Assembly passes state takeover of failing schools
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - Legislation pushed by Gov. Bob McDonnell to allow the state to take over chronically failing schools received final General Assembly approval Wednesday.
The House of Delegates voted 64-34 to pass the bill, a major component of the Republican governor's education reform agenda. The Senate previously passed the measure on a tie-breaking vote by Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. It now goes to McDonnell for his signature.
The legislation will take effect only if the state budget - now the subject of negotiations - includes the $600,000 McDonnell proposed to get the program started.
Louisiana's statewide Recovery School District served as the model for McDonnell's proposal to create an Opportunity Education Institution to take control of failing schools. The Virginia legislation establishes an 11-member board to try to turn around schools that repeatedly fail to meet accreditation standards.
Six schools currently meet the criteria for state takeover, but none will be transferred until after the 2013-2014 school year.
Proponents of the legislation said those few schools have been allowed to fail for too long, shortchanging students who are entitled to a quality education.
"With today's vote in the House, Virginia sends a message that the status quo is not acceptable in chronically failing schools," McDonnell said in a statement. "We have laid out a clear path to turn around those schools and provide the students who attend them with the world-class educational opportunities they deserve."
Del. Kaye Kory, D-Fairfax, complained that parents and other residents would be excluded from efforts to improve the schools.
"This bill is an outrageous intrusion into local governance," she said. "Six schools being taken over with this process is six too many."
Organizations representing Virginia teachers, school board and administrators opposed the bill.
Del. Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, said student performance has improved in Louisiana's Recovery School District. Several legislators visited that state last year for a firsthand look at the program, which Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal touted at a news conference with McDonnell earlier this month. Jindal said 77 percent of students in New Orleans were attending failing schools in 2005. That's been reduced to 29 percent, he said.
However, New Orleans schools run by the Recovery School District still have a D grade on average while those outside of New Orleans received an F in the latest round of grades released in October. Sixty-eight of the 80 schools overseen by Louisiana's statewide system are in New Orleans.
The Senate, meanwhile, voted 32-7 to pass a competing plan to deal with failing schools without a state takeover. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Kenneth Alexander of Norfolk, would require intensified efforts by state and local school officials to turn around failing schools.
"This gets at the same problem without turning the school system upside down," said Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax.
Republican opponents of the bill argued that it wouldn't do much that can't already be done.
Alexander's bill also hinges on funding and faces an uncertain fate in the heavily GOP House.
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