|Del. Tag Greason (R-32nd) said House Bill 1999 is all about transparency and ensuring parents understand how schools are performing. Times-Mirror File Photo|
State Del. Tag Greason (R-32nd) says he has yet to meet a single parent in his Loudoun County district who doesn't support his school grading bill approved by the General Assembly in 2013, but his critics are questioning the brain trust behind the seemingly straightforward legislation.
The bill (HB 1999), which was passed 65-31 in the House of Delegates and 22-17 in the Senate, will assign simple A-F letter grades to individual public schools. The marks will be based on student progress and the school's ability to meet state and federal benchmarks.
Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell served as one of the most high-profile advocates for Greason's legislation.
“I'm pleased to see that this measure to bring accountability and transparency to Virginia public schools is on its path to being signed into law,” McDonnell said after the Senate passed the measure.
McDonnell thanked legislators “for supporting this tool to allow parents and teachers to better advocate for and improve the schools in their communities. This is a commonsense bill that will allow us to continue to improve the quality of education for all Virginia students."
Yet in recent weeks, Greason's critics, including Democrat Elizabeth Miller -- Greason's challenger in the Nov. 5 election -- have pointed to the fact that A-F grading has been a lobbying point of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative think tank that promotes limited government and free markets.
Despite having attended two ALEC conferences during his time in the House of Delegates, Greason told the Times-Mirror he was unaware the group supported A-F legislation until this summer.
“[HB 1999] is based off of something that was done in Florida 10 years ago,” Greason said in a Sept. 6 interview, adding that Florida's public schools have improved since the grading implementation.
“I'm doing this for the parents in my district.” Greason added.
The two-term lawmaker said the bill is all about transparency and ensuring parents understand how schools are performing.
Still, similar legislation has sparked controversy in other states.
In Indiana last year, after A-F school grading was enacted, the state's now-former superintendent of public instruction was found to have altered the school grade for an Indiana charter school founded by a big-money Republican donor.
In Maine, the state made errors when calculating the scores of some of its public schools.
Opponents of the simple A-F grading system fear lawmakers will use possibly-manipulated or miscalculated grades to close public schools and tout options beyond public education.
Portions of Greason's bill closely follow model legislation drafted by ALEC, which holds a cozy relationship with the National Rights Association, the Heritage Foundation and the climate-change denying Heartland Institute, according to a report by The Nation magazine.
Virginia taxpayers paid nearly $1,500 for Greason to attend ALEC meetings in 2011, according to the Virginia Public Access Project (VPAP). In 2010, Greason attended one taxpayer-funded ALEC conference for $555, VPAP reports.
Greason's opponent, Miller, said she's skeptical of her challenger's comments that he was unaware of the ALEC-school grading connection.
She said she would've voted against the A-F grading legislation were she serving in the House at the time.
“I believe it's about obfuscation, not simplification,” Miller said. “I think parents will end up being confused about how the grades came to be.”
But, Greason said, much of the methodology in evaluating Virginia's schools won't change. He said the state Board of Education – as it always has – will be doing the heavy-lifting when it comes to gauging schools' success.