Friday, September 20, 2013
Laws passed this year in Virginia and Texas have stripped control from state education boards in matters that are traditionally school board functions. In Virginia, school boards sued last week challenging the constitutionality of a law that moved oversight of certain schools from local districts to a statewide school policy board. This summer in Texas, legislators removed the State Board of Education’s power to approve charter schools.
Virginia’s Local School Boards Sue State Over Creation of Statewide School Policy Board
The Virginia General Assembly created a new statewide school division called the Opportunity Educational Institution (OEI) and the Opportunity Educational Institution Board (Senate Bill 1324) in the spring. The new legislation requires the OEI Board to take over the supervision and operation of any school in a local school division that has been denied accreditation and permits the OEI Board to take control of any school that has been accredited with warning for three consecutive years. The OEI Board can control the school for five years or until the school achieves full accreditation.
Last week, the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) and the Norfolk County Schools sued the OEI Board in state court, asking the court to declare that the OEI law violates Article VIII of Virginia's Constitution, which provides that “the supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board.” The VSBA alleges that the law violates another section of Article VIII, which provides that the State Board of Education shall create school divisions. Because the General Assembly, rather than the State Board, created the OEI Board as a statewide school division, the VSBA argues that the OEI law is unconstitutional.
The VSBA says the law is a school-takeover measure that usurps the power of local school boards to a policy board in the executive branch. In fact, the authorization for the OEI falls under the part of the Virginia code that covers higher educational institutions rather than elementary and secondary schools. Local school boards in Alexandria and Newport News have joined the lawsuit. Newport News Board’s Vice Chairman Jeff Stodghill told a local newspaper that the legislation removes local school control, and that “[u]nder this arrangement, [parents] might have to drive up to Richmond if [they] have a problem with [their] child's schedule." The OEI law is a part of Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell's 2013 education agenda. In his State of the Commonwealth address in January, Governor McDonnell said that the OEI was a part of a “zero tolerance” initiative to “turnaround failing schools… and provide a brand new approach to a broken system.”
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli agrees with local school districts that the OEI Board is unconstitutional and told the governor in a letter in late August that his office would not defend it in court. (For those unfamiliar with Cuccinelli, he is no bleeding-heart. Cuccinelli is the Republican candidate for governor this fall and two election talking points have been his crusade to reinstate Virginia’s crime-against-nature statute (the Supreme Court struck down a similar anti-sodomy law in Lawrence v. Texas) and his controversial running mate—and future lieutenant governor of Virginia—who tweeted this spring that gay-pride month made him feel “icky” and once suggested in one of his books that yoga could lead to satanic possession, although he has since backed off that statement in his campaign.)
Texas charter school licenses jump after approval authority shifts from the State Board to the Education Commissioner
Texas' new law shifts the power to authorize charters moved from the elected State Board of Education to the Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, appointed by Governor Rick Perry. State Senator Dan Patrick, who sponsored Senate Bill 2, said legislators approved the shift out of concern that the State Board “already has enough to do setting academic curriculum and approving textbooks for use in classrooms.” At a recent meeting with the State Board to explain the shift, Board members expressed annoyance with the new procedure, noting that they were elected by voters, rather than appointed by the governor. The new law also raises the maximum number of charter school licenses from 215 to 309 and streamlines the application process for existing charter operators.