Should the state take over chronically failing public schools?
Failing schools: the civil rights issue of our day
By Bob McDonnell
In his piece last weekend, Roy Boyles wrote, “our time and resources would be better spent working together from the state level all the way down to our classrooms.” He’s exactly right. That’s what makes it so disappointing that the Virginia School Boards Association would choose to go to court to ensure some students remain trapped in chronically failing schools rather than work with its partners in Richmond to ensure every Virginia student gets a quality education.
The Virginia Constitution is clear. The commonwealth is responsible for maintaining a system of high-quality schools, and the General Assembly can establish and maintain any institutions necessary to ensure such a system exists. But this is more than a legal issue. As I noted last week, Democratic Del. Algie Howell of Norfolk, where two of the four schools in question are located, has called the effort to ensure that every child can attend a great school “the civil rights issue” of our time. He voted for the bill. Democratic Del. Rosalyn Dance of Petersburg, where another one of the four schools in question is found, also voted for the legislation.
Leaders in the impacted communities know that for far too long we’ve stood by and watched children be sent to failing schools. That’s unacceptable. And that’s why the General Assembly stepped up this year to lead. A prosperous state like ours cannot accept a system in which some children, based solely on where they live, get a lesser education than peers in other communities.
I’ve enjoyed working with the Virginia School Board Association on many issues. I agree we must continue working together at the state and local level to improve public education. That’s what the Opportunity Educational Institution is all about: a partnership between the state and localities to turn around failing schools. Every child deserves the opportunity of a good education. This is indeed the civil rights issue of our time.
McDonnell is the 71st governor of Virginia.
Collaboration, not takeovers, will lead to meaningful change
By Roy Boyles
The Virginia School Boards Association fully agrees with Gov. McDonnell that all children deserve to go to a good school with great teachers. We also agree that everything possible should be done to help our students. However, the VSBA does not believe that violating the Virginia Constitution is acceptable, and local boards are best positioned to supervise local schools.
School board members are people who live and work in our communities. Who better to understand local challenges? School divisions already struggle with finding ways to encourage stakeholder involvement, and a state-run Opportunity Educational Institution will put even more distance between the division and locality. This will drive disengagement, not the community engagement and commitment necessary for our schools to be the best that they can. While we can never be complacent, we must remember that local school boards helped take Virginia to the rank of fourth in the nation, despite Virginia ranking 38th in per pupil funding from state sources. Things are not perfect, but let’s build on what does work.
Understanding that all school divisions want all children to succeed, the VSBA is focused on meaningful change and support. Among other initiatives, the VSBA created a Task Force on Challenged Schools, which is bringing together board members, superintendents, Board of Education members, university professors, state associations and others to identify and share research, resources and strategies that will empower all of Virginia’s schools to reach higher levels of student achievement. The VSBA is also working with our colleagues at the National School Boards Association to pilot a school governance training program with the NSBA Council of Urban Boards of Education.
This is the type of collaboration that will result in meaningful progress that benefits all divisions, schools and students in Virginia.
Boyles is president of the Virginia School Boards Association.