Law Giving State Control of Failing Schools Challenged - NBC29 WVIR Charlottesville, VA News, Sports and Weather

Law Giving State Control of Failing Schools Challenged

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A new law allowing the state to take over failing schools could see a new setback.

The Charlottesville-based Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) and the Norfolk City School Board are preparing to file a lawsuit to invalidate a new Virginia statute allowing the state to take over control of chronically failing schools from local school boards. The VSBA says the law is unconstitutional.

"It is an unconstitutional piece of legislation that would remove local control from school boards and the ability for local communities to decide what is best for the children in their localities," said VSBA Executive Director Barbara Coyle.

Coyle says the Virginia Constitution explicitly places control of local schools in the hands of local school boards. The new law creates a so-called "Opportunity Educational Institution," or OEI, which would take over unaccredited schools or schools that have been accredited with warning for three consecutive years. Coyle says the nature of the VSBA suit rests on its belief that the OEI Board does not satisfy constitutional requirements.

But not everyone agrees with the VSBA. Fourth District State Senator Ryan McDougle sponsored the original OEI bill during the 2013 General Assembly session. He's confident the law will hold up under constitutional scrutiny, and says this pending lawsuit distracts from real issues.

"They should really be focusing on the kids," McDougle said. "That was the whole reason for the legislation, is to make sure we return the focus to the kids."

The law was also a cornerstone of Governor Bob McDonnell's "All Students" K-12 reform package. In response to the suit, McDonnell spokeswoman Taylor Keeney told NBC29 Thursday:

"The Governor believes every child deserves the opportunity to attend a great school and have a real chance at success. If it takes now beating a lawsuit to provide them with that basic right, so be it. It's worth it."

The VSBA says it will formally file its suit in the near future.

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