Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Charters, Vouchers, and Budget

Today the House and Senate took up Charter School legislation. HB2342 (Delegate Landes) and SB1283 (Senator Obenshain) are identical bills that would allow the VA Board of Education to establish Regional Charter “School Divisions”. The VA Constitution grants the BOE the authority to establish school divisions, to these bills use this language to skirt around the Constitutional issues bills like this usually have here in VA. Our cyber lobbyists did a wonderful job contacting members of the House and Senate urging them to vote NO on these bills. 

In the Senate, the bill passed 21-19 which was not a party line vote as Senator Emmett Hanger broke from his Republican caucus and voted NO on the bill, and Senator Chap Petersen broke from his Democratic Caucus and votes YES on the bill. Interestingly, Senator Petersen, an attorney, has represented Charter School applicants when they go before the Fairfax School Board. The vote tally sheet is below. A NAY vote was a right vote. 

In the House, the bill passed 54-43. The vote count is below. Again, a NAY vote was the right vote. The VEA will ask Governor McAuliffe to veto this bill. The administration has opposed this legislation this year, so we are hopeful but also grateful for our goalie in the Governor’s Mansion.

HB 2342 Public schools; Board of Education shall only establish regional charter school divisions. Senate: Passed Senate (21-Y 19-N)

YEAS--Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Petersen, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel, Wagner--21.
NAYS--Barker, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hanger, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Wexton--19.
SB 1283 Public schools; Board of Education shall only establish regional charter school divisions. VOTE: PASSAGE (54-Y 43-N)

YEAS--Adams, Anderson, Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Byron, Campbell, Cline, Cole, Collins, Cox, Davis, Dudenhefer, Edmunds, Fariss, Farrell, Fowler, Freitas, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Hodges, Holcomb, Ingram, Jones, Knight, Landes, LaRock, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Massie, Minchew, Miyares, Morris, O'Bannon, Orrock, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Stolle, Villanueva, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yancey, Mr. Speaker--54.
NAYS--Aird, Albo, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bloxom, Bourne, Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Filler-Corn, Hayes, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hester, Hope, Hugo, James, Keam, Kilgore, Krizek, Leftwich, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, Marshall, R.G., McQuinn, Miller, Mullin, Murphy, O'Quinn, Pillion, Plum, Price, Rasoul, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Watts, Yost--43.
NOT VOTING--Kory, Morefield, Ward--3.
Delegate Edmunds was recorded as yea. Intended to vote nay.
Delegate Kory was recorded as not voting. Intended to vote nay.

The Senate also took up Delegate LaRock’s very broad Parental Educational Savings Accounts, a voucher bill. The more narrowly drawn Senate version of this bill was defeated 20-20 with Lt. Governor breaking the tie and killing the bill. If you keep up with the Daily Reports, you know why that vote happened. As expected, this very broad and very concerning bill passed on a party line vote 21-19. Like the Charter School bills, the VEA will ask the Governor to veto this bill.

The votes on these two bills should reinforce the importance of the 2017 election in Virginia. The entire House of Delegates is up as are all three state-wide offices- Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General. It is imperative that education voters recognize everything this election could mean to public education. Do not sit this one out. We must engage every single Virginian who supports us and our public schools. We must get them registered to vote if they are not, and we must make sure they vote on November 7. Too much is riding on this.

The Senate has been sitting on HB2251, the Optional Defined Contribution VRS plan. The House passed the bill and included $1.5M to fund the start-up of the plan in their budget. The Senate did not fund the new plan in their budget. Today the Senate added a second amendment to the bill. Aside from passing next year before taking effect, the Senate added language requiring that before any DC plan rolls out, all other VRS plans must be funded at 100%. That won’t happen. So the bill needs to go to the House before passage and they may not like the amendment. That would kill the bill or send it to conference if there is still time for that.

