In a welcome move for parents throughout Virginia, Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration recently took the first concrete steps to expand school choice. The move will allow the Old Dominion to start catching up with other states that have aggressively expanded the range of options available to families in recent years.

The Governor’s Office recently announced the first round of 13 planning grants that will allow for the development of “lab schools” – elementary or secondary schools used for educational experimentation – in Virginia. The move comes on the heels of last year’s budget package, which included $100 million to fund planning grants, as well as start-up and operating costs, to lab schools.

The lab schools will operate at various public community colleges, universities, or other institutions of higher education across Virginia. In coming up with innovative models to reform K-12 education, lab schools resemble charter schools, which 45 states have authorized

Unfortunately, Virginia law requires local school districts to authorize charter schools, and most districts will not endorse any competition with the traditional public school model. The lab school program thus represents a workaround.

Partnerships created by the lab schools can “start to transform the one-size-fits-all system,” says Virginia Education Secretary Aimee Guidera. But without more and better choices, that transformation almost certainly will remain incomplete.

By contrast, other states have used their legislative sessions this winter to pass aggressive expansions of school choice. Utah and Iowa, for example, enacted Educational Savings Account legislation in January. ESAs empower parents by giving them a percentage of state education dollars in an account, which they can use to fund educational options they believe will best help their children.

In a television interview, Oklahoma’s Governor Kevin Stitt encouraged his state legislature to act to expand ESAs because “Oklahoma doesn’t want to get left behind.” That same spirit of healthy competition, and a drive to give children the best future possible, should motivate the Youngkin administration to expand its school choice efforts wherever it can.

As a Virginia-based parent, I know how the pandemic took its toll on families across the Commonwealth. Parents and children alike struggled with virtual learning, mask mandates, and quarantine requirements. Children have suffered learning losses from which some may never recover. After three years of trials and tragedies, Virginia families need lawmakers to make every effort to create quality learning options across the Commonwealth.

I welcome Governor Youngkin’s announcement that 13 innovative schools will come to Virginia communities. But I hope that he, his administration, and the state legislature will not rest until every Virginia family has more and better options to improve the lives of their children.