After a long, peaceful summer, it is fall again in Virginia. For the College Republicans and University Democrats, this can only mean that the time has come to mobilize the political machinery and rally the troops for the next batch of candidates. Virginia has the blessing–or curse–of having an election every year, and this year’s gubernatorial election may be the most important race in the country. The choice should be clear: there is only one candidate for governor whose policies will improve the lives of Virginia’s students and whose public advocacy is driven by genuine compassion for those whom he serves. That candidate is Virginia’s current Attorney General, Republican Ken Cuccinelli.
Although college students tend to lean left of center, liberalism’s track record on education policy has been so dismal that students should reconsider their tendency to favor Democrats. While public schools in wealthy suburbs in counties like Arlington, Loundon, and Fairfax are doing just fine, schools in poorer communities like inner city Richmond, Norfolk, and Petersburg are failing miserably. Richmond has the worst gradation rate in the Commonwealth, where only 73% of students graduate on time, according to a Virginia Department of Education report released earlier this year. In August, the Virginian-Pilot projected that nearly 70% of Norfolk schools would lose their accreditation this year because of low Standard of Learning (SOL) scores. To top it off, in Petersburg, 30% of students fail the reading test for Virginia’s SOLs.
Ken Cuccinelli has unveiled numerous policies to reform and strengthen Virginia’s education system–all of it. His proposals for primary and secondary education center on the idea of giving parents more options for the education of their children. While many Virginia students, especially those attending UVa, had the benefit of attending phenomenal public schools in the two richest counties in America–Arlington and Loundon–many minority and low-income students in Virginia are not as fortunate. Mr. Cuccinelli’s education reforms would preserve Virginia’s successful public schools while providing relief to those families who are trapped in underperforming schools. Earned income tax credits for education will lower the financial burden on middle- and lower-class Virginians seeking to provide their children with the best quality education they can.
Cuccinelli is also fighting remove the authority of local school boards to veto the development of charter schools in their districts, a power which he has explained is tantamount to enabling a business to exercise veto power over the construction of competing firms. One of the most sweeping provisions of Mr. Cucinelli’s plan would empower parents to take over their local schools if they are performing poorly and either convert them into charter schools or make significant changes to their leadership and operating structure. This would give parents and taxpayers the ability to make real reforms in their districts’ broken education system immediately.
While most Democrats, including the party’s ticket this year, consistently fail to support real education reform for Virginia, Mr. Cucinelli’s K-12 education plan provides real changes in critically underperforming and broken areas. His plan even received the endorsement of a lifelong Democrat on the Richmond school board. In an opinion editorial published in the Richmond Times Dispatch, Tichi Pinkney Eppes writes that “the education of our children is the No. 1 issue for me, and the Attorney General’s plan would significantly improve Virginia’s education system by giving students and parents more options.” Eppes writes that the education of Virginia’s children should not be a partisan issue. Most students at the Commonwealth’s flagship university benefitted from the opportunity to attend schools that gave them the opportunity to succeed. Mr. Cucinelli wants to ensure that all of Virginia’s students have the same opportunity to attend Virginia’s great colleges
On the college level, the Attorney General has set a goal of $10,000 college degrees, relying in part on increased enrollment in Advanced Placement courses and greater opportunities for high school students to take courses at local colleges and universities. He will also lock in freshman tuition levels so that students are no longer subject to tuition increases during their college years. Mr. Cuccinelli supports the initiation of a $10 million Virginia work study program, providing more financial assistance and additional resume experience for Virginia’s low-income and middle-income students. UVa President Teresa Sullivan has previously embraced the idea of a state-based work study program to supplement the federal program. Mr. McAuliffe, on the other hand, continues to paint only in broad strokes on education, and on almost every other issue, failing to offer details on how he would address Virginia’s dire education needs.
Ken Cuccinelli is the candidate in this year’s Republican gubernatorial race who will best represent the interests of Virginia’s students. By strengthening Virginia’s K-12 education, he will ensure that the next generation of Virginians has the same opportunities to succeed as those fortunate enough to attend prominent institutions of higher learning such as the University of Virginia. By providing the resources to low and middle income families so they can have real choices in education, Cuccenilli will ensure that a quality education isn’t restricted to those who have money and means, but is available to all Virginians. His administration will enact innovative policies to rein in the increasingly burdensome cost of a college education. Ken Cuccinelli is the only candidate for Governor this year with a clear set of policies to improve the lives and expand the opportunities of Virginia students, and the leadership to pursue them to fruition.
By Peter A. Finoccio, Staff Writer