal

Ken Cuccinelli just announced what is arguably the most far-reaching education reform plan since the 1867 Constitution.

On the question of providing competition to government-runs schools versus improving upon them, the Attorney General dramatically answered, “Yes.”

The competition piece is breathtaking, going so far as to knock out impediments in the 1971 Constitution (WaPo [1] – who provided surprisingly even-handed coverage; perhaps they were just starved for something to cover):

His proposed constitutional amendments both aim to broaden the cause of school choice.

The first would remove a provision in the state constitution that bans government aid to sectarian schools. Known as the Blaine Amendment, the measure first appeared about a century ago when the country’s Protestant majority sought to block government support for Catholic schools. It ultimately became law in nearly 40 states. Cuccinelli’s K-12 education plan says that despite a June 2000 decision by U.S. Supreme Court that found school choice programs to be constitutional, the Blaine Amendment in Virginia’s constitution restricts the state’s ability to craft broad-based school choice programs.

The second proposed amendment would address what Cuccinelli’s plan says is “one of the most useless charter school laws in the country.” Although such schools are permitted under existing law, they must be approved by the district.

“This creates a conflict of interest as school districts do not want competition,” the plan says. “It’s like Pepsi having to get permission from the Board of Directors of Coca-Cola to sell a new product.”

Either of these amendments by themselves would strike a powerful blow for competition in schooling. Together, they would infinitely add to competitiveness in education.

However, unlike most conservative efforts at education reform, Cuccinelli did not ignore the public schools themselves, offering reforms such as a “trigger law” empowering parents to reform individual schools their respective children attend, and a rethink of the Standards of Learning “to find ways to emphasize problem-solving and cognitive abilities in testing more than memorization” (WaPo again).

It is easily the most substance-laden proposal on education – or any policy – to come out of the campaign, and Cuccinelli used a dramatic example for its need:

“Try telling folks in Petersburg, where 30 percent of students fail the reading test for Virginia’s SOL’s [standardized tests], that Virginia’s education system is one of the best in the world,” Cuccinelli told a group of students and educators gathered at the school. “Just 59 percent of Petersburg students graduate on time versus 82 percent in the rest of Virginia. That kind of disparity is something that concerns me on behalf of just those children and on behalf of Virginia.”

This may confuse leftists who are convinced that Republicans don’t care about minority-majority cities like Petersburg. More to the point, it shows the AG is serious about making things better for them and all Virginians.

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