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Groups File Suit To Stop Virginia From Taking Over Failing Schools

Jefferson-Houston School in Alexandria is the only school in Northern Virginia that would be taken over as part of the new Opportunity Educational Institution.
WAMU/Michael Pope
Jefferson-Houston School in Alexandria is the only school in Northern Virginia that would be taken over as part of the new Opportunity Educational Institution.

Virginia's School Boards Association and the Norfolk Board of Education are suing the state to stop implementation of a new law that would allow Richmond to take over local schools when they consistently fail Standards of Learning tests.

State lawmakers recently approved the establishment of a new organization—the Opportunity Educational Institution, or OEI. Its job: to take over the supervision and operation of any local school accredited by the state with a warning for three consecutive years. But officials and education advocates throughout the commonwealth complain that the law goes too far and is potentially unconstitutional.

"The state has never come forward with any concrete ideas or specific details on how OEI intends to turn around these schools and improve classroom instruction," says Barbara Coyle, the head of the Virginia School Boards Association.. What's more, she explains, the state constitution clearly empowers local boards to run local schools.

"It's local school boards who currently have taken Virginia to the rank of fourth in the nation for their educational policy and performance, and this is according to Education Week, despite Virginia overall ranking 38th in per pupil public elementary and secondary school revenue from state sources," she says.

Last year, 99 schools were accredited with a warning, but only six schools have been warned at least three times in a row: in Petersburg, Norfolk, Alexandria and Page County. Coyle says comprehensive solutions are needed to help those schools address problems holding children back, all of them related to poverty.

Members of the Alexandria City Council and School Board considered a similar lawsuit last month, but decided against filing one, at least until after the next General Assembly session.

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