Election Puts School Choice Initiatives in Spotlight

Education issues in Loudoun that became a national political flashpoint that many credit with lifting Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin to victory could be a blueprint for Republican candidates nationwide during the 2022 midterms.

As animus grew among parents for School Boards over coronavirus-driven school closures in 2020, community groups coalesced in protest, taking up other issues such as race in the curriculum. In June, Youngkin unveiled his education plan at a rally in Loudoun County, with the district’s administrative offices as a backdrop, vowing to ban Critical Race Theory from schools in the commonwealth. A Monmouth University poll found that 41% of voters thought education and schools were one of the two most important factors in the gubernatorial race.

And Republican victories in the statewide offices and the House of Delegates may now bring those issues to the forefront in the General Assembly.

A common theme of the Republican education platform is that a child’s education shouldn’t be decided by their ZIP code. Youngkin’s proposed solution is to establish 20 new charter schools, which are publicly funded, tuition-free, and are run by individuals or boards. Youngkin, who frequently praises the North Carolina education system that funds 200 charter schools, vowed to establish 12 new charter schools on his first day in office. Currently, there are only seven public charter schools operating in Virginia. Loudoun is home to two of them, Middleburg Charter Academy and Hillsboro Charter Academy.

Jessie Peterson, a Leesburg mother of three, sends her children to Middleburg Charter. Peterson describes MCA as “a private school without the price tag.” Students are admitted to charter academies through lottery drawings, which, to a degree, removes social and financial barriers to entry.

While she chose MCA for her children before COVID-19 hit, and before the outcry against progressive social initiatives in the school district, she said she would like to see charter schools proliferate in the commonwealth.

“Not every child learns the same way. Some kids need something different to excel, and need more hands-on learning. I think it gives parents an option to choose what’s best for their kids,” Peterson said. “A lot of families can’t afford private schools, and charter schools are the next best thing.”

Peterson said she has been confronted by public school parents who’ve said her children’s charter school education is detrimental to the public school system.

“A lot of people think that when a charter school is introduced, the funding is spread too thin,” Peterson said.

In Virginia, charter schools receive 100% of the per-pupil funding given by the state, which is $12,216. 

According to the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, Virginia law is restrictive of establishing new charter schools. Charters must be approved by authorities at the district level, meaning the School Board has autonomy to approve applications for charters. 

School Board member Denise Corbo (At Large) said she sees charter schools as a crucial to the education complex in Loudoun.

“Kids have different needs, and may not fit into a traditional school setting. Charter schools can give children the chance to thrive in the right enviornment,” Corbo said.

But, while the appeal of charters for many parents is the autonomy from the school district, Corbo said it is important for the school division to manage the school facilities.

“Making sure charters have safe facilities and buildings needs to be left to the School Board. These are generally small schools, and we need to make sure they have the chance to last, and serve their communities,” she said. 

Republicans have also suggested tax credits and vouchers for parents to pay for their children’s education however they choose.  

“They’ve lost close to 10,000 students,” 10th District GOP Chairman Geary Higgins said of Loudoun County Public Schools. “The constituency is going to support school choice. It can take a lot of different avenues.” 

A New Election Strategy

During the fall, national interests poured money into the local and state campaigns. The Free to Learn Coalition, which bills itself as a nonpartisan effort to remove political activists from schools, but has ties to major federal GOP donors, invested in a half-million-dollar television ad-buy that targeted the School Board.

While education didn’t turn Loudoun red, experts say it got voters’ attention elsewhere in the state.

Republican voter turnout was higher than it had been in 2017, when Gov. Ralph Northam bested GOP candidate Ed Gillespie by a near 20-point margin. Youngkin made nearly a nine-point gain in Loudoun, which saw 57% voter turnout, up from 49% in 2017. Still, Loudoun stayed blue, as Democrats prevailed down the ballot. 

Ben Tribbet, a Northern Virginia-based political strategist, said the issues playing out in Loudoun schools made their impact on races elsewhere in the state.

“Down state, I think it worked a lot better. The issue played better,” Tribbet said. “Maybe it’s the education levels, maybe it’s the parents get more involved in the schools, but that’s why it backfires. Where he fell short, why he didn’t win in a landslide, was Loudoun and Prince William.”

Still Tribbet said Republicans nationwide may replicate Youngkin’s education strategy ahead of the 2022 midterms.

Higgins, a former Loudoun School Board member and county supervisor, said he believes education and school choice will become increasingly important to voters in the county.

“It’s a lot of people that sat on the sidelines and didn’t pay attention to local elections. … This has pushed a lot of people towards school choice. In 40 years, the school enrollments have never dropped,” Higgins said, pointing to declining enrollment in Loudoun in the wake of the pandemic.

This school year, enrollment is down 7% from projections that align with the rate of population growth in the county. The school district is predicting a $7 million loss in state funding because of lower than projected enrollment. Board members and parents have cited various reasons for the decline, including students learning remotely or homeschooling because of concerns over the spread of COVID-19 in classrooms, and going to private schools to escape what is seen as a politicization of public academia.

The Virginia Department of Education won’t release homeschooling statistics for the current school year until mid-November, but, during the 2019-2020 school year, 1,821 students were homeschooled in Loudoun. Last year, that number increased to 3,326 students. 

