Tuesday, January 22, 2019

ERA Goes Down in the House, Senate Passes Anti-VEA Bill

Not a great day in the General Assembly today.

All of the Equal Rights Amendment bills were killed today on a party line vote in the House Privileges and Elections (P &E) subcommittee. The Senate versions of these bills all passed last week, so this is a real blow to to the bipartisan efforts in the House to get this passed. The P&E subcommittee took up the House bills but also killed the Senate bill that was carried by Republican Glen Sturtevant. Here is how the members of the subcommittee voted. Since the motion was to kill the bills, a NO vote was the RIGHT vote:

YEAS--Ransone, Ingram, Fowler, McGuire--4.
NAYS--Sickles, VanValkenburg--2.

It seemed as though this might be the year that Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, but the vote of 4 members of this small committee killed this effort. Recent polling showed that more than 70% of Virginians support ratifying the ERA, but it only took 4% of the House of Delegates to take it down.

In other disappointing news, the Virginia Senate passed Senate Bill 1236 from Senator DeSteph on another party-line vote 20-19. Senator Chafin wasn't in the chamber at the time, so he didn't vote.  This is the bill that is designed to be anti-VEA and anti- teacher union. It is also a huge overstep by the General Assembly over the local control granted to local school boards to run their schools. The VEA was hoping enough of our friends on both sides of the aisle would understand our argument, but, sadly, only the Democrats voted with us. We are grateful tot he Democratic Caucus of the Senate for standing with us on this vote. We are also glad that the School Board's Association and the School Superintendents also opposed this bill. It now goes to the House where we will try again to defeat it. Thank you to everyone who sent an email to your Senator. If your Senator voted the wrong way on this bill, make sure you follow up with them and ask why.

Tomorrow there are all sorts of interesting bills up in the House Education Committee and the subcommittee that will meet after the full committee adjourns. Tebow, vouchers, a bad charter school bill, and two of the VEA's bills are all up. Look for a full debrief here tomorrow.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Monday Marathon and Gun Day

The General Assembly is open for business on the MLK holiday. People are always surprised that they are in session on a state holiday. Interestingly the General Assembly is in session on every Saturday and Sunday from gavel down on opening day until they adjourn sine die in February during the short session. Luckily they rarely meet on these days, but they could and, sometimes, do. I am grateful to the VEA Lobby Cadre who give up their holiday to make sure that all of our committees are covered. Especially on Mondays.

While I am certain it isn't the case, I think that the Chair of the House Education Committee is trying to wear down the public education lobbyists on Monday. We started with a 7am subcommittee where they heard a few bills where the VEA has positions of support. This morning the VEA was proud to stand with Delegate Lopez on his HB2388, a bill that would allow Dreamers to be eligible for in-state tuition for a Virginia public colleges. This an important bill for students who are on a path towards citizenship and were brought here by their parents. The bill requires that these students graduate from a VA public high school or have earned a Virginia GED, they must be accepted and enrolled in a public college or university in Virginia, and their parents must have paid Virginia income tax for at least one year. The bill reported from the sub committee 7-1 with only Delegate Leftwich voting against. The bill was referred to the House Appropriations Committee where it will likely face a tougher fight.

In the full committee that started at 9am, Delegate Krizek's HB1724 that creates a pilot Grow Your Own program for high needs schools passed, but was also referred to Appropriations. The VEA and the NEA is very supportive of these programs that encourage middle and high school students to learn more about teaching as a profession and to commit to come back to teach in their home school division after graduation with a teaching license. The bill grants college scholarships for these students. There is much research on the effectiveness of these types of programs in filling teaching positions in hard to staff schools. We are hopeful the House Appropriations committee sees the values in the investment of state resources on this program.

At 4pm the House Education Subcommittee on K-12 meets and, when the docket is long, like it is today, we are usually not finishing up until sometime after 8pm. Today's subcommittee was fairly non-controversial, they are saving all those bills for the next Monday which is the final subcommittee before cross over. The big bill for us was Delegate Carroll-Foy's and Delegate Ware's HB1397 the VEA Teacher Diversity bill. This is the House version of SB2037 that has been going very well on its path towards passage in the Senate. I am always nervous about a bill until it gets its first hearing. Even though the Senate version is doing well, you never know how things will go in the other body and you NEVER tell members of either body that the other side likes the bill. That makes an assumption that the other side doesn't matter. We have been talking with all the right folks and everyone knows that this is a good, solid bill. While HB2037 passed unanimously, it was referred to Appropriations even though the Department of Education says there is no fiscal impact. I am hopeful they can help the Speaker and the Appropriations Committee see that this bill does have a budget impact and they pass it.

In other news, SB1236 Senator DeSteph's bill that attacks the VEA and other teacher unions will get a final vote on the floor of the Senate tomorrow. Keep emailing your member of the Senate and urge them to vote NO on SB1236. Click here to send your email.

On a side note, MLK Day is always Gun Day at the General Assembly. It's always packed with folks on both sides of the issue, but open carry in the hallways of the Capitol and the offices of legislators is disconcerting.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Action Alert on Senate Bill 1236- An Attack on the VEA

Fridays are generally really slow at the General Assembly. They try to finish up early so that legislators can head home for the weekend. Today even the committees that usually meet on Fridays after the floor session, have been cancelled. I won't lie. It's been a long, busy week here. I am looking forward to getting home while it is still light out.

A couple of important updates. We have a cyberlobbist action alert active on Senate Bill 1236. This bill, from Senator DeSteph of VA Beach,  attempts to very broadly define an education employee association.  The bill puts all of these “associations” on an even playing field with the VEA even though there is no requirement in the definition that these other "groups" represent employees, or advocate for improved working and learning conditions for teachers and students.

As defined in the bill, “an education employee association means teacher associations, teacher organizations, and other associations that are formed for the purpose of promoting the interests of teachers or students.” So local school boards would need to treat any “group” as an equal to the VEA and other teacher unions. These other “groups” want access to employee emails and mailboxes. They want access to buildings and events. They want to be able to replace the true teacher unions.

Wondering where this bill came from? There was a local fight in Virginia Beach that the Virginia Beach City School Board resolved in a way that left a disgruntled group looking for a different answer. So even though this local issue was resolved by locally elected officials, Senator DeSteph has decided to try to reverse that decision through legislation.  While Senator Desteph claims to have brought in stakeholders on his substitute legislation, the VEA, VSBA, and VASS were not included in those discussions. It is not a compromise.

Both the Virginia School Boards Association and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents oppose this legislation and we are grateful for that. It is a swipe at the local control of schools that is a Constitutional right granted to our local school boards. More importantly, SB1236 is an effort to silence educator voices at a time where, across this country and right here in Virginia, they have finally found their voices. Please contact your member of the VA Senate now by clicking here and demand they vote NO on SB1236. The bill will be on the floor of the Senate on Monday.

Speaking of Monday, it