We have heard the budget is finished and will be in members’ hands at 7pm tonight. Usually the General Assembly completes their work 48 hours after the budget is available. That is 7pm Friday. That is one day early. The Conference Budget will be available on-line as soon as members get it. We will be taking a good look at it this evening and give you an update here. 

Rumors are we will see state funding for a 2% salary increase for all SOQ funded positions, but with the flexibility that I described in another post. If a school division gave a raise at any time during the biennium, they can pull down the state money to back fill that cost. So, unless your school division didn’t give a raise this school year, it would be surprising to see one for 2017-18. We will see.

We will be working late tonight analyzing the numbers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tough Discipline Bills and Alternate Facts

If you have been following our Daily Reports, you know that there have been some really tough discipline bills in both the House and Senate this session. The House (HB1543 and HB1536) and the Senate bills (SB995 and SB997) started out as identical. However, the Senate patron, Senator Stanley, has worked with the education communities to include some flexibility so that no school division has tied hands in the most egregious cases. Delegate Dickie Bell has not been as willing to listen to school boards, superintendents, principals, or teachers when we have asked for some flexibility. The bills have been messy, the debate has been contentious, and, frankly, the Virginia Education Association has really taken it on the chin over our efforts.

Throughout this session, VEA has stood firm on our position that we must maintain safe schools for all students and staff. We have stood firm that school divisions need to have flexibility in the most serious cases. We have also stood firm that our schools, and school staffs, need the resources to support the behaviors that, often times, lead to long-term suspensions. Our testimony to these bills has always included messaging about the need for resources. An excerpt of what we have been communicating all session:

“We need social workers, psychologists, Assistant Principals, In School Suspension monitors, additional instructional aides, more counselors, and more funding for alternative education programs and family support programs. Without the proper resources in the buildings and in the community, we do not serve all of our students well. The state should have an obligation to support our schools in this important work. Ignoring the lack of resources limits the fixes that should be available to change course on suspension rates in Virginia.”

An important consideration in all of this is a real look at actual numbers. Reports from patrons and other legislators often include all suspensions, not just long-term. The most recent data from the VA DOE on long-term suspension numbers show that in 2014-15, a total of 4,156 students received a long-term suspension. There are over 1.2 million public school students in VA, so that number reflects less than two-tenths of one percent of all students. So 99.8% of students do not receive a long-term suspension. Does that mean the VEA is fine with that number? Absolutely not, but we need to keep in mind what is actually happening in our schools and how infrequently school divisions are resorting to this type of discipline action. Without question African-American students and students with disabilities are disproportionately represented in this number and we must take steps to support these students. VEA supports a laser focus on workable interventions to change that fact. There are tremendous programs that have shown they work. Virginia should fund these types of programs state-wide and make available training and support services for our professional staff to implement these programs.

Blaming long-term suspensions on poor classroom management skills, bad teaching, or “not wanting to teach those kids” as some legislators have done this session, is an unnecessary assault on the teaching profession. We should, instead, all be focused on real solutions, and school resources to make real change happen.

Yesterday on the floor of the House, Delegate Bell spoke an alternate fact. I will be 100% consistent in calling out any legislators that use alternate facts against our members. Delegate Bell spent time reprimanding legislators for listening to the Education Association on this bill. In an effort that seemed to be aimed at convincing these legislators that we had falsely represented our position, he said that the VEA “testified in committee that long-term suspensions were over used.” That is absolutely not true. We talked about disproportionate suspensions and we talked about not enough resources, but we have always used the same number- fewer than 0.2% of Virginia’s public school students received long-term suspensions in the last year we have data. Our position on this bill has been about keeping students safe, supporting local school divisions having some flexibility, and the need for resources to support student behaviors.

