Monday, January 16, 2017

It's Back! Constitutional Amendment on Charter Schools...and Gun Day Monday

We worked hard last year to kill the Constitutional Amendment that would have granted the Virginia Board of Education the authority to establish charter schools in any division in the Commonwealth regardless of the desire of the local school board. Sometimes the General Assembly is a bit like a dog chasing its own tail.

This session Delegate John Bell and Senator Mark Obenshain have brought back the exact same Constitutional amendment. Right now the Virginia Constitution grants the authority to establish and maintain schools to the local school boards. Local school boards have the authority to grant charters that fill a need in their community and have a solid, fiscally responsible, application. Taking away this authority is the wrong thing to do. Think about your school division right now. If you were told by the state Board of Education you must open a new high school next year, no matter your current budget situation, staffing, or student needs, what would be the implications? Stripping this authority from the local school boards is the wrong thing to do, and we will continue to fight the effort.

The House Education Committee met this morning. There were no bills of interest for us, but the committee did hear a presentation from the new Executive Director of the Virginia High School League (VHSL). Interesting information on their redesign and efforts to make processes easier for schools and student athletes. The presentation is available on the House of Education page.

We are inching closer to VEA Lobby Day. One week from today VEA members from all over the state will come to the General Assembly to advocate for our positions. Make sure you make appointments with your legislators now. The pace is frantic during session, so make sure you get your time with them (or their Legislative Aides).

Today was Monday, Gun Day. The General Assembly was filled with gun rights advocates and their firearms. Always an interesting day in Richmond. Early morning sub-committees start tomorrow, things will really start moving now.

Friday, January 13, 2017

VEA Member Toney McNair Honored and Two New Senators Today

Another day of very quick, but important, action in the House and Senate today.

The House of Delegates passed House Joint Resolution 727 Commending VA Teacher of the Year, and VEA member, Dr. Toney McNair. Such a great honor for such a great educator and a good man. Congratulations Toney!

The Senate swore in both new Senators (prior to the State Board of Election certifying the results, see previous post if you want to know more about that). The VEA recommended Jennifer McClellan in Senate District 9 and we could not be more thrilled she is now in the Senate. In the 22nd district Mark Peake was sworn in and the Senate remains 21 Republicans and 19 Democrats.

Congratulations to our two new Virginia Senators!

VEA bills start appearing on committee dockets at 8am Monday. Quick days on the floor are over for sure. 

Short Days on the Floor, For Now

A quick update from the General Assembly for Thursday. The post didn't make it up yesterday, but there is still little to report. Bills are finding there way to committees that are then referring them to the appropriate sub committees. With the number of education bills that have been filed, it is nice to have a bit of a slow start to get all of our ducks in a row.

There was a back and forth on the Senate floor between Senator Obenshain and Senators Locke and Saslaw over how quickly the State Board of Elections could certify the two new Senators. Turns out with a Friday state holiday and a Monday Federal holiday, things are backed up. Senator Obenshain could not understand why the state employees would not work through the holiday to complete the work.Senator Saslaw reminded the body that the requirement to have proper ID on Election Day delayed the certification by another three days since anyone who filled out a provisional ballot has three days to provide their photo ID. He reminded Senator Obenshain that the Senator had supported and backed the photo ID law that resulted in the delay. And that was that...

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

And So It Begins...

At noon today the Virginia House of Delegates the Virginia Senate gaveled in the 2017 session. The first day is filled with ceremonial votes and introductions. Tonight at 7pm Governor Terry McAuliffe will deliver his State of the Commonwealth address. I certainly anticipate some updates on revenues and information on his plan to balance the budget.

One thing you will likely hear the Governor say is that K-12 was “held harmless” in the most recent cuts. Let’s put that in some perspective.

Yes, Direct Aid to K-12 has not been subject to the 5% to 7.5% cuts other departments were required to make. But the 2% salary increase that was included in the first year of the budget was tied to the state meeting the revenue forecast. When VA fell short, K-12 lost $134.4 million dollars in state funds to support those increases. The Governor has proposed state support for a 1.5% one-time “bonus” for SOQ positons, but there is no language in the budget that localities must implement this plan, and we know that localities would have to foot the bill for the local share of this bonus and cover the full amount for non-SOQ positions. K-12 also saw just over $102 million in losses from the General Fund that was supplanted with the same amount from Non-General Fund revenues (Lottery Funds and Literary Funds). And losses in average daily membership came to another drop in state funding of $85 million. So, yes, Direct Aid was held harmless, but don’t be fooled. Don’t get me wrong, we are certainly grateful to the Governor and his efforts to find additional money to fill the holes in the K-12 budget, but “harmless” these reductions are not.

