by Grady Brown
There’s an age-old saying: “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” That sentiment was translated into policy in February of last year when the Virginia legislature created the Opportunity Educational Institution and Board (OEI and OEI Board). The bill gave the OEI authority to regulate low-performing schools that had either been denied accreditation from the state or had received a “warning” status for three consecutive years starting on July 1. The bill would have impacted only six schools, but set a precedent for more state power in education. It was ruled unconstitutional earlier this summer.
From its introduction to the General Assembly, the bill proved contentious. Although it garnered support from a few Democrats early on, an amendment to the bill to make “warning” status schools eligible for state takeover diminished bipartisan support. Democrats countered with their own bill calling for joint state-local turnaround agreements with local control of struggling schools. While the new bill passed in the Senate, it fell short in the Republican-controlled House. The state takeover bill went on to pass on party lines in the Senate (which required a deciding vote from the Lieutenant Governor) and the House.
Local school districts and teachers unions stood together in opposition. More than 100 school boards and municipal governing boards, including the Charlottesville School Board, gave their support for a lawsuit Norfolk Public Schools brought challenging the law’s constitutionality. Virginia is unique in that its constitution explicitly gives local school districts authority and control of their schools. Opponents of the bill also worried that state takeover would inevitably lead to privatizing education.