By Sam Isaacs
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – A constitutional amendment allowing the state to take over a failing school narrowly survived the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee and is now before the full Senate.
Divided along party lines, the committee voted 8-7 for House Joint Resolution 693 on Tuesday. All of the Republicans on the committee supported the legislation; all of the Democrats on the committee opposed it.
HJ 693 was introduced by Delegate Greg Habeeb, R-Salem, and passed the House on Feb. 2 by a 58-37 vote. The constitutional amendment, as originally proposed, would establish a statewide school division to take over a school that has repeatedly been denied accreditation.
Under a change made by the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, the state also could take over schools that have received warnings regarding loss of accreditation. The state would be able to take control of per pupil funding and have the ability to establish a charter school as well.
Delegate Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, a former history teacher at Manchester High School in Chesterfield County, has a career in education spanning over two decades. He voted in favor of the resolution when it was in the House. Cox supports the idea of a state takeover of failing schools.
“The ultimate goal is to get kids into college. We need to be more aggressive at what we are currently doing. These are schools that are chronically failing, and the current process is not working,” said Cox, the House majority leader.
There are currently four schools in Virginia that have been denied accreditation – two in Norfolk, one in Petersburg and one in Alexandria. Cox said the proposal would target specific schools, not the school division as a whole.
Delegate Riley Ingram, R-Hopewell, also voted in favor of the amendment. He has supported the idea of a statewide school board since Gov. Bob McDonnell mentioned it in his State of the Commonwealth speech.
“I think the governor has a good proposal. If a school continues to fail, it needs to be helped. We cannot allow our students to be in failing schools. The future of their entire lives is based on their education,” Ingram said.
Delegate Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, opposes the amendment, calling it “a monstrous overreach.” She said funding the system created by the constitutional amendment would take money from local taxpayers and give it to the state school board with little voice from the localities involved.
“Every locality has a budget. The state would be assuming control of those finances. You would be re-budgeting local taxpayers’ money to a statewide school board. There is no particular requirement on how the money is spent and no accountability as to when the school would be returned to public oversight,” Kory said.
She said the statewide school board has been nicknamed by the General Assembly as “the school board in the sky.” Kory predicted that some variation of the bill will end up passing the Senate.
Capital News Service is a student news-gathering program sponsored by the School of Mass Communications at Virginia Commonwealth University.