Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Veto Session and House Budget

Today is the reconvened session of the General Assembly where the House and the Senate meet to take up bills that have vetoed by the Governor and bills where the Governor made recommendations to the bills. This year the VEA had no veto requests. That is huge change. Last year we asked that the Governor veto six different pieces of legislation. Elections matter! We were able to kill all the really bad bills during session. That made today's veto session anti-climactic, but we will take that!

While today feels like a victory, not having to ask for vetoes is not the war we are trying to win. It is a battle for sure, but we have work to do. We need not only stop the bad stuff, but pass the really important bills and secure the funding necessary to meet our school's needs. So we celebrate today, but we get back to work tomorrow.

Here's why we need to work. Yesterday the House of Delegates passed biennial budget that expands Medicaid and invests in our public schools. They did this during the Special Session that is also going on- yes, two kinds of session at one time, fun.  The Senate has yet to take action on a any budget during Special Session. They are going to start that work this afternoon when the Senate Fiance Committee meets. The rumor is that we won't have a budget until mid-May. Of course, if the Governor makes any changes to that budget, they General Assembly would have to come back to take up those changes. The state government is funded through June 30, so they have "time" until we would have shut down the state government. A shut down won't happen at the state level. We will have a budget by then , but we will have to see if the bodies can agree on Medicaid. If they do, our public schools would receive an additional $169 million, so this is a big deal.

Time will tell.

Friday, April 13, 2018

House of Delegates Continues Pursuit of Medicaid Expansion

This morning the House of Delegates took the first steps in the new budget battle. The House Appropriations Committee took up HB5001 and HB5002 which are Governor Northam's proposed budget bills (HB5001 is the Caboose budget to wrap up FY2018, HB5002 is the Biennial Budget).

The House Appropriations Committee voted 16-5 to report the budget bill with amendments. The important thing here is that the House has reported a budget bill that includes Medicaid expansion. That means we will see a floor vote in the House next week on their budget with a likely outcome that they will forward the Senate a budget with Medicaid expansion. Interestingly three members of the House Appropriations Committee changed their vote from the Medicaid expansion budget bill they considered in Committee during regular session. None of these flips ended up voting in favor of the budget on the floor, so these aren't lost votes, but still interesting in an otherwise uninteresting committee meeting.

Delegates Landes, Robinson, and Rush voted IN FAVOR of the House budget during session but against the new budget. All three were no votes on the final vote on the floor, so they clearly do not support Medicaid expansion. In the land of wonder and intrigue where my brain, sadly, goes during session, I am guessing they got some heat from their constituents on their inconsistency of position on expansion. I also think that there may have been some effort by at least one of these members to try to fence sit and appeal to both sides of the Medicaid fight with their split vote last time. Who knows. Regardless the House will, once again, consider a budget that expands Medicaid and INVESTS in VA!

Here is the vote from today's House Appropriations Committee. A "YES" vote was to expand Medicaid:
YEAS--Jones, S.C., Ingram, Peace, Knight, Garrett, Stolle, Pillion, Torian, Sickles, James, Carr, McQuinn, Aird, Tyler, Krizek, Bell, John J.--16.
NAYS--Landes, Poindexter, Rush, Robinson, Head--5.
NOT VOTING--Hayes--1.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

They're Back- 2018 Special Session

The General Assembly convened today for the Special Session called for by Governor Northam. They adjourned on March 10 without a budget, so the Governor has called them back to complete their work. If you follow this blog you know that the Governor's proposed budget (which is now Northam's) included an expansion of Medicaid. During the regular session the House also adopted a budget that included Medicaid expansion; the VA Senate did not.

The resulting chasm between the House and Senate budgets was over $600 million. The budget conferees could not come to a compromise on that budget, so they adjourned without one. Since the regular session adjourned without taking action on the budget, as if right now, neither the House nor the Senate has a budget. They have to start over. A few weeks ago Governor Northam introduced his budget and, today, the House will take up that budget.

For you wonky procedural folks, the interesting thing with the Governor's budget is that during the regular session, the General Assembly was actually considering Governor McAuliffe's budget that he announced in December 2017 before Governor Northam's inauguration. Since they adjourned without a budget during the regular session, all of the budget bills were dead and the process had to start over. That allowed Governor Northam to introduce a budget last month. His budget was almost identical to Governor McAuliffe's budget with some minor changes.

