Monday, January 15, 2018

A New Governor and President of the Senate

It was a beautiful, although cold, day on Saturday for the Inauguration of Governor Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring. 

Today the new Lieutenant Governor begins presiding over the Virginia Senate. It is good to know we have a friend of pubic education, once again, lading the Senate and breaking any tie votes. 

Today's action has been light, although the full House Education Committee met and it was exciting to see teachers, and VEA members, Delegate Cheryl Turpin and Delegate Schyler VanValkenburg, seated on the committee. It is good to have teachers in the legislature. The committee did not take up any bills although Chariman Steve Landes did alert the committee that they will take up over 200 pieces of legislation this session, and he encouraged the sub-committees to stay focused on moving legislation along. Session always has a slow start, but goes from 0 to 100 overnight. We will be ready.

In the House, there are some concerns with Speaker Cox referring quite a few of the more controversial bills to the House Rules Committee. That is not typical and there is some thought that this action might be a way to kill bills in Rules where the Republicans have a large majority. Today I received a great review of all of this from Virginia FREE, and I am quoting them here, 

"The REALLY interesting test will be in the House where Speaker Kirk Cox has sent at least one minimum wage bill to the Rules Committee. Cox chairs that committee. Many observers expect that to be a sign that the Rules Committee will be used to defeat this and other controversial pieces of legislation. Then again, many observers could be wrong. 

There is one option that is contained within the Rules of the House that allows the Rules Committee to send legislation to the Floor of the House WITHOUT a recommendation from the Committee. 

This could be used to put every member of the House on record as having voted for or against specific policies and legislation. 

It is also important to note that any bill that opens a section of the Code can be amended as long as it is pertinent to the intent of the bill. 

Example, a bill on minimum wage goes to the Floor and it states an increase of the current $7.25 an hour to $9.00 an hour. It can be amended to say $1,000 an hour but it cannot include a tax increase. Virginia's Speaker would rule the tax increase "not germane" to the intent of the bill and a vote would not be taken. 

Virginia's General Assembly operates under Jefferson's Manual which states in Sec. XXVI (b) "for he that would totally destroy it will not amend it." This means that the no member can offer amendments to legislation unless the member intends to support the bill if the amendment is adopted. If the member does, then the member is duty bound to support the bill unless the amendment is defeated along the way. This means Virginia legislators cannot offer "poison pill" amendments and then NOT vote for the bill. 

Further in section (b) 'It is therefore a constant rule 'that no man is to be employed in any matter who has declared himself against it.' "

Tonight Governor Northam will deliver an address to a Joint meeting of the VA House and Senate. We are hearing word that he will talk specifically about the teacher shortage and about increasing salaries as a means to improve retention rates. We will report more tomorrow, but we are hopeful that the Governor will propose a salary increase in both years of the biennial budget. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Thank you Delegate Lee Ware

Action today was very limited. With so many inaugural events this week and all weekend, both bodies moved very quickly through a couple of bills, but mainly took up memorial resolutions. You VEA team spent the morning talking with legislators about some bills that need some work, finalizing budget amendments, and talking with other education groups to coordinate our work on legislation. It was typical work for the first Friday of session except there is something different. There is a sense that it is time to work together, and it is time to show the rest of the country what it means to be Virginians.

No matter your political beliefs, I think we are all hopeful that the rhetoric in Washington will not cross the Potomac and travel to the General Assembly. Today Delegate Lee Ware did something we would all like to see happen in D.C. He stood and addressed the newly organized House of Delegates. Delegate Ware is a long-serving Republican who reminded all of us how our government should work. He reminded us all today how we should all treat each other. He reminded us today about the humanity that exists in all of us. Thank you Delegate Lee Ware. You are a good man and a good legislator.

Here is how this all played out on the floor today:

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Action on Bills in the Senate and the House Sets Committee Membership

Today things kicked off with the first meeting of the Senate Education and Health Committee. Wasting no time addressing the teacher shortage crisis in the Commonwealth, they took up two bills the VEA is watching.

The first bill would restore an undergraduate education degree. This bill came from recommendations out of Governor McAuliffe's Teacher Shortage Work Group, from the Joint Committee on the Future of Elementary and Secondary Education, and from VEA's Teachers of Color Summit. The VEA supports this effort.

