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Rescuing Virginia Students Trapped in Failing Schools

Though Virginia’s public schools are among the best in the country according to national rankings, too many students are still caught in highly inadequate schools. Two weeks ago, Virginia legislators from both houses passed bills that will let state officials take control of local schools that repeatedly fail to meet accreditation standards. Part of Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s education reform agenda, enough lawmakers believe the public school grading bill will help parents and local communities better understand how their schools rate, as well as target schools in need of help.

Among the provisions of the bill: an Opportunity Educational Institution Board would be created to take over failing schools. A statewide school division will function to rejuvenate those schools denied accreditation due to their low standardized test scores and graduation rates. Those schools would also be graded on an A-to-F scale. OEI will make the system accountable and provide innovative solutions to help unsuccessful schools.

A quality education is partly dependent on funding, both state and local. And while state funding barely covers half of the expense, local governments  – largely through property taxes – must cough up the rest. Schools reflect their local communities; some may fail due to socioeconomic factors such as higher poverty rates within their districts. And that, in turn, translates into less money for 21st-century necessities like technology apparatus, learning materials that could be used to help those children at a disadvantage. But funding is only part of the picture; accountability is also needed. Hence Governor McDonnell’s wide-ranging K-12 reform agenda, designed to reclaim students who continue to fall behind.

But various administrators, teachers and education groups such as the Virginia Education Association aren’t as sanguine about the bill and have rallied against the Opportunity Educational Institution. They believe that it’s unconstitutional to take away control of public schools from their localities. They also believe that OEI is a “school takeover” ploy where local educators will have little or no say in what happens in their schools.

In his 2013 State of the Commonwealth address, Governor McDonnell stated:

We must have a zero tolerance policy for failing schools, because they jeopardize our children’s future. No more excuses. Virginia is blessed with some of the best schools in the nation. If one school is failing; if one child is not provided access to a good education, we have simply not done our job.

After both bills passed on February 5, he commented, “A child’s zip code should not dictate whether they receive a quality Education in Virginia.”






Lisa Hawkins

Proud to be born and bred in Philadelphia, our nation's birthplace! Have lived and worked in New Orleans, Silicon Valley, London, Dublin, Germany and Israel. Now happily residing in the Washington DC metro area, where I have an ongoing orchestra seat to the Washington Follies!

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