The House will start working on the budget on Friday when the House Appropriations Committee meets to take up members' amendments to Northam's budget. They will reconvene on Tuesday, April 17 to vote on their budget.

The rumor is that the Senate is not going to take up the Governor's budget, and they will wait to take up whatever budget the House sends to them. If that is the case, and it certainly appears to be, the earliest the Senate will get the budget is April 17 and then they will have to start their committee work and floor action. It seems that there is still no agreement on the budgets, so they Senate will take a few days to go through their budget process and then budget conferees will be named. With that timeline it seems unlikely there will be an adopted budget before May 1.There is a whole lot of gamemanship going on here at the Capitol.

As you may have seen, there does seem to be some breaks in the Senate Republican Caucus on Medicaid expansion. Senator Frank Wagner and Senator Emmett Hanger have both stated their willingness to move Virginia to some form of expansion. There only needs to be one who breaks from the caucus on this, but no one has yet seemed willing to step completely out on his own. We will see as the budget battle continues.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Special Session and Details on Teacher Licensure Bill

This afternoon, Governor Ralph Northam issued a proclamation calling for the members of the Virginia House of  Delegates and the Virginia Senate to return for a Special Session of the General Assembly on April 11. The purpose of the Special Session is to take up and adopt a 2018-2020 budget. Hopefully the budget conferees are, once again, working and we will have a budget that INVESTS in Virginia and gives educators a raise!! Keep checking here for updates!

I have been getting many questions on the Teacher Licensure bill and wanted to share some details. The bill passed and is on the Governor's desk. Any legislation he signs (and he will sign this one) becomes law effective July 1 of the year of passage. BUT... this bill requires that the Board of Education establish regulations on the license, so I would guess that the 10 year license will become effective in 2019, but we will keep you updated as we work with the BOE.

We do expect the fee on the 10 year license to go to $50 to reflect the doubling of the length of the license. The Department of Education indicated that they would need to do that to keep the bill fiscally neutral, but, again, the BOE will establish all of the regulations including fees.

The bill requires the BOE to establish the number of Professional Development points that will be required. For a 5 year license you are required to have 180 PD points. The bill that passed says that the Board will determine the number of points, not to exceed 360. Again, we will work closely with the BOE as they create the regulations on the new licenses.

Keep in mind that all the "add on" requirements that the General Assembly has thrown onto license renewal will only have to completed every 10 years. That is important.

Some other changes coming to teacher licensure:

Provisional licenses are still for 3 years, but they can be extended by the BOE for up to two years at the request of the local superintendent so long as the provisional license holder is making progress towards meeting full license requirements and is an effective teacher. Many of our provisionally licensed teachers are new to teaching and, often, teaching in hard to staff schools. That makes completing all of the license requirements difficult for some. When they couldn't complete the requirements in three years, they could no longer teach. The possibility of extension will help those teachers and many of those schools.

Teachers with valid out of state licenses will have full reciprocity in Virginia. They will need to establish a file with the Department of Education that contains a full application, official transcripts and license information, but will not have to meet any of the other service requirements to be hired in Virginia. They will have to renew their license as required in Virginia when they license expires. This will be especially helpful to our military-educator families as they move into Virginia. The educator will be able to obtain their VA credentials much more quickly and be hired much more quickly.

Those are the biggest changes. When this bill was originally filed it allowed for the waiver of any license for anyone with "content knowledge" in any area. The VEA worked very hard to gain bipartisan support to strike that section of the bill. Our message that teachers should be licensed and that they should have content knowledge and a solid foundation in pedagogy, the science of teaching, was heard. The original bill also disadvantaged teacher candidates going through a traditional teacher prep program by eliminating the test requirements for provisionally licensed teachers. The VEA fought that as well, and that language is not in the bill. The VEA shed a bright light on the cultural biases in the PRAXIS test and that we should, perhaps, look at alternative ways to measure a teacher's preparedness to enter the classroom. We were firm, however, that we shouldn't offer a short cut for some until we look at the whole picture. Sadly, language to study just that issue was deleted from the bill to help eliminate fiscal impact, but we have highlighted this issue for the Governor and the Secretary of Education, so we are hopeful there will be good work in this lane during off-session.