Higgins said politics are likely playing a large role in the mass exodus from public schools.

13 thoughts on “Election Puts School Choice Initiatives in Spotlight

  • 2021-11-11 at 12:26 pm

    I’m not a big fan of charter schools. But I’ve always admired private/parochial schools. I grew up with neighbors who had large families. I marveled at how they managed to put their kids through Catholic school. (Fortunately, some parishes stopped charging after the fifth or sixth child. And there were grant & aid programs available.) In short, there are various ways to help parents financially who don’t want their kids attending LCPS. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. But we don’t need a drastic overhaul of public education in Loudoun to suit the preferences of the Vocal Minority.

  • 2021-11-11 at 12:38 pm

    Sacrificing goats, getting 16 year olds pregnant while they sleep, be-headings, directions for slavery, torture, betrayal, ritual symbolic cannibalism, murders, incest, instructions on performing a chemical abortion, magic, offering your daughters to be raped by the whole town.

    All in the bible. THAT book should be banned. And burned also, for that matter.

    • 2021-11-11 at 4:44 pm

      Oh, wow. At first I thought you were talking about some of the books LCPS has been pushing on children. You know… “Monday’s Not Coming” and “#MurderTrending”

      Surely you were in favor of getting those removed from the curriculum, right? Burned, even.

      But in reality, unfortunately, the LCPS is fertile hunting grounds for pedophiles and rapists. Why wouldn’t concerned parents want a better option to safely educate their children, regardless of their household income?

      • 2021-11-12 at 9:40 am

        I actually don’t know enough about the Quran do do the effort justice. I have seen the effect that book has caused though.

  • 2021-11-11 at 3:30 pm

    How many of these raving lunatics that show up at school board meetings actually have kids in those systems, or even live in those districts? It all seems a bit too choreographed.

  • 2021-11-11 at 4:04 pm

    Every parent deserves a school voucher. They should be able to use it to suit their child(ren) needs.
    If they wish to home school their child, they should be able to use the funds to hire an individual during the same school hours as the public schools as well as materials.

    If they wish to use it towards a private school, they should be able to submit for reimbursement and receive the same amount of funds as though their child is in public school.

    Most parents don’t realize that your child’s teacher who may live in a different county is permitted as part of their benefit package to bring their child into the county they work. So you are paying for teachers and county employees to have a choice and it is on the tax payer’s dime. If teachers and the members of the school board have a choice, so should every parent. The money is coming from tax payers and the education department needs to be given the monies to distribute it out. Just like they do with the public school systems.

    • 2021-11-12 at 9:43 am

      School vouchers are a way to re-segregate. That’s the goal.

      We were one of the last school systems in the country to de-segregate. Some commentators here actually attended segregated schools. miss it, don’t you?

      • 2021-11-12 at 4:18 pm

        And there you have it… a proposal to allow ALL families to choose their school would be racist.

        The Left has nothing to offer, so they resort to making sure the gates on their plantation are locked tight. Can’t let anyone escape.

        Good grief, you simply cannot make this stuff up.

    • 2021-11-12 at 1:04 pm

      Good point: be fair. No favoritism, no unequal weights, no double standard:

      Dishonest scales are disgusting to the LORD, but accurate weights are pleasing to Him. Proverbs 11:1

  • 2021-11-12 at 1:37 pm

    I personally much prefer the school choice route (including all options – public magnet schools, private school vouchers, etc.) over the ongoing recall efforts and am very happy Governor Youngkin is going in this direction. I also strongly disagree those who opposed the LCPS policy agenda this year are the ‘minority,’ as anyone who believes a parent’s stance on this fiasco falls solidly within a single party line is sadly mistaken. While most were not willing to join in on the FFS and recall bandwagon, absolutely everyone I’ve spoken to about this, both Democrats and Republicans, as well as teacher friends who work for both Loudoun and Fairfax County Schools, truly believe LCPS went off the rails this year and are longing for a renewed focus on learning loss and other COVID repercussions (e.g., staffing shortages).

    So it seems as our county is truly at an impasse, school choice is the only option, and it is LCPS Board and leadership who made it that way with their continued refusal to open up a two-way dialog with parents and continued encroachment on parental rights. They have no one but themselves to blame.

  • 2021-11-12 at 5:45 pm

    Emme Cee

    Good points about public school choice with PUBLIC money:

    Let parents AND THEIR CHILDREN decide with prorated portion of THEIR property tax how and where to go for education. Create a competitive learning environment.

    For only teachers, County employees, and LCSB members to have elite choice of schools is unconscionable– be fair, no favoritism, no unequal weights, no double standard!

    Dishonest scales are disgusting to the LORD, but accurate weights are pleasing to Him. Proverbs 11:1

  • 2021-11-12 at 5:47 pm

    Iamwhatiam doesn’t get the THE HOLY LAW BOOK. Nor does he grasp the term: HISTORY.

    In other words, if historian ‘Jay Worthington’ in late 1800s wrote an objective history of American history with all kinds details from the French and Indian, Revolutionary, and Civil wars, Iamwhatiam would say, “THAT book should be banned and burned for those matters.”

    ** A FEW ** Dull-wits in Loudoun County?

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