RICHMOND, Va.— Virginia public schools will get the same kind of report cards their students take home if legislation endorsed Wednesday by a House of Delegates committee becomes law.
The Education Committee voted 14-6 to send to the House floor a bill directing the state Board of Education to develop a system of grading public schools on an A to F scale, a bill backed by Gov. Bob McDonnell. The bill is one of the major components of the Republican governor’s education reform package that has been making its way through the General Assembly.
Del. Thomas A. “Tag” Greason, R-Loudon and sponsor of the bill, said public schools already are graded but are given labels like “accredited” or “accredited with warning” that many parents don’t fully comprehend.
“This simply translates it into words parents will understand in an attempt to get them more engaged in the process,” Greason said.
Under his bill, fully accredited schools that reach certain benchmarks would get an A while those that achieve slightly lower benchmarks would get a B. Schools that are “accredited with warning” for failing to meet standards in one or more subject areas would get a C or a D. Schools that are denied accreditation would get a failing grade. The Board of Education would have two years to develop and add a “student growth” component to the grading system.
Del. Jennifer L. McClellan, D-Richmond, said she didn’t think it was appropriate to judge historically high-achieving schools against those in poorer areas that struggle.
“There is a stigma associated with that, but there’s no asterisk saying we aren’t comparing apples to apples,” McClellan said.
Del. Brenda Pogge, R-James City, countered that the state is already making such judgments and the bill would just change the terminology.
The committee also endorsed another administration-backed bill to create an Opportunity Educational Institution to take over failing schools. An 11-member board would oversee efforts to restore the schools to full accreditation, then return them to control of the local school division.
McClellan opposed that bill, too, calling it “a rush to judgment” that penalizes schools that would benefit form a more holistic reform effort that would take into account education funding and other issues.
After hearing heart-wrenching testimony from the mother of a 12-year-old girl who collapsed on a middle school track and later died, the committee sent to the House floor legislation requiring teachers to receive training in cardiopulmonary resuscitation as a condition of licensure. The bill sponsored by Del. Mark Dudenhefer, R-Stafford, also eventually would require such training for students as a condition of graduation.
Jennifer Griffin of Stafford County said a teacher who was trained in CPR failed to administer it after her daughter, Gwenyth, suffered cardiac arrest last summer. The girl received no first aid for 10 minutes and died two months later because she didn’t get enough oxygen to her brain, her mother said.
“Several of her friends were with her that day and said they wished they knew what to do,” Griffin said, fighting back tears.
“It is a common sense solution to a problem that has been overlooked,” she said of the proposal to expand CPR training.
With scant debate, the committee also advanced legislation giving local schools authority to set their own calendars. Under current law, schools cannot open before Labor Day — a prohibition enacted years ago at the behest of the tourism industry, which relies on teen employees — without obtaining a waiver from the state. Bills to lift the restriction have failed several times in recent years.
Legislation introduced in response to last month’s deadly school shooting in Connecticut faces an uncertain fate after being endorsed by the education panel but sent to the Appropriations Committee. The bill would require school boards to contract with local police to provide a uniformed “resource officer” for every school in the state.
Greason said it would cost nearly $82 million to hire a resource officer in every school that doesn’t already have one.
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