By Sam Isaacs
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – Gov. Bob McDonnell got what he asked for: a state-run school board to take over failing schools.
“I’m asking you to approve a bold initiative to establish a statewide Opportunity Educational Institution to provide a high-quality education alternative for children attending any chronically underperforming public elementary or secondary school,” McDonnell said in his State of the Commonwealth speech on the opening day of the 2013 legislative session.
That request was granted during the session’s final days when the House joined the Senate in passing Senate Bill 1324. The legislation, proposed by Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Mechanicsville, now goes to the governor to be signed into law.
SB 1324 would set up a state-operated unit to take over schools that have been denied accreditation or have been warned for three years. A school loses accreditation when educational benchmarks are not met for four years in a row.
Currently, six Virginia schools would be eligible for the takeover; two of them are in Petersburg. The bill is set to take effect after the 2013-2014 school year.
The bill passed the House, 64-34, on Feb. 20. It previously squeaked by in the Senate after Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling cast a tie-breaking vote.
McDonnell issued a statement after the measure won final approval.
“I am pleased with the bipartisan recognition in the General Assembly that we can no longer tolerate chronically failing schools in Virginia,” he said.
“With today’s vote in the House, Virginia sends a message that the status quo is not acceptable in chronically failing schools. We have laid out a clear path to turn around those schools and provide the students who attend them with the world-class educational opportunities they deserve, he said.
Delegate Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, voted in favor of the bill. He is the House majority leader and has had a career in education spanning more than two decades.
Cox said the bill is a necessary tool to ensure that students get a strong education.
“For too long, our commonwealth has tolerated chronically underperforming schools that have failed to educate and prepare our children for future success. We will now have the ability to get experts into our failing schools to turn them around and give children at these schools the chance to receive a top-quality education,” he said.
Though it passed, the bill had its share of critics. Delegate Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, opposed the legislation.
“I have many problems with the concept and the legislation,” Kory said. She cited, for example, “the lack of public involvement anywhere in the takeover process.”
“The Education Opportunity Institute board is appointed, not elected. Also, the funding for the school taken over by the EOI is largely comprised of local school systems dollars appropriated by the EOI,” Kory said. “There is no precedent in Virginia for the state taking over schools without the locality’s consent and appropriating the locality’s tax dollars as well.”
The Education Opportunity Institute received a budget of $150,000, far less than. McDonnell initially proposed. A renegotiation could happen before the bill gets his signature.