IT MAY BE true, as some pundits have suggested, that Virginia Republican gubernatorial candidate Robert F. McDonnell's full-throated support of charter schools is an attempt to usurp Democrats' traditional claim on education as an issue. Whatever the reason, Mr. McDonnell is unquestionably on the right side of this debate. Let's hope the needed attention he is focusing on charters will shame the state into changing its backward policies toward these independent public schools.
Mr. McDonnell, running against Democratic nominee R. Creigh Deeds, is making the expansion of public charter schools a major plank in his platform to improve public education. Virginia ostensibly allows the establishment of charter schools. However, because the state gives local school boards -- which have a bias against charters -- total authority to approve charter schools, only four charter schools have opened in Virginia in the past 11 years. Contrast that with 396 schools in Florida, 97 in North Carolina or 34 in Maryland. Nationally, about 4,600 charter schools serve 1.4 million students. Virginia is badly out of step in not welcoming schools that have fostered innovation and shown success with at-risk students.