If you hold a teaching license in Virginia, make sure you connect with the VEA to stay informed. We will be working with the Board of Education and the Department as they develop the regulations and we will be sending out communications as we learn more. As the professional license holder, make sure you know what your plan is and what requirements you need to meet.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Sine Die... For Now

The gavel went down on the Regular Session of the General Assembly right before 2pm this afternoon. They adjourned Sine Die, which means with no future date or times set for their next meeting. That is usually the signal that the session is really over, but they adjourned without having adopted a 2018-2020 budget as they are required to do.Governor Northam will call them back for a Special Session to take up the budget. That date is not yet known or set, and it will depend on when the House and Senate Budget Conferees make headway on a compromise budget. There is some talk that may take well into April. We shall see. The VEA continues to put pressure on the Senate Conferees to expand Medicaid and invest in Virginia. Our cyber lobby alert has been updated. Even if you have already sent a message, please do so again. You can click here to send an email to the six Senate Conferees.

Work on Legislation is finished and there are a couple of exciting updates:

  • We protected our school librarians by working to defeat  SB261.
  • We round up the votes to pass HB1044 that will require every school division in Virginia to have policies on workplace bullying and employee protections.
  • We returned the 4 year education degree as a possibility as defined in SB76.
  • We limited expansion of back door vouchers by defeating SB172 and HB1165.
  • We were the only education association that supported SB229 that will require the DOE to develop and make available training for school bus personnel in assisting special education students. 
  • We worked with other education groups and our community colleges and higher education to clean up the dual enrollment process and build consistency in how those college credits, earned in high school, are honored. HB 3 makes positive changes to how those credits are gained and honored. 
  • We helped add recess to the instructional hour count in the elementary grades so that schools will have the time to allocate to this important part of the day.  SB273 and HB1419 establish this possibility. 
  • We protected the professionalism of teaching in HB1125 and SB349 that make some changes to the licensing process in the Commonwealth. We worked endlessly on that bill to make sure those sections that would have disadvantaged prospective teachers who go through a traditional teacher prep program and that would have allowed a local school division to hire non-licensed teachers were not included in the final bill. 
  • We worked with the Virginia Superintendents Association and the Virginia School Boards Association to change teacher licenses from 5 years to 10 years to limit the burden placed on our teachers to be in an constant state of license renewal. 

There is much more to report, but those are some of the highlights as I reflect on the session today just a few hours after the gavel went down. The work we did was good, but there is so much to do.

We must address the teacher shortage and teacher salaries through a sustained, long-term effort.
We must address the other issues that are causing our teachers and school employees to leave.
We must address the rising cost of health care and the burden that places on school employees.
We must do real work on the student debt problem in Virginia.
We must revise how we evaluate teachers in Virginia and use real measures of effectiveness, not test scores, when we evaluate.
We must fund the SOQs as revised by the Board of Education in 2016.
We must stop allowing "rebenchmarking" to be called a new investment in public schools. It is a technical funding update that changes NOTHING on the ground, it only reflects updated costs to our current programs.

So we have much to do. Start today. Contact the Senate Budget Conferees. Engage in your local association. Make yourself a vital voice to your School Board and Board of Supervisors or City Councils. VOTE! Do not wait for someone else to act on your behalf. Be the pebble that creates that huge ripple in a quiet pond. We must all get to work. While this session was better than the last, there is much to do.

Sine die!

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Over Time, Extra Innings...Name Your Sports Analogy, the Session Goes On

This 60 day session of the General Assembly will not end on Saturday. The money committees have announced that they have not reached agreement on the budget, and we must have a budget. Today the House and Senate are working on a plan on how to add time to session. 

Interestingly, there are two ways to do this. They can simply extend the session by a certain number of days to give them time to work out the budget and then vote on it. The other option is to adjourn, but not sine die, and ask the Governor to order a reconvened session. There are all sorts of nuances to both, but one of the issues is that they can't raise money while they are in session. So for some legislators who might be facing either a primary challenge or a tough race in 2019, they would like to build their reserves, and they prefer a reconvened session. Others want to stick it out until they finish, so extend the session. 

