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A state takeover of failing schools is unconstitutional, but a ruling shouldn’t end the debate over education.
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
A new law that ostensibly gives the state the power to take over failing schools faces an awkward future, and if justice is merciful, a short one.
Last week, the Virginia School Boards Association and the Norfolk School Board filed suit maintaining the law is unconstitutional. Gov. Bob McDonnell is defending the law, which he views as a key part of his legacy, although he initially sought an amendment to the state constitution to smooth the way for the school take-overs. He failed, and that fumble gives opponents plenty of ammunition to shoot the law down in court.
But if the suit lingers into 2014, new complications will arise. Neither of the two major party candidates for governor have embraced the take over law. Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican nominee, even opined, to McDonnell’s chagrin, that he agrees the law is a constitutional dud. In short order, this lawsuit is going to turn into a child custody case over an ugly baby no one wants to claim as his own.
Given that unappealing prospect, a swift dispatch of the metaphorical baby would be welcome. But that doesn’t solve the more pressing issue of how to ensure thousands of very real children are getting a quality education. VSBA executive director Barbara Coyle said she welcomes the opportunity to resume discussions with state officials over how to help struggling schools. School board members across the commonwealth feel the same, even though McDonnell is trying to portray them as the bad guys.
Communities with schools on the initial target list for state intervention have demonstrated their desire to do better with cold, hard cash. Norfolk, for example, spent $114.2 million on the city’s public schools last year, more than twice what state funding formulas require.
That additional funding is currently a voluntary decision made by city leaders and Norfolk property owners, who foot the bill. McDonnell’s law would mandate that the city provide extra dollars. The state, meanwhile, would offer more bureaucracy, but no additional resources.
The law will almost certainly be upended by constitutional questions, but its most egregious flaw is state leaders’ refusal to be full partners in providing Virginia’s children with a meaningful education.
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