The VEA has communicated with legislators all session asking them to oppose any discipline bill that lacks some level of flexibility for the local school board. Yesterday Delegate Bell tried to make us seem as if we were talking out of both sides of our mouth. That is simply not the case.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Last Week of Session and Confirmation That Speaker Howell is Retiring

As we start the last week of the 2017 General Assembly session, it’s time to evaluate where we are, what bills are left, and what action we will ask Governor McAuliffe to take on some really bad bills.

The House and Senate Charter School bills are still making their way through the GA. Our cyber lobbyists have done a great job contacting legislators urging them to vote NO on HB2342 and SB1283. Each bill will be on the floor of the opposite body today. We anticipate Senator Hanger voting NO on the House version of the bill just as he did on the Senate bill. We have talked endlessly with Senator Petersen on the bill, but he will still cast a bad vote, and vote YES on the bill.

The Senate also has HB1605, Delegate LaRock’s Educational Savings Account bill, on their floor calendar. This bill already passed the House and we anticipate it passing the Senate. It is a bill we will ask Governor McAuliffe to veto. It is a bad bill for public education and a terrible bill for state expenses.

Also in the Senate is HB2251, Delegate Jones’ VRS Defined Contribution (DC) plan bill. Again, our cyber lobbyists did a fine job contacting members to oppose this bill. We have been hearing that the Senate did not want to kill the bill this session since a DC plan is Speaker Howell’s baby and, the rumors are, this is his last session. Today there are media reports confirming Howell will not seek reelection to the House in 2017, and the Speaker gave a wonderful speech during the House session today announcing his retirement.  So the rumors are true, and that is why the Senate added a reenactment clause to the bill- it keeps them from killing it while Mr. Speaker is still the Speaker. The reenactment clause requires the bill to pass next session if it passes this session. They passed it by on Friday, so we will see what happens today. We know the Senate doesn’t like the bill, but will they kill it as the Speaker’s time here wanes, or will they wait until next session? That is the big question. Personally, I’d rather see it die now, sorry Mr. Speaker.

However, we must acknowledge the historic nature or Delegate Bill Howell’s tenure as Speaker of the House. He has served since 2003 and is the second longest serving Speaker in Virginia’s history. We may not always agree on policy and legislation, but the VEA admires his service to the Commonwealth. His retirement clears a likely path for Delegate Kirk Cox to become the next Speaker, but we will see.

I did want to update you all on a bill the VEA opposed and spoke against throughout session, HB1829 from Delegate Dudenhefer. This bill would add another requirement to teacher licensure and renewal. The bill requires the completion of hands-on CPR and first aid training for all new teacher licenses and each time a license is renewed. Currently teachers must complete the on-line training to satisfy the requirement. This bill is an unfunded mandate on teachers and school divisions. The VEA recognizes the good intentions of this bill, but we are opposed to another mandate on the teacher licensing requirements. This bill passed unanimously from the House and will likely pass the Senate. We need to be prepared for its passage.

I am hearing from the Budget Conferees that negotiations are going well and we may see the budget early. If that happens, session could end early. The rumor is that how to appropriate a teacher salary increase is currently a point of debate. The good news is teacher salaries will be addressed, we will need to see the details.

It is another glorious day here in Richmond and we have been fortunate that most of this session, the weather has been unseasonable warm. The rest of this week temps are expected to be in the 60s, so I have hung up my winter coat until next session.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fast Paced Day: VEA Bill Passes, Read Across America Commended, Many Bills Still

The VEA initiated bill, HB2332, carried and championed by Delegate Roslyn Tyler passed the Senate today 40-0, and was engrossed and sent to the Governor’s desk to sign! The bill passed the House 100-0 earlier in session. In case you think this was a no-brainer bill, the VEA has tried many sessions, and in many ways, to get this type of bill through the General Assembly, and we have not been successful. Here is the language in the bill:

It is a goal of the Commonwealth that its public school teachers be compensated at a rate that is competitive with the national average teacher salary in order to attract and keep highly qualified teachers. As used in this section, "competitive" means, at a minimum, at or above the national average teacher salary. The Director of Human Resource Management shall conduct a biennial review of the compensation of teachers and other occupations requiring similar education and training and shall consider the Commonwealth's compensation for teachers relative to member states in the Southern Regional Education Board. The results of these reviews shall be reported to the Governor, the General Assembly, and the Board of Education by June 1 of each odd-numbered year.