The next bill is one of about 30 bills on teacher licensure routes in an effort to "fix" the teacher shortage. We knew these bills would be coming as they are considered a cheap way to open the doors to teaching. I will say most of the bills deal with slight alterations to the licensing process, and there aren't too many really disturbing bills, but there are some bad ones out there. Delegate Steve Landes, Chair of the House Education Committee, has introduced an omnibus bill to bring all of the licensure bills into one. This will be the vehicle to make any changes to how we license teachers in VA and the VEA is working with Delegate Landes on this bill. Keep watching the Daily Reports as we learn more. We know this  is a teacher quality issue and opening our classroom doors to anyone who thinks they can teach leads to a drop in quality. Our students deserve better, and the VEA will work hard to make sure all of our legislators know that the science of teaching is as valuable as content knowledge. In fact, without a firm grasp of the science, failure is almost always certain. We can't allow a quick "fix" to make our problems worse.

Speaking of the House, Speaker Cox announced the committee assignments today, and we are so happy to have both teachers, Delegate Cheryl Turpin and Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, named to the House Education Committee. Other great additions include Delegate Jennifer Boysko and Delegate Debra Rodman. You can read the Speaker's press release here.

Today was also Governor-Elect Ralph Northam's last day presiding over the Senate. President Pro Tempore Steve Newman took over after Northam addressed the body and said farewell. We are all gearing up her in Richmond for the Inauguration. Tomorrow's session will be short as legislators and lobbyists have a very long weekend as we all celebrate the peaceful transition of power here in our great Commonwealth.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The House and Senate Are Organized and Ready (kind of)

Such a great day at the General Assembly! It was so exciting to see all of the candidates the VEA Fund recommended be sworn in today! Most exciting of all- our two classroom teachers AND VEA members, Delegate Cheryl Turpin (HD85) and Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg (HD72). We know good things happen when you put teachers in the legislature! Take a look at the picture below to see our new #teachersinthelegislature

Governor-Elect Ralph Northam continues to preside over the VA Senate until Saturday when Lieutenant Governor-Elect Justin Fairfax is sworn in. As Gov.-Elect Northam said, "he's keeping the seat warm." The Senate is ready to roll with the first meeting of the Senate Education and Health Committee at 8:30am tomorrow. The 30 bills they take up will all be assigned to sub-committees and the work will begin.

The real action was on the House side where, after the retirement of long-time Speaker Bill Howell, the House unanimously elected Delegate Kirk Cox as the new Speaker. From there the House needed to adopt rules for how they would work together. There was much anticipation on this, but, both sides quickly agreed to the rules without much fanfare, but there are two important features in the rules of the House as they were adopted.

The main worry in some circles was whether or not the House Rs would change the rules on proportional representation on committees. By that I mean, the number of Republicans and Democrats on each committee would be proportionately the same as the make up of the body (which is 51-49). In the end, the House did the right thing and will maintain proportional representation on all of the Committees. Assignments haven't been made, yet, we expect those later today, but the committees will be balanced. That is really good news for public education bills!

In the biggest news of the day, the House adopted a rule that all sub-committee votes will be recorded. The days of bills dying quick deaths in small sub-committees with no member accountability (because there was no record of the vote) are gone. The VEA has been pushing for this rule for years, and we are so happy that there will be transparency and accountability in the House Sub-Committees!

So day one is over, 59 more to go. If you are wondering how lost you can get in the new legislator office building, I walked almost 12,000 steps today in there. Most of those were retracing my own steps because I turned left instead of right. Let's hope I get a better sense of direction before too long... wait, if I walk that many steps every day I think I can have ice cream every night!! Never mind.

So here's to our new Speaker, here's to our new members of the House, here's to the new office building. Change is good!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

T'was the Night Before Session and What Do We Know

The gavel will go down at noon tomorrow on the 2018 General Assembly session here in Virginia. This is an even numbered year, so this is a long, budget session. Even a long session is only 60 days, so frantic chaos is something we always expect. This year will be even more chaotic given the big changes here in Richmond.