Today in House Appropriations we got our first real senses of the path the House may take in their budget. The House Appropriations Committee received a presentation on the Governor’s proposed budget amendments. We have been hearing rumors that House Republicans were trying to restore the 2% salary increase for teachers, but there was some potential, and concerning, writing on the wall. Delegate Chris Jones, Chair of House Appropriations, asked what can only be considered a rhetorical question of his staff during the presentation. Delegate Jones asked if most school divisions gave the 2% raise anyway, and he got the answer he was looking for- YES. Most localities in VA were able to fully fund the salary increase even when the state failed to deliver on their share. Delegate Jones went on to ask, “Did the localities have enough time to rescind the raises once they heard the state would fall short in revenue forecasts?” Answer from House Appropriations staff, “Yes.”

I guess Delegate Jones wanted the packed room to know that teachers in many divisions got raises in spite of the state. Of course to make that happen, localities had to cut in other areas. Giving a teacher a salary increase and then saying, “Never mind, we take it back” is bad business and those divisions that COULD afford the raise locally, DID. But we know our most in-need localities, the ones who CAN’T, didn’t, and those teachers had the rug swiped out from under them. Not sure Delegate Jones’ comments are good supporting evidence that the House Republicans will be leading a charge to prioritize salary increases. We will no more in the next few days as budget amendments from members of the General Assembly are filed. Let’s hope they aren’t all going to keep up with the Jones.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Ready or Not, Here We Go!

The 2017 session of Virginia’s General Assembly will begin at noon on Wednesday, January 11th when the gavel goes down in the Virginia Senate and House of Delegates. This is an odd numbered year, which means a “short” session of only 45 days. Don’t be fooled, though. I have found that the short sessions can be just as manic as a long session, and this one seems to be getting ready to prove my theory. VEA leadership and staff have been working hard meeting with members, talking to legislators, reviewing bills, and attending meetings as we get ready for what will likely be another tough session for our public schools.

As you may know, there have been changes at VEA during the last few months. Meg Gruber’s term as VEA President ended and Robley Jones, our long-time Director of Government Relations and our chief lobbyist, retired. Jim Livingston is VEA’s President and I’m Kathy Burcher, your new GR Director. So while there are new faces, the mission has not changed. The Daily Reports from the General Assembly will also continue with some new perspective and some new voices. While I will write many of our blog entries, be on the look-out for some special General Assembly reports from Jim Livingston, our Lobby Cadre, and our members.

So back to this session. Virginia’s budget has cast a long shadow. For many reasons that are still being studied and evaluated, Virginia’s revenues have come in below forecast. This has created a budget “hole” of just about $1.5 billion over the course of the 2016-2018 biennial budget. The Governor and, ultimately, the General Assembly must figure out how to fill the hole and balance the budget. As you know the state support for teacher salary increases scheduled in the first year of the biennium were tied to a revenue reserve. This “reserve” was required by law to revert back to the general fund if Virginia came up short on revenue forecasts. Virginia did, and the salary increase went into the budget hole as filler.

In his budget amendments, Governor McAuliffe did protect Direct Aid to K-12 from any additional cuts, and we are grateful for that. I am not sure how much more cutting our schools can take. The Governor also proposed a 1.5% one-time bonus for SOQ funded positions that would be paid in December 2017. While the idea of a bonus sounds great, it will take some tricky funding magic at the local level for that to play out and pay out. The VEA is committed to salary increases rather than one-time bonuses and we will work to get the increases prioritized. There are all sorts of rumors that we will see efforts to reinstate the salary increases that were cut. We shall see.