This is big news for us and a big victory to our organizing efforts on salary. This bill doesn’t fix anything, but it gives us leverage. It also forces Virginia to take a hard look at where we stand as they review their efforts on compensation.

Today the Senate also passed a Resolution commending VEA and NEA on the 20th Anniversary of Read Across America. And in more good news, the Senate passed by HB2251, the Defined Contribution VRS plan, today. Our cyber lobbyists have put the pressure on the Senate to kill that bad bill. Here’s hoping they just keep passing it by until session ends. That kills the bill. So, overall, a good day.

Please don’t think, though, that public education is sailing through this session. The Senate and House will each take up Charter School bills on Monday. Delegate Landes’ HB2342 will be on the Senate floor Monday and SB1283 from Senator Obenshain, will be on the House floor. We have an active cyber lobbyist alert on those bills. Urge you legislators to vote NO. Click on the link below to send an email to your member of the House and Senate.

HB1605, Delegate LaRock’s voucher bill will also be on the Senate floor on Monday.

Next week is the last week of this short session. Budget conferees are working well together and, all reports indicate that Teacher Salary will be included. The devil will be in the details. Next week we will know what happens with some really big bills including the optional defined contribution retirement plan, vouchers, charters, and long-term suspension bills. As is usually the case, big public school bills wait until the last week, and there is always nail biting and heartburn involved.  

No to Charter School Bills

Thursday, February 16, 2017

An Interesting Day

This morning in Senate Education and Health, they took action on HB1400, the Virtual School Bill, and HB1605, the Parental Choice Education Savings Plan bill. They had already passed Senate versions of these bills, so they took no comments and simply conformed the bills and sent them to Senate Finance. The House has a $380,000 line in their budget for the cost to the state to implement the Savings Accounts, so they are expecting it to pass. The Senate version of the bill died on the Senate floor in a 20-20 vote, but we are hearing that Senator DeSteph will vote in favor of the bill this time around. The administration is opposed to both bills, so we will urge Governor McAuliffe to take veto action on them if they pass. 

Today on the House floor debate continued on the school discipline bills (HB1534 and 1536/SB995 and 997). I don’t understand why some legislators believe that teachers want kids out of their classrooms. Some comments on these bills this session have been really offensive to educators. Comments like, “This is a classroom management issue. Teachers should use every tool in their toolbox but instead they suspend kids” and today Delegate Albo kept up that argument. He said, “some teachers just don’t want to deal with these kids.” These arguments are 100% not the case. Today we were grateful to Delegates Ware and Orrock who defended teachers and school administrators. These bills will go to conference and we are hopeful we will end up with a bill that will address the real issue of long-term suspensions in VA while allowing school boards the flexibility to keep the 99.8% of our public school students who are not long-term suspended and the school staffs safe.

If you are a cyber lobbyist you should have received an action alert today asking you to email your Senator and ask they to vote NO on HB2251, Delegate Chris Jones’ VRS Optional Defined Contribution Plan. This plan is bad for school employees. There is not a lot of appitite for this bill in the Senate, but Speaker Howell loves this bill, so rather than just kill the bill, Senate Finance added a reenactment clause to the bill that requires that, if it passes this year, it must also past next year in order to go to the Governor’s desk. Read the action alert to learn more and please take action today.

