By Chuck Hedges
Delegate David LaRock believes in school choice. So do I. Delegate David LaRock is concerned about children with special needs. So am I. But that’s where our agreement ends.
I have worked with children with special needs for some two years. I know the joy that comes with offering an effective program for these children. For 95 percent of the children in Loudoun, Clark and Frederick counties, the best – indeed, the only – opportunity for children to learn, grow and thrive is through strong public schools. That is why our citizens and taxpayers need to place their highest priority on ensuring that public schools are well funded and that they offer all children – including those with special needs—the services and learning opportunities they need and deserve. The 17 percent reduction in the state’s education budget since 2009 must come to an end.
School choice can and should be expanded within the public schools—and there is evidence that that is already happening. Loudoun County needs—and in some areas is already beginning—to expand services for special-needs kids, as well as offerings of magnet schools, charter schools, special permission for families to enroll their children in schools of their choice outside their assigned districts (space permitting), and enhanced STEM (and even STEAM, with the addition of the arts) programs. Similar efforts are underway in Clarke and Frederick counties. Quality full-day kindergarten must be offered to all of our children.
Del. LaRock introduced a bill last year to award parents tax credits for opting out of the public schools in favor of private and home-schooled education. It went nowhere in the House of Delegates, but this year LaRock tried again, this time focusing the tax credits on special-needs children. In an opinion piece published simultaneously by both Leesburg Today and the Blue Ridge Leader, he cites cases in Lynchburg and unnamed other Virginia jurisdictions where children with autism were treated unduly harshly. One should certainly condemn such actions, but there is no indication that such cases are the norm in the state, or in Loudoun, Clark or Frederick Counties.
Most importantly, however, LaRock’s bill would do little or nothing significant to help such children or their parents because the value of the tax credits proposed is miniscule relative to the cost of private education. Nor is home schooling a low-cost solution available to many parents, because so many families rely on two incomes to make ends meet, and thus cannot consider the home schooling option.
What we need is full funding for our public schools and a strong mandate and financial support for excellence in services to all children, including those with special needs. And that is exactly what I plan to work for when elected to the 33rd District in the Virginia House of Delegates, replacing David LaRock.
Chuck Hedges and his wife Betty have lived in Lovettsville for 15 years. They have two sons and five grandchildren. Hedges is running to represent the 33rd in the House of Delegates.