Let's start with the biggest changes. All of those came to us as a result of the 2017 elections. The VEA Fund-endorsed statewide candidates were all victorious, and Ralph Northam won with an unexpected 9 point margin. With Governor Northam we will have so much more than a goalie in the mansion; we will have a friend and partner. We have already seen evidence of that with his selection of classroom teacher and VEA member, Atif Qarni, as Secretary of Education. The VEA applied sustained pressure on Northam to name someone with real (and recent) classroom experience to that position, and he did just that. We look forward to working with Governor Northam and Secretary Qarni!

Justin Fairfax was also victorious and we, once again, will have a friendly Lieutenant Governor presiding over the VA Senate. In our 40 member Senate, if a vote ties 20-20, Lt. Governor Fairfax will break the tie, and we know where he stands on public education. With the Republicans holding a 21-19 majority, it only takes one vote to force a tie, so it's good to have a friendly Lt. Governor presiding.

Mark Herring was reelected our Attorney General and we know he will continue to fight the good fight on behalf of our public schools and the children and families of the Commonwealth. We are looking forward to working with him for another 4 years!

And, of course, you may have heard about the election results in the VA House of Delegates. Going into the election, the Republicans held 66 seats, the Democrats held 34. As of today, the Democrats picked up 15 seats (there are two races that have been certified, but may still end up in court). It looks like we will start session with the Republicans having a razor thin margin of 51-49, but there is a slight chance it may be a 50-50 split. That is looking less likely as we move towards session, but we will see.

So BIG changes in the make up of the body, and, likely, on all the House Committees. We are still waiting to find out committee assignments in the House and we may not know until tomorrow night. Because change is the theme this session, we will have a new Speaker of the House, with the retirement of long-serving Speaker Bill Howell. Kirk Cox will take the reins and make the committee assignments, and we are looking forward to seeing where everyone lands. As you hopefully know, we elected two teachers and VEA members to the House! Schyluer Van Valkenburg is the new Delegate in HD72, and Cheryl Turpin is in HD85 (and former VEA Vice-President Dom Melito is her Legislative Aide). We are certainly hopeful one (or both) of them will be assigned to the House Education Committee. We will see.

And in case all those changes aren't enough, all of the legislative offices have moved out of the General Assembly Building and into the smaller Pocahontas building down the hill. We are all lost and wandering in circles trying to find committee rooms and legislator offices. The hallways are narrow, the elevators small, and the seating is limited. Just a new challenge we will all face together. Be prepared if you head to Richmond to meet with your legislator, as you will face a whole lot of challenges maneuvering the building, so make sure you pack your patience when you come.

One last, but big, change is on the VEA Lobby Cadre. Long-serving members Gail Pittman and Pat Woods retired last year, and Alicia Smith has moved on to another chapter in her career. We will miss them all, but are thrilled that UniServ Directors Danielle Wilkerson and Fred Glover will join the team. We are grateful for their willingness to do "double duty" during session. Returning this session are  Lisa Staib, Travis Blankenship, and (for a 25th year) Jay Deck! Of course, VEA President Jim Livingston and VEA Vice-President, James Fedderman will be the faces and voices of our members again this session. We can always count on their leadership!

Lots to look forward to, lots of unknowns, lots of changes, but the VEA will hold firm on protecting our public schools and fighting the good fight for all of our members.

So tomorrow we begin the adventure.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

2017 Reconvened Session- The Veto Session

Every year, on a Wednesday, six weeks after the close of session, the General Assembly reconvenes to take up the Governor's action on the bills passed by the legislature during the regular session. Yesterday was that day. Governor McAuliffe has vetoed 40 bills this session. Delegate Kirk Cox gave a floor speech announcing that the Governor has set a single-session record for vetoes. Beacuse all his vetoes held, Governor McAuliffe has vetoed 111 bills during his term. That is a term record as well. Governor Gilmore has the next highest number- 91 vetoes. Delegate Toscano did remind the House that many of the House bills the Governor vetoed this session are identical to bills he vetoed last session.

