Op/Ed: School Choice Week, by Winsome Earle-Sears, Lt. Governor of Virginia

Va. Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears (R)

One dollar, seventy-five cents, and a rock-solid education. That’s what lifted my father out of poverty when he arrived here in the United States. As we move forward throughout the legislative session, I hope the General Assembly can come together to ensure every Virginian has the opportunity to achieve their American Dream. And that starts with access to a rock-solid education.

Students stuck in schools, because of their zip code, deserve a lifeline – not an outdated, one-size-fits-all approach that will hold them back even farther. That’s why I am sponsoring legislation to create new opportunities for financially disadvantaged students. SB533/HB1164, Education Excellence for All, which will allow parents of low-income, at-risk children to use the state, not federal or local, portion of education funding for qualified educational expenses, like tuition, textbooks, additional tutoring, achievement tests, etc.

By leaving the federal and local funding with public schools, this bill would allow parents to select an education program that best fits the needs or goals of their child – as it should be. We must have programs that allow disadvantaged students to thrive academically regardless of their zip code. We cannot continue to expect every school to adapt to the unique needs of a student.

Unfortunately, it seems that some folks have made education policy in Virginia a partisan issue, rather than prioritizing students’ success. Just last month, a split-party legislature in Pennsylvania passed legislation signed by a Democrat governor, to expand educational opportunities for all students. Virginia will fall behind if we fail to offer lifelines to low-income students who are not being served by their schools.

This past week, SB533 the Education Excellence for All, did not move forward in the Senate on a party-line vote. I hope that in the House this legislation will find bipartisan support and that we will come together to lift our students up.

There are no “do-overs” when it comes to our children’s education. Many are already falling behind , and political partisanship should not be one of the reasons why. We must empower all of Virginia’s students to succeed in the future and ensure our teachers have the tools necessary to do their jobs. Policies that in the past were well-intentioned have since contributed to learning losses. While we work to correct them, we must also think outside the box when it comes to education policy in the future. One thing is for certain: we cannot keep doing the same thing and expect a different result.

Virginia has already made progress in recovering from pandemic learning losses. Thanks to our Governor’s leadership and at his direction, all of Virginia’s 131 school divisions have created plans to address learning losses through high-intensity tutoring, literacy education, and measures to promote school attendance. We pledged to empower our students and we are taking real action to deliver.

Policies that empower schools to create student-centered learning models, streamline dual enrollment processes, and ensure students have open enrollment in their school district are desperately needed and long overdue. Despite what partisan politicians may want you to believe, we can continue to improve and support our public schools and teachers while also funding innovative programs with proven results. Just like we have with lab schools, charter schools, education savings accounts, and individualized education models. We must also revisit how we fund education in Virginia, so that we are student-focused.

Where programs like this have been implemented, there has been learning loss recoverygreater student and parental satisfactionhigher rates of civic engagement and community volunteerism, a decrease in crime rates, an improvement in public schools including rural areas, greater diversity, and a net savings for taxpayers.

Systematic change is necessary to build vibrant, healthy, and educated communities. We must engage parents in the conversation so that teachers, administrators, and staff, and parents are all part of the solution.

I have seen firsthand how education lifts a family out of poverty: it happened in mine. During my work with the homeless, I have seen how education can change the trajectory of the lives of those whose families have lived in public housing for generations. While leading a men’s prison ministry, I have seen how lives can be transformed by education and skills training while someone is incarcerated. Education can transform a life. Education provides a hope and a future. This has been and will remain my primary focus as Lieutenant Governor. I just want to leave Virginia better than I found her.

Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears serves as the 42nd Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia. She is proud to have served in the United States Marine Corps. She has served as the Vice President of the Virginia State Board of Education and in the Virginia House of Delegates. She is the first female Lieutenant Governor of the Commonwealth of Virginia, the first Black female elected statewide, and the first naturalized female elected to statewide office.


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