A Circuit Court judge has struck down a state school takeover board that would have stripped local school boards of their authority over low-performing schools, ruling in favor of the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) and the City of Norfolk school board.
Norfolk Public Schools and VSBA sued the state last fall, arguing that the state’s Opportunity Educational Institution (OEI) and its governing board, established by then-Governor Bob McDonnell and the Virginia General Assembly to take over schools deemed to be chronically low performing, violated the state’s constitution.
“This ruling is an important affirmation of the Virginia Constitution’s intent that localities hold the responsibility for their public schools,” said VSBA Executive Director Gina G. Patterson. “With that being said, there is still much work to be done to ensure that all of our schools are successful.”
The OEI and the OEI Board were created by the state legislature in its 2013 session to take over the supervision of schools that were denied accreditation and to require documentation and information about schools that had been accredited with warning for three years. The legislation also granted the OEI Board the authority to vote to take over the supervision of any school accredited with warning for three years. The legislation creating the OEI and the OEI Board purported to make the OEI “a statewide school division” and the OEI Board “a policy board in the executive branch of state government.”
The school board of a school taken over would have been required to transfer to OEI not only the local funds required by the state-mandated Standards of Quality, but also any local funds appropriated to the school division of residence in excess of the state-mandated amount.
The VSBA and the Norfolk School Board argued that the law violated Article VIII, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia, which provides that “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.”
The OEI board was a policy board under the executive branch of government and an education institution falling under Title 23 of the Code of Virginia, which relates to institutions of higher education. Further, the lawsuit argued that the legislation establishing the OEI board violates Article VIII, Section 5, of the Constitution of Virginia, which provides that the State Board of Education shall create school divisions. The General Assembly, not the Virginia Board of Education, created the OEI board as a statewide school division.
Norfolk School Board Chairman Kirk Houston said, “We are pleased with the ruling. We value our strong partnership with Virginia elected and appointed leaders, however, state takeover of schools was not going to be a magic formula for addressing challenges with student achievement, particularly in high-poverty schools. In Norfolk, our community is focused on creating school environments that maximize all children’s academic potential, with consideration for all of their unique needs.”
Since the lawsuit was filed, more than 100 school boards and municipal governing boards, including Norfolk’s City Council, passed resolutions supporting it.