It's a mouthful to say, and even harder to remember, but it is what the Virginia General Assembly created in 2013, under SB #1324, called the Opportunity Educational Institution.
Based on SOL scores, there are six schools in the state that are poised to be the first ones to be taken over by the new "virtual" district, or the OEI. The decision to select which schools meet the specific requirements does not come easy for OEI board members, but it is exacting.
No one wants their school to be placed under management by the state, but a struggling school, one failing to meet academic benchmarks for three years in a row needs to be transferred to the OEI. There, they may remain for as long as five years, or until the school achieves full accreditation.
Of the six schools to be transferred, there are three in Norfolk, two in Petersburg and one in Alexandria, according to accreditation ratings released Friday by the Virginia Department of Education.
In addition to the six schools poised for the takeover, there are nineteen other schools, including five in Richmond, one in Dinwiddie and one in Henrico Counties that could be marked for takeover, if the OEI board votes to take them.
Governor Bob McDonnell has been a champion of education for Virginia's children, and patterned his school-takeover program on Louisiana’s Recovery School District. McDonnell’s staff steered it through the legislature in the face of some stiff opposition.
Just last week, the Virginia School Boards Association and Norfolk’s School Board filed a lawsuit in an attempt to invalidate the OEI legislation, arguing that it is in violation of the Virginia Constitution that says each school district shall have a school board, and that the State Board of Education shall be the only entity having the power to create school divisions.
Attorney General Ken Cucinnelli, who is running for governor of Virginia, has refused to defend the law after his office decided it was unconstitutional. Sadder still, Democratic contender for governor, Terry McAuliffe, said he’s against the idea of the takeover district, too.
McDonnell, whose term in office is over in January, has argued that the legislation is proper, and is in the process of retaining an outside law firm to defend the law, should it come down to that eventuality. Whatever is decided, the fact that so many schools are in need of remedial help is apparent and cannot be left to chance.