By Ken Ward
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s decision not to defend Virginia’s school-takeover law signals its imminent demise.
Echoing constitutional concerns raised by the Norfolk School Board, the Republican attorney general said his office would not represent the state in taking over chronically failing campuses. With Norfolk preparing a lawsuit against the takeover law, Cuccinelli suggested that a special counsel be hired.
“It’s a purely legal issue,” the AG’s spokesman, Brian Gottstein, told the Associated Press. He said the Virginia Constitution stipulates that “supervision of public schools must remain with their local school districts.”
On the other hand, Cuccinelli’s gubernatorial campaign has touted several state-directed education reforms, including strengthening Virginia’s charter-school law to challenge local control.
The state Department of Education referred inquiries about the potential cost of special counsels to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s office. The office did not respond by deadline.
State Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, said Cuccinelli’s stand shows that the new law is stillborn.
“This whole thing will collapse of its own weight. Neither of the candidates for governor likes it. Bob McDonnell can hire all the special counsels he wants, it’s not going anywhere,” Petersen told Watchdog.
Jeanne Allen, president of the Center for Education Reform, maintains that Richmond has a role to play in ensuring quality education.
“If we believe the state is supposed to provide for support on some level, then deferring exclusively to local boards and turning a blind eye to failure is incredibly irresponsible,” Allen told Watchdog from her Washington, D.C., office.
At McDonnell’s urging, the 2013 General Assembly narrowly approved a statewide Opportunity Education Institution, an 11-member board authorized to take over public schools that consistently fail to receive state accreditation. At least four campuses, including two in Norfolk, face takeover.
Louisiana has used a similar law for several years.
Ken ward is the Virginia bureau chief of Watchdog.org, where this article originally appeared. Reprinted with permission.