In the absence of money, legislators love policy changes and, so far, that seems to be the case. We will, once again, play defense on a number of bills including Parental Educational Savings Plans (a voucher), an expansion of for-profit virtual schools, and charters. Senator Obenshain has filed a Constitutional Amendment that would allow the State Board of Education to establish charter schools. If this sounds familiar, it’s because the VEA killed this effort last session. In order to change Virginia’s Constitution, a bill must pass one session, followed by an intervening election of the House of Delegates, then pass the session after the election. Had last year’s bill passed, we would have had a Charter School Constitutional question on the ballot this past November. The bill failed to pass the second year, but Senator Obenshain is willing to try again. The bill will need to pass this session, the House is up for election this fall, and then pass next session. We will work to kill it this year. So far, there is no House version of the bill, so this fight will focus on the Senate. Legislators can file bills until Wednesday, so we will see what drops.

As always, talk with your legislators, tell your stories. Your voice can make a difference.

I will have more updates tomorrow. By the way, tomorrow is Election Day for three General Assembly seats all of which are open because of General Assembly members being elected to Congress. The 85th district in the House of Delegates, and two seats in the VA Senate- the 9th and the 22nd- will be filled in Special Elections tomorrow. Specials can be tricky things, and turn out is everything. If you live in one of these districts, please vote. If you're not sure if you live in one of the districts you can click here to find out. 

Monday, April 11, 2016

2016 Session Summary

This was a session of substantial success in advancing the VEA agenda.
Let me first address advancing the critical issue of funding our public schools which serve 94% of Virginia’s students.  They are Virginia’s future. 

Governor McAuliffe’s introduced budget invested $864 million in additional funds for our schools, setting a high bar for the General Assembly.  The conference report which passed both chambers on March 11, includes a $892.3 million dollar increase in direct aid for public education.

This is significant progress, and as you can see from the chart on the screen, progress was made on recouping funds lost during the Great Recession.

 However, when inflation is considered the chart shows a different picture.
On the school funding front we can celebrate success with the realization that we have far to go.  And reaching the goal of making up for lost ground will still leave Virginia with a low ranking in state support for public education.
In 2012 the General Assembly passed legislation including a stair-step approach to full funding of the VRS Board’s certified contribution rate.  This is extremely important, as full funding will reduce the unfunded liability and reduce the perceived need to reduce pension benefits.

The General Assembly is not only keeping its promise in this regard, the teacher fund will be fully funded in July 2017, one year ahead of schedule.  This will be the first time the Board Certified Rate has been funded since 2001.
VEA commends the General Assembly for achieving the full funding goal in this biennium.

The introduced budget provided no state incentive funds to provide salary increases for next school year.  We made gaining first year funding a top priority.  Delegate Yost and Senators Chafin and Sturtevant proposed amendments to provide first year funding, and with the help of Senators Howell and Newman, the Senate included first year funding in their budget.  You went to work with messages to the budget conferees, and while we fell short of our initial salary goal, for only the third time since 2008, we did gain some funding for the state share of a salary increase for teachers and support personnel.  Something is better than nothing, but this meager increase will not put Virginia in a position to attract and retain the high quality instructional personnel in this time of teacher shortages.

In VEA’s continued efforts to protect the confidentiality of teacher performance indicators, we have repeatedly sought the help and advice of  Delegate Jim LeMunyon.
Some of you will remember his HB1889 in the 2013 session.  This year he sponsored HB524. which preserves the confidentiality of teacher performance data.

Under Jim’s able patronage, HB524 passed the House 98 to 0, and passed the Senate 38 to 0.

We deeply appreciate Senator Norment’s patronage of SB564, which preserves the confidentiality of teacher licensure and re-licensure applications. 
Those who know Senator Norment know him to be fiercely combative, but that is balanced by his thoughtfulness and eloquence.  He is a Senator’s Senator, and is deeply respected by all members of the General Assembly.  He also possesses a deep sense of fairness, and that is why he was the perfect sponsor for this bill.

SB564 sailed through the Senate, 40-0, and passed the House 93-3.  Sometimes it pays to have the right sponsor.

In 2007 the late Senator Yvonne B. Miller and Senator Norment, at VEA’s request, successfully sponsored resolution (SJ372) to study the feasibility of a state-wide health insurance experience pool for educators and local government employees.”  AND we’ve been fighting for it ever since.

