RICHMOND, Virginia – The House of Delegates passed a bill banning consideration of race, sex, color, ethnicity, or national origin in admissions to Virginia’s governor’s schools. That’s a reaction to controversy at Thomas Jefferson (TJ) High School for Science and Technology, where officials instituted a merit lottery to try to expand the largely Asian American student base to underrepresented groups while still maintaining a high standard. Conservatives saw that as part of a broader wave of watered-down academic standards in the name of equity, and Republicans campaigned in 2021 on restoring Virginia’s educational standards of excellence.
Delegates debated HB 127 on Tuesday and Wednesday.
On Wednesday, Delegate Richard (Rip) Sullivan (D-Fairfax) said he and his wife spent years as proud TJ Colonials parents.
“The admissions process has long been controversial at TJ. Diversity, frankly, has long been a problem. And there was some great debate yesterday about this bill and about how we might go about addressing the issue of diversity at governor’s schools. The real answer is that the problem begins and ultimately needs to be solved, not in middle school, but in kindergarten, maybe even before,” he said. “The current TJ admissions process has now resulted in a broader and deeper applicant pool than ever before.”
Sullivan said under the new admissions process, the average GPA for students offered admission was 3.9539, while still yielding a more diverse student body.
Delegate Lee Ware (R-Powhatan) said he also was the father of students who had attended a governor’s school, and noted that the student body at his son’s school had people from broad backgrounds.
“We are all bettered when we provide a forum in which the best can excel. This is the effort that is underway here,” Ware said.
On Tuesday, Delegate Jeffrey Bourne (D-Richmond City) warned that HB 127 would close opportunity against children who came from diverse backgrounds. On Wednesday, he said that employers are looking for employees with diverse backgrounds.
He said, “We have got to continue to provide equal, equitable access to these opportunities. And removing a huge part of what a student is, what makes them who they are, as this bill would seek to do, really retards our ability to do that.”
House Education Chair Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) responded, “Yesterday, the delegate talked about equitable resources. Today, he’s talking about equitable access. Mr. Speaker, I can give you equal and equitable access by putting in a quota system. But that does not mean that the children that we put into those government schools have the resources or were given the resources to succeed and excel.”
The bill passed 50 to 48.
The House Republicans touted the result in a press release: “The legislation passed today not only removes the aforementioned student characteristics from admissions decisions, it requires local school boards to ensure that all middle schools serving these high schools offer the same high-level preparatory curriculum to ensure all students have the same foundation from which to pursue admission.”
“Our Governor’s Schools are the envy of the nation because of their commitment to meritocracy,” Speaker of the House Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said. “Academic excellence should be the only prerequisite considered for admission.”
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