We should know by the morning what they decide to do, but there are rumors that the budget impasse is so bad, they might not be able to reach an agreement until April. That would make extending session suddenly seems ridiculous. 

As you all know, school divisions all over the Commonwealth are in budget development for the 2018-19 school year. Without knowing what the state appropriations to each division will be, this is tough work. School divisions will be left making best guesses over the next few weeks if the General Assembly can't figure this out. The two budgets are $169 million apart in funding for K-12, so there are very large implications to local budgets. I wouldn't be surprised to see some local school divisions have two different budgets ready to go depending on the outcome here in Richmond. Legislators take his very seriously and they know how much a delay in a budget impacts their constituents. 

So what can you do? Call the Senate budget conferees and let them know you want them to expand Medicaid and INVEST in Virginia. Here are the Senate budget conferees and their contact information: 
  • Senator Tommy Norment    (804) 698-7503
  • Senator Emmett Hanger      (804) 698-7525
  • Senator Janet Howell          (804) 698-7551
  • Senator Dick Saslaw           (804) 698-7535
  • Senator Frank Wagner        (804) 698-7507
  • Senator Frank Ruff             (804) 698-7515
You can also email them using our cyber lobbyist alert. Click here to email the conferees. 

More information on the Fat Lady and her song tomorrow. For now, I think she has plenty of time to rest her vocal chords. 

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Workplace Bully Bill Passes

Today the House accepted the Senate amendments on House Bill 1044. This bill requires every school division in the Commonwealth to adopt policies and procedures to educate school employees about bullying and to create a bully-free environment. The bill requires each school board to adopt policies that:

  1. Prohibit abusive work environments in the school division;
  2. Provide for the appropriate discipline of any school board employee who contributes to an abusive work environment; and 
  3. Prohibit retaliation or reprisal against a school board employee who alleges an abusive work environment or assists in the investigation of an allegation of an abusive work environment.

This bill was carried by Delegate Luke Torian from Prince William County. The VEA worked closely with the patron and the PWEA President, Riley O'Casey, traveled to Richmond to testify on the bill in the House Education Committee. A few session ago the VEA worked to pass legislation that added a definition of bullying to the Code and to require that school divisions implement policies to prohibit it. Unfortunately, the legislation did force school divisions to make changes to the Student Codes of  Conduct, but it did not translate into policies for school employee protection and healthy workplaces. This bill will now require school divisions to establish those policies.

I won't lie, when Delegate Torian send me a draft of his bill back in November, I loved it, but was worried about it getting very far. Delegate Torian carried this bill masterfully and, as he is known to do, worked with both sides of the aisle to get a bill that most could get behind. The VEA is grateful to Delegate Torian for patroning the bill and for working with us the whole way through.

The Senate passed the bill unanimously.

Here is the vote in the House to pass the bill:

YEAS--Adams, D.M., Aird, Austin, Ayala, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bourne, Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Carroll Foy, Carter, Convirs-Fowler, Delaney, Edmunds, Filler-Corn, Garrett, Gooditis, Guzman, Hayes, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hodges, Hope, Hurst, James, Jones, J.C., Jones, S.C., Keam, Knight, Krizek, Leftwich, Levine, Lopez, McQuinn, Miyares, Morefield, Mullin, Murphy, Peace, Plum, Price, Ransone, Rasoul, Reid, Rodman, Roem, Sickles, Simon, Stolle, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tran, Turpin, Tyler, VanValkenburg, Ward, Watts, Wilt, Yancey--62.

NAYS--Adams, L.R., Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Bloxom, Brewer, Byron, Campbell, Cline, Cole, Collins, Davis, Fariss, Fowler, Freitas, Gilbert, Habeeb, Head, Hugo, Ingram, Kilgore, Landes, LaRock, Marshall, McGuire, O'Quinn, Orrock, Pillion, Pogge, Poindexter, Robinson, Rush, Thomas, Ware, Webert, Wright, Mr. Speaker--36.

NOT VOTING--Kory, Lindsey--2.