Virginia will remain a school choice desert, thanks to state Senate Democrats. In defiance of even President Obama's policy toward charters, they killed a bill empowering the state Board of Education to authorize new public charter schools.
This power currently resides solely in the hands of Virginia's local school boards. They often use it to squelch competition, at the expense of students. For example, the Fairfax County School Board denied an application by its own teachers to set up the Fairfax Leadership Academy, over fears that it would siphon students and funding from nearby Falls Church H.S. This is why there are still only four public charter schools in the entire commonwealth.
However, not every charter school represents an improvement over the current system. To protect the integrity of the charter system, it is critical that each application be properly vetted before public funds are committed, and that underperforming charters be shut down ruthlessly.
An $8 million charter school application now pending for the Loudoun Math and IT Charter Academy raises numerous red flags. The five applicants have ties to Fethullah Gulen, a Turkish imam who lives in Pennsylvania and runs the largest network of public charter schools in the U.S., with 45,000 students attending 135 schools in 26 states.
Some Gulen schools have drawn the attention of investigators from several federal departments in the last few years. According to a 2012 article in City Journal, some of the schools have been accused of forcing employees to kick back part of their paychecks, and of funneling public funds to Turkish construction companies. They are known for replacing certified American teachers with Turkish nationals who have little or no teaching experience.
The group's Fulton Science Academy in Georgia lost its charter and defaulted on $19 million of tax-free public bonds, casting further doubt on this organization's ability to act as a responsible steward of public funds. Last June, Chesapeake Science Point Public Charter Academy was placed on probation for two years by the Anne Arundel County school board "for chronic and persistent violations" of accountability standards. Chesapeake's former principal is now one of the Loudoun applicants. And those applicants, the Washington Post noted late last year, seemed at a loss when answering basic questions about the new school's operations and budget.
The Loudoun School Board wisely denied this application three years ago. It should do so once again.