Urge your Senator to Please vote NO on HB2251

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Optional" Changes to VRS- A Bad Idea

Today the Senate Finance committee reported HB2251 which would establish an “optional” VRS defined contribution (DC) plan for employees hired after July 1, 2018. The recommendation for this plan came from the Commission on Retirement and Pension Reform that was established last session by Speaker Bill Howell. This is a plan he likes, but the Commission didn’t love. In fact, when the commission heard a report on an optional DC plan this summer Senator Hanger, Senator Norment, Delegate Jones, and VEA GR Director all voted against the recommendation to bring the DC plan up as legislation this session. 

Regardless, the Speaker wants Virginia to have a DC plan, so the bill is here. Interestingly, Delegate Jones voted against the recommendation as a member of the Commission, but is carrying the bill for the Speaker. We knew the bill would pass the House, but we have talked with senators on both sides of the aisle and they are all saying it won’t pass in the Senate. Unfortunately, it reported out of committee today and will go to the floor of the Senate.

While this plan is “optional”, don’t be fooled. It is optional for now. DC plans are bad ideas for teachers. DC plans are sometimes good ideas for people who change jobs often or have career mobility within one department. They are also good for jobs where you have a fair amount of income growth over time. It is not good for teachers. Keep in mind, teachers are the largest group participating in VRS. What is good for us should matter.

To learn more about DC plans, please read this case study the National Institute on Retirement Security.

We will send out an action alert tomorrow urging your Senator to vote NO on HB2251. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love, Love, Love and Three Really Bad Votes in House P&E

Today is Valentine’s Day at the General Assembly, and folks here take the holiday very seriously. I have included some photos at the end of today’s blog for you to see. 

Legislators showed some love to the VEA teacher salary bill today in Senate Finance. HB2332 unanimously reported from Senate Finance today. The bill passed the House unanimously, Senate Education unanimously, and Senate Finance unanimously, so the last stop is the Senate floor. It looks like this may be the year that we finally get language that sets a state policy that teacher salaries should be competitive with the National Average! The bill will appear on the Senate floor calendar for first read tomorrow.

Interestingly, the ONLY nay vote the teacher salary bill has received was in the House Education Committee from Delegate Mark Cole. He voted in favor of the bill when it came to the floor of the House, but he has the honor of being the only no vote, so far, on our bill. I mention that because Delegate Cole is on the House Privileges and Elections (P&E) Subcommittee on Elections. This committee seems to have a mission to kill any and all redistricting bills. Today they took out the Senate versions of these good bills. This is the committee that killed the House versions of the bills earlier in session, and, today, they didn't let a packed room of Virginians who supported the bills deter them. All week legislators have been bombarded with phone calls urging support of a fair redistricting process in Virginia, that didn't matter to this committee. The other interesting point is that there was not a single word of opposition to any of these bills today. That didn’t matter to this committee, either. What seems to matter to this subcommittee is keeping a system in place where legislators draw their own districts. Each of these bills had already passed the Virginia Senate and each passed out of the Senate P&E Committee 12-2. The House is unwilling to move on this bipartisan effort. The committee moved to pass the bills by indefinitely (kill them). A NAY vote was the right vote.

SB 846 Virginia Interim Redistricting Commission; criteria for remedial redistricting plans.
02/14/17  House: Subcommittee recommends passing by indefinitely (5-Y 2-N)

YEAS--Ransone, Jones, Fowler, Adams, Cole--5.
NAYS--Sickles, Torian--2.

SJ 231 Constitutional amendment; Virginia Redistricting Commission, criteria to redraw certain districts.
02/14/17  House: Subcommittee recommends passing by indefinitely (5-Y 2-N)
YEAS--Ransone, Jones, Fowler, Adams, Cole--5.
NAYS--Sickles, Torian--2.

SJ 290 Constitutional amendment; criteria for electoral districts (first reference).
02/14/17  House: Subcommittee recommends passing by indefinitely (5-Y 2-N)
YEAS--Ransone, Jones, Fowler, Adams, Cole--5.
NAYS--Sickles, Torian--2.

In case that vote has left you feeling unloved, I share some photos from the General Assembly Office Building this morning.