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Details unsettled for college-sponsored ‘lab schools’ in Va.

March 10, 2022 GMT

FALLS CHURCH, Va. (AP) — A conference committee — and eventually Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin — will have to work out the details on a key piece of the governor’s legislative agenda, a plan to partner colleges with K-12 systems to create “lab schools” that proponents say would spark innovation in education.

One version of the legislation has passed the Democratic-controlled Senate with changes made to appease teachers unions and local school boards. The GOP-controlled House has passed legislation on party-line votes that hews more closely to what Youngkin initially touted.

Also up in the air: whether the state budget will include $150 million sought by Youngkin to jump-start the initiative.

Education has been a large part of Youngkin’s agenda after his November victory was fueled in part by parents angered over pandemic-related school closures and other controversies that Youngkin said showed hostility toward parental involvement in their kids’ education.

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He won legislative victories to end mask mandates in schools as well as legislation requiring parental notification if students receive assignments with sexually explicit reading material.

He also sought a broad expansion of charter schools, but those initiatives were killed in the Senate.

Youngkin has found some wiggle room, though, in the related concept of lab schools. There’s already a provision in state code that allows colleges to create lab schools in cooperation with local school systems, but only in conjunction with a college’s teacher education program. The law has gone unused — no such schools exist in the state, according to the Youngkin administration.

The proposed legislation would allow for partnerships even with colleges unconnected to teacher education. At a committee hearing last month, Democratic Sen. Ghazala Hashmi said the legislation would allow for creation of schools that specialize in STEM education, language arts and performing arts, as examples.

Youngkin, at a press event in January touting the concept, said he wants to launch 20 new schools that are unfettered from the usual strictures applied to public schools.

“I don’t care whether you call them charter schools or lab schools,” he said. “It’s time for us to innovate.”

He has courted the state’s historically Black colleges and universities and his legislation gives proposals from those schools preference in the application process.

The push to finalize details of the bill comes as the legislature faces its annual rush to wrap the session, scheduled to conclude Saturday. But details are unsettled.

To get the bill through the Democratic Senate, significant changes were made. Local school boards were given a more direct role in the process, and private, for-profit schools of higher education were made ineligible to participate, among other changes.

Republican Del. Glenn Davis, the bill’s sponsor, said during Thursday’s floor session that he expects any legislation that makes it to Youngkin’s desk to be amended and sent back to the General Assembly for reconsideration.