Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) is “very disappointed” the Virginia School Boards Association and the Norfolk City School Board are pursuing a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of his school takeover law.
McDonnell, who was in Alexandria Friday morning for the Virginia Innovation Partnership’s “Virginia Ventures Forum” at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, said he plans to continue pursuing the establishment of the Opportunity Educational Institution despite Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s refusal to defend the state in a lawsuit involving OEI this week.
“I’m very disappointed school boards are litigating this mater when they should be focused toward improving these schools,” McDonnell said in a conversation with reporters following his remarks at the forum. “The status quo of failing schools is over. I’ve made educational reform a top priority and OEI is a tough love measure. The legislation targets four schools in places we can least afford to have these struggles, including one here in Alexandria.”
The governor-created bill, which the General Assembly enacted in its 2013 session, requires any school that has been denied accreditation or has been accredited with warning for three consecutive years to be transferred to the control of an OEI board.
The school takeover bill became law in July, but the personnel to institute its measures have yet to be appointed or hired.
Members of the Alexandria City School Board have expressed opposition to the OEI legislation because they want to maintain local control of Jefferson-Houston School, which has lost accreditation and is in line for takeover.
“With OEI, we can appreciate the effort to focus on struggling schools,” Alexandria School Board Chair Karen Graf said at an Aug. 15 forum at T.C. Williams High School with McDonnell. “But we feel as written it does not collaborate with the local school district.”
The Alexandria School Board was close to pursuing a lawsuit of its own against the OEI legislation.
In a June 23 profile of Jefferson-Houston in The Washington Post, District A School Board member Bill Campbell said Alexandria should use everything in its power to prevent state takeover, including challenging the constitutionality of the law that created the OEI.
In a short letter to McDonnell dated Aug. 27, Cuccinelli wrote that his office cannot defend the state in a lawsuit after analyzing the “constitutional issues involved” in the case.
McDonnell, a former state attorney general, said it’s not uncommon for the attorney general’s office to make such refusals and that he plans on bringing in outside counsel.
“I disagree with the attorney general,” he said. “The General Assembly disagreed because they passed the law.”
McDonnell said Virginia has a constitutional obligation to provide high-quality, free education to its residents.
“It’s a civil rights issue of our time, the right to great schools and education,” McDonnell said. “We need to make sure it’s enforced."
The VSBA and Norfolk School Board are claiming the OEI violates the Constitution of Virginia, which provides that “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” The OEI is not a school board and falls under Title 23 of the Code of Virginia, which relates to institutions of higher education and not K-12, both groups argue.
The groups also claim the legislation is unconstitutional because it gives the General Assembly the authority to create a statewide school division, while the constitution provides that only the State Board of Education can create school divisions.