Should the state take over chronically failing public schools?
Constitution requires every student to receive a quality education
By Bob McDonnell
All children in Virginia, regardless of their ZIP code, deserve to go to a good school with great teachers. That’s one of the very few statements in politics with which all of us probably agree. But it’s not just a belief we share. It’s also the law.
Section 1 of the Virginia Constitution states, “The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.” And the constitution goes further, establishing that Virginians will be able to take action to ensure every child gets that quality education by noting, in Section 9, “The General Assembly may provide for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of any educational institutions which are desirable for the intellectual, cultural, and occupational development of the people of this Commonwealth.”
Our constitution is clear: Every student must receive a high quality education. Unfortunately, right now that’s not the case. Even in a state with an education system as strong as ours, some students in Petersburg, Alexandria and Norfolk are being sent to chronically failing schools. We are standing by while children attend schools we know are not providing them with the education they will need to succeed. It’s not fair to them. It’s morally indefensible. And it’s legally wrong.
For that reason, Democrats and Republicans came together this past session of the General Assembly to address this tragedy and make clear we will no longer tolerate failing schools. The legislature passed a bill to create the Opportunity Educational Institution. Based on successful efforts in Louisiana and Tennessee, the institution allows the commonwealth, in extreme cases in which a school repeatedly fails to gain accreditation, to step in and take action. The commonwealth will become responsible for that failing school, turn it around, and when that is achieved, turn the school back to the locality. We aren’t going to tolerate failing schools anymore.
Now, some have decided to sue to protect the status quo and try to prevent any changes to failing schools. That’s incredibly disappointing. Defending the failed status quo will not help a single child get a better education. If it takes going to court to help every student in this state gain access to a good education, then that’s what we will do. As Democratic state Del. Algie Howell of Norfolk said in supporting our effort, “The next great civil rights battle is in educational opportunity, and today I challenge leaders across the commonwealth to join me in this fight.” He’s right. This is a fight we can’t lose. Parents and students are counting on us.
McDonnell is the 71st governor of Virginia.
No matter the intent, unconstitutional is unconstitutional
By Roy Boyles
The Virginia School Boards Association challenges the Opportunity Educational Institution legislation on two primary grounds.
First, the legislation violates Article VIII, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia, which provides that “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” The OEI Board is not a school board. Rather, the legislation declares that the OEI Board is a policy board in the executive branch of government and an education institution falling under Title 23 of the Code of Virginia, which relates to higher education, not K-12 education.
Second, the legislation violates Article VIII, Section 5 of the Constitution of Virginia, which provides that the State Board of Education shall create school divisions. The General Assembly, not the State Board of Education, created the OEI Board as a statewide school division.
Local school boards are best positioned to manage local schools. If the OEI Board were to take over a school, the school board of the local school division in which the school is located must transfer to the OEI Board all per pupil federal, state and local funding that goes to that school, including local funds appropriated above the minimum funding mandated by state law. In addition, the OEI Board is given the right to take possession and control of any facilities used by a school that is taken over, although the locality is still required to pay for any capital improvements to the facilities. Further, the school board and locality are prohibited from selling affected school facilities without permission of the OEI Board.
The VSBA is confident in the merits of the case, and Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli recently notified Gov. McDonnell that his office would not defend OEI after legal analysis concluded that it is unconstitutional.
Unconstitutional is unconstitutional, no matter the intent.
It is important to remember that struggling schools really translate into struggling students, and our time and resources would be better spent working together from the state level all the way down to our classrooms. If state officials have new strategies and tactics that they were planning to use under OEI, we encourage them to share these ideas today with our local school boards so that we can work together to improve each and every school in the commonwealth.
All school board members want the best for every child in their communities, as do our state legislators and elected officials. However, increased and meaningful dialogue, collaboration and support would be more beneficial than the creation of a statewide oversight board that violates our Constitution.
Boyles is president of the Virginia School Boards Association.