Virginia could take over failing public schools, based on a new plan approved by both houses of the General Assembly.
The proposed legislation sailed through the House, and narrowly passed the Senate Tuesday. The plan would be a first for Virginia. A new state division would absorb struggling schools, and implement reforms to turn around failing grades.
Petersburg schools could be among the first to join the new entity, after years of languishing test results.
"If I'm a parent in Petersburg and I want the very best for my son or daughter, this is good news," said Dr. Bill Bosher, former superintendent of public instruction for the Commonwealth of Virginia. "This is a way to get the ball rolling towards improved performance."
The proposed Opportunity Educational Institution would have the authority to make staff changes, adjust course work, and contract with "school turnaround" firms. Private companies already work with some under performing schools across Virginia, but recommendations are not always followed.
In response to the action taken by the General Assembly, Petersburg Superintendent Dr. Joseph Melvin issued an email response conveying discontent.
"I'm disappointed the Governor's so-called Opportunity Education Institution bill secured passage in the House and Senate," Melvin said Wednesday. "It appears to be a state legislative measure to place charter-type schools in jurisdictions without local control and parental knowledge. Ultimately, we want the best for our students and community in Petersburg."
Bosher contends a lack of accountability from teachers and administrators leads to performance stagnation in troubled districts.
"The state has attempted to take [failing districts] to court," Bosher said. "That has not brought improvements. This plan will be a new way to implement ideas and make tough decisions."
Supporters believe a board in Richmond, further removed from the local level, could easily make critical firing or accountability decisions. Opponents assert the measure can be challenged on constitutional grounds, and the commonwealth is not able to extend direct control over local districts.
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