True to his word, the Governor pushed through most of his ambitious education agenda during the 2013 General Assembly Session, albeit on some very close votes and without the support of any of the major education associations for his A-F legislation or that which would provide for takeover of local schools denied accreditation. Visiting legislators minutes before votes, sponsoring statewide conference calls with Bobby Jindal and Jeb Bush, and covering the halls of the General Assembly building with messengers every day, the Administration pulled out all the stops and executed a well-planned strike. The new grading system, “borrowed” from those adopted in such states as Louisiana and Florida, as well as the “adopted” plan to take over failing schools, each came within one vote of failing in the Senate Education and Health Committee. On the Floor, the same scenario played out in the Senate; however, the stage had been set, and both legislative initiatives passed. The new statewide school board was vigorously supported by those representing private chartering, testing and management companies. No one believes that an appointed state school board (not the State Board of Education), consisting of politicians and government appointees, can or want to actually run divergent local schools.
The public school system ranked #4 in the nation is now on point to follow in the uncertain footsteps of states ranked as low as 38, 24 and 14 so “parents will better understand” how their schools rank when compared to others (like apples and oranges) and an unelected, unrepresentative state-run school board can take over schools designated as failing (representing only .3% of over 1,800 schools) and demand local money to do it with – all without a stated plan of action or local oversight. Bold is one thing; unconstitutional is another. And Pat Lacy, a respected and seasoned attorney for the Virginia School Boards Association, has stated on many occasions that the Governor’s so called “Opportunity Educational Institution” is unconstitutional. That underlying concern could be why the Senate voted down the Governor’s corresponding bill asking legislators to “seal the deal” by amending the state’s constitution. The answer to why senators voted against the amendment but voted for the bill is mired in politics.
A – F: HB 1999/SB 1207: Although the so-called “A-F” bill was handily hurried through the House of Delegates, where the Governor’s party enjoys a substantial majority, pressure from principals, teachers, superintendents, school boards and even the PTA threatened to thwart the Governor’s plan. And that’s when the games began in earnest. VASSP and other education associations were not allowed to testify in the final committee meeting on the grading bill, and the PTA was unable to publicly state their opposition – and so A-F was able to jump over its final hurdle. The one positive note, however, was that the Senate bill called for a 2-year delay to allow the Department of Education to complete its growth measures study so that the grades assigned to schools might actually be based on some type of measureable growth. Sadly, that hope was dashed when the patron of the bill made it clear to the State Superintendent, who indicated to House Education Committee members that the study results would not be ready before 2015, that the Department “should be able to have that data ready by 2014.” And so it went.
The information derived from the growth measures study will be used in SOA, teacher evaluation and as part of an A-F grading system. Although the effective date of the bill was moved forward to 2014, one positive outcome of the amended version was that defined parameters for specific grades were not included in the final language.