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Gov. Bob McDonnell
Sunday, September 15, 2013
All children in Virginia, regardless of their ZIP code, deserve to go to a good school with great teachers. That’s one of the very few statements in politics with which all of us probably agree. But it’s not just a belief we share. It’s also the law.
Section 1 of the Virginia Constitution states, “The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.” And the constitution goes further, establishing that Virginians will be able to take action to ensure every child gets that quality education by noting, in Section 9, “The General Assembly may provide for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of any educational institutions which are desirable for the intellectual, cultural, and occupational development of the people of this Commonwealth.”
Our constitution is clear: Every student must receive a high quality education. Unfortunately, right now that’s not the case. Even in a state with an education system as strong as ours, some students in Petersburg, Alexandria and Norfolk are being sent to chronically failing schools. We are standing by while children attend schools we know are not providing them with the education they will need to succeed. It’s not fair to them. It’s morally indefensible. And it’s legally wrong.
For that reason, Democrats and Republicans came together this past session of the General Assembly to address this tragedy and make clear we will no longer tolerate failing schools. The legislature passed a bill to create the Opportunity Educational Institution. Based on successful efforts in Louisiana and Tennessee, the institution allows the commonwealth, in extreme cases in which a school repeatedly fails to gain accreditation, to step in and take action. The commonwealth will become responsible for that failing school, turn it around, and when that is achieved, turn the school back to the locality. We aren’t going to tolerate failing schools anymore.
Now, some have decided to sue to protect the status quo and try to prevent any changes to failing schools. That’s incredibly disappointing. Defending the failed status quo will not help a single child get a better education. If it takes going to court to help every student in this state gain access to a good education, then that’s what we will do. As Democratic state Del. Algie Howell of Norfolk said in supporting our effort, “The next great civil rights battle is in educational opportunity, and today I challenge leaders across the commonwealth to join me in this fight.” He’s right. This is a fight we can’t lose. Parents and students are counting on us.
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