LOCAL SCHOOLSMost area students returned to class before Labor Day this year. That's because most area school divisions receive waivers from the King's Dominion law, the tourism-industry-backed code that sets the date. Among local divisions, only Shenandoah County did not. School started on the following dates this academic year:
* Clarke County: Aug. 23
Labor Day was Sept. 5
By Zinie Chen Sampson, Associated Press
RICHMOND -- Gov. Bob McDonnell said Monday he will push for the repeal of a state law that requires school divisions to open after Labor Day, saying the longstanding measure is outdated at a time when schools should be maximizing instructional time to prepare students for college and the workplace.
McDonnell said at a news conference highlighting his legislative agenda for public education that 77 of Virginia's 132 school divisions already have received waivers from the state Department of Education. Taking the law off the books would allow each district to determine the length of its academic year, giving students a chance to benefit from increased classroom time.
The governor's announcement marks a reversal of his support of the measure, which he had previously supported on behalf of the state's tourism industry. He now says changing the law is in the best interest of Virginia's students. He also said that the exception has become the rule, and most of the districts seeking waivers are west of a "direct line down I-95."
Virginia education groups, including the Virginia Association of School Superintendents and the Virginia School Boards Association, applauded McDonnell's support of their longtime efforts to repeal the so-called Kings Dominion law, which took effect in 1986.
"This relic of the old economy is the definition of a burdensome, costly, outdated and unnecessary state mandate," VASB President Joan Wodiska said. "In fact, today, the state Labor Day law directly conflicts with Virginia's economic and educational goals."
McDonnell expects pushback from tourism-dependent businesses, including those in southeast Virginia that depend on late-summer traffic. But he stressed that he isn't backing off state support for expanding Virginia's tourism industry.
Other initiatives in McDonnell's K-12 education agenda include expanding charter and virtual schools; establishing dual-enrollment tracks for high school and community college; and offering tax credits to corporations that contribute to private-school scholarships for low-income students -- a measure that died last year.
He also said he wants the state to establish an annual contract and review process for public school teachers and principals, a change from the existing continuing-contract system. Doing so, he said, would help districts remove substandard teachers. He also wants to accelerate the timetable for the employee grievance process.
The changes would allow superintendents and school boards to manage their staff and "weed out those who aren't doing their jobs," he said.
"The Virginia Education Association is opposed to any attempts on the part of the governor or the General Assembly to change the continuing contract language for teachers," VEA President Kitty Boitnott said in an email. "We contend that if the current evaluation process were used appropriately, there would be no need for this change."
He also wants to reduce the number of high-school diploma categories from seven to three and increase some requirements for attaining them. To earn a standard diploma, for example, a student would have to pass a workplace readiness skills assessment or a similar test.
McDonnell said the state should revise its Standards of Quality to ensure school districts use funds for prevention, intervention and remediation to correct reading deficiencies in third- and fourth-graders, and require such interventions before a child is allowed to advance to the next grade. He also would like to see changes to the school-funding formula to have dollars follow the student to ensure that charter schools are funded.
He also outlined several items in his proposed biennial budget, which includes $438 million in additional funding for public education.
The package includes $1.8 million in the budget that begins July 1 for high school sophomores to take the PSAT, an early measure of college readiness, in an effort to boost enrollment in Advanced Placement classes as well as improve SAT scores. McDonnell also designated $600,000 for pay incentives for teachers of science, technology, education and math, with preference given to hard-to-staff schools or those in need of raising their academic achievement.
Zinie Chen Sampson can be reached at https://www.twitter.com/zinie