This year Senators Chafin, Vogel, and Delegate Kilgore led the charge for us on this issue.  It was Senator Chafin’s SB364 which proved to be the vehicle for final passage of a bill establishing the framework for a state-wide pool.

For VEA this is a major legislative accomplishment, and a lesson in the value of persistence – we worked it for a decade!

As the 2016 Legislative Session began, it was assumed that the charter school constitutional amendmet would pass.  Perhaps, they underestimated VEA and our partners in this battle, VSBA and VASS.

No battle was harder fought in the 2016 session than our successful efforts to defeat the charter school constitutional amendment.  We owe deep thanks to the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, who were with us every step of the way in this battle.

We thank Governor McAuliffe for vetoing two measures, which passed despite our best efforts.

HB8 was a problematic virtual school bill which will open Virginia to corporate virtual providers. In other states such schools have resulted in low graduation rates, poor academic performance, and high dropout rates.  

HB389 was a special education voucher bill which requires no review of student progress, as is required by IDEA, and there are no due-process provisions for parents if progress is not being made, as is required by IDEA.  The bill contains no accountability for the quality of instruction provided and the use of the funds is wide open.

The inclusion of sectarian schools also raises a serious constitutional question.

According to multiple studies analyzing voucher programs, students offered vouchers do not perform better than their public school peers.   Indeed, public school students have actually been found to outperform private school students when test scores are weighted to reflect socioeconomic level, race, and disability.

We thank Governor McAuliffe for vetoing both of these bills.

The 2016 Session established a commission and two committees which will require our participation.

It is worth noting that VEA is the only teacher group recognized by the Speaker to serve on the Pension Commission, and the only teacher group named by the Chairman of the House Education Committee to participate in the study of the future of public elementary and secondary education in the Commonwealth.  Our voice is a critical one as policy is developed.

The battle continues, but as the dust clears on the 2016 General Assembly it is clear that VEA had a most successful session.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Please Send a Message to Governor McAuliffe Urging Him to Veto HB 8 and HB 389

Please click here to send a message to Governor McAuliffe urging his veto of HB 8 and HB 389.

Both are bills which siphon off funds from our public schools.

Here is the text of the message, which you can edit and personalize:

Thank you for your service to our Commonwealth.

I write today urging you to veto HB 8 and HB 389.

HB 8 will open Virginia to corporate virtual providers who do not have the welfare of Virginia students as their top priority.  It sets up a virtual school board and a statewide virtual school.  When established in other states, such schools have been plagued by low graduation rates, poor academic performance, and high dropout rates. 

The September JLARC report on Efficiency and Effectiveness of K-12 Spending asserted that, “Because there is limited research on the effectiveness and cost of online learning programs in Virginia, the state should use a data-driven, incremental approach to expanding access to fully online programs.”

This is just what we are doing now.  VDOE is piloting an online high school program.  Virtual Virginia enrollment continues to grow, and many local school divisions, by virtue of individual and collective efforts, are expanding virtual offerings to students.  This “incremental approach” is the right path to take.  HB 8 is unnecessary.

Another major flaw with HB 8 is the funding mechanism.  The bill calls for “the average state share of the Standards of Quality per pupil” plus federal funds to be sent to the virtual school by the Department of Education.  This figure in not related to any assessment of the cost of providing a virtual program; it is based on the cost of providing the state share of support for a traditional “bricks-and-mortar” school.

Please veto HB 8.

I also request that you veto HB 389.  This bill creates a new government entitlement, which siphons off funds now received by public schools, to create Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts that can be used to pay for education-related expenses.  The manner in which the funds can be used is poorly defined.  These funds, intended to fund public education, could be used for car payments and college tuition.

HB 389 requires no review of student progress, as is required by IDEA, and there are no due-process provisions for parents if progress is not being made, as is required by IDEA.  The bill contains no accountability for the quality of instruction provided.

The inclusion of sectarian schools raises a serious constitutional question.  TAG grants are used to argue that the bill is constitutional, but the courts have drawn a line between higher education and elementary and secondary education in this regard.

According to multiple studies analyzing assessment data from voucher programs, students offered vouchers do not perform better than their public school peers.   Indeed, public school students have actually been found to outperform private school students when test scores are weighted to reflect socioeconomic level, race, and disability.

I urge you to veto HB 389.