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April 28, 2006

Kaine must not impede progress on deaf and blind schools

From: Daily Press (Opinion) - Newport News,VA,USA - Apr 28, 2006

Sign the bill. That's what Gov. Timothy M. Kaine should do.

He should sign the bill, passed by the General Assembly, that will consolidate the Virginia schools for the deaf and blind in Staunton and offer a promising new life for the Hampton campus. It represents the most viable resolution of a conundrum that has bedeviled the legislature for 20 years. Finally the General Assembly has come up with a solution, and it's a good one. Kaine needs to give it his blessing. We don't want to go back to square one.

Kaine tried to get the legislature to buy a different solution, but it had too many troubling features. It would have created inequities in education by establishing a regional program for deaf and blind children in Hampton Roads that other regions don't have. It would have set the state Board of Education to meddling in an area that is rightly the purview of local school boards, serving children in this area who don't go to Staunton. It would have let the board give away valuable publicly owned property, the 75-acre Hampton campus, to a private entity to operate a shadow special education service for these children - when that service is the responsibility of local school boards.

The legislature, correctly, rejected Kaine's substitute.

Now, he needs to sign the bill that passed. It's a valid, money saving compromise. It consolidates, at the Staunton campus, the two underutilized schools, which makes sense for children and for taxpayers. It incorporates a fitting new life for the Hampton campus, still as an educational facility but serving a broader population. It transfers the campus to a regional consortium, the New Horizons Educational Center, which can use the facility for area-wide education programs. Those could include a day program for sensory impaired children, if local school systems determine that's the best way to go.

In offering his substitute, Kaine voiced concern about the community being able to choose the right entity to operate a regional program - assuming, of course, one is needed. Well, the community has chosen. It chose decades ago, when local school districts formed New Horizons. It operates regional vocational, Governor's School and special education programs, and it does a good job. Its board is made up of superintendents and school board members from the area school districts. They're in the best position to decide what programs are needed and to run them.

If other school districts in Hampton Roads want to join in any program that might be developed for disabled students, this is the kind of organization they'll want to associate with - not some outside organization chosen by the state Board of Education.

Kaine has heard from a few vocal opponents of the bill the General Assembly backed, but the fact is this: The majority of the Hampton Roads delegation supported it.

The ball is back in your court, governor. Please, don't undo progress that has been two decades in coming. Sign the bill.

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