Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli says his office cannot defend the state in a lawsuit being pursued by the Virginia School Boards Association and the Norfolk City School Board requesting Norfolk city court invalidate Gov. Bob McDonnell’s Opportunity Educational Institution legislation.
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.
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.
In a short letter to McDonnell dated Aug. 27, Cuccinelli wrote that his decision came after analyzing the “constitutional issues involved” in the case. McDonnell may employ special counsel to represent the defendants in the case, Cuccinelli wrote.
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.
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, the suit claims.
The suit also claims the legislation is unconstitutional because it gives the General Assembly the authority to create a statewide school division. The constitution provides that only the State Board of Education can create school divisions.
Alexandria School Board Chair Karen Graf told Patch on Aug. 22 the board will consider a resolution supporting the lawsuit at meeting later this month.
The school takeover bill became law in July, but the personnel to institute its measures have yet to be appointed or hired.
McDonnell’s office told the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Tuesday it would keep up the fight.
Tucker Martin, a McDonnell spokesperson, told the Times Dispatch the governor’s office is looing forward to working with special counsel to “vigorously defend” the law, and that the administration is working with the attorney general’s office “to determine the details of how we will move forward.”
McDonnell visited T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria on Aug. 15 for a forum about K-12 education that included members of the city’s leadership.
“If we don’t keep standards, accountability and resources high, we’re failing,” McDonnell said to reporters after the forum. “OEI is one tool that we have. … After three or four years, if a school is still getting a D or an F, the state has to step in. … I’m here to collaborate [with the Alexandria school board]. We need to find out how we make this work best.”