The VEA was following a group of bills. These bills are all bad for public education and we are thankful to our members who have called, emailed, and written the Governor asking for his veto. We are also grateful that WE WERE HEARD! Governor McAuliffe vetoed all of the bills we requested. We expect the vetoes to be upheld since you need a 2/3 vote to overturn a veto. The Senate sits at 21-19, so it is very difficult to get a 2/3 vote in that body. The House, on the other hand, sits at 66-34, just one vote away from a 2/3 vote possibility. We followed the House closely, but we felt good that we had locked up our votes. Thank you to the 34 members of the House of Delegates who stood with us on the vetoes!

Today we will watch the following veto votes:

House Bill 1400, Delegate Dickie Bell's Virtual School Bill (the Senate version, Senate Bill 1240, from Senator Dunnavant is identical to the House bill and was also vetoed). In his veto, the Governor questioned the constitutionality of these bills. He also commented that, even with off-session work to improve this legislation, it passed in a nearly identical form as House Bill 8 from the 2016 session that he also vetoed. These bills would establish a separate Virtual School Board independent of the Virginia Board of Education and would receive state funding on a per-pupil basis based, draining those resources from our traditional public schools. All school divisions in VA are already required to offer on-line courses, and the VA Department of Education already offers full-time, virtual high school. The VEA opposed these bills and we are grateful the veto was upheld. In the House, the 34 Democrats were joined by Republican Delegates Bloxom, Farrell, Habeeb, Helsel, Hugo, Miller, Ware and Yost in sustaining the Governor's veto.

House Bill 1605 (Delegate LaRock's Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts Bill) concerned us on many levels, including the Constitutionality of the legislation as drafted. The Constitutionality of the bill concerned the Governor as well, as he cited his concern in his veto. He also had concerns with the lack of accountability standards and the diversion of public funds from our public schools. The Governor vetoed nearly identical legislation last year. The VEA opposed this bill and we are grateful the patron realized he did not have support to overturn the veto and simply accepted the veto instead. When you bill barely squeaks out of the House (49-47) you should know it's a problematic bill. 

The Regional Charter School bill, Senator Obenshain's Senate Bill 1283, allows the Board of Education to establish regional charter school divisions that would have the authority to open a charter school without the request or consent of the local school division. There is an identical House version of the bill, House Bill 2342 from Delegate Landes. This legislation has Constitutional issues and, as the Governor said in his veto, we should, instead, consider innovation ways to provide a world class education to every student enrolled in our traditional public schools. The VEA opposed these bills and are grateful the veto was upheld.

If we did not have a champion as our Governor, one who is prepared to veto legislation that undermines our system of public schools, all of this bad legislation would become law. We must be Public Education Voters. We must not sit this election out. The future of public education may depend on it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

We Were Heard! Governor McAuliffe's Vetoes Protect Our Public Schools!

Your voice matters because we were heard! Thank you Governor McAuliffe! 

I just got off the phone with our VEA state president, Jim Livingston, after sharing this news with him and I wanted to share it here as well. Governor McAuliffe vetoed all of the bills we asked him to veto! 

Our goalie in the mansion stopped the expansion of Charter Schools (Senate Bill 1283), the establishment of an independent Virtual School Board (House Bill 1400), and the establishment of Parental Choice Education Scholarships, which we know are vouchers (House Bill 1605). All three pieces of legislation would drain public funding from our public schools with no real accountability or requirement of educational progress for the student. House Bill 1605 would also have diverted state funding to private and religious schools. 

Governor McAuliffe knows that we are all better served when we invest in our public schools that serve 94% of the eligible school-aged children in Virginia. 

The Governor also vetoed a bill the VEA opposed that would have defined “sexually explicit” material and would put strict requirements on school divisions and teachers who use those books (House Bill 2191). This bill would have put many classics, including Romeo and Juliet, on a list of books that would be flagged for restriction. 

We were heard! Jim, on behalf of our members, sent a letter to the Governor requesting the vetoes, our members sent over 800 emails to the Governor urging the vetoes, and our Government Relations staff was in continuous communication with the Governor’s staff on our position on these bad bills.

We will have a chance to acknowledge the vetoes at our Convention when Sam Eure presents the Legislative Report. Until then, be grateful for our Goalie in the Mansion, Governor Terry McAuliffe!

Click here to read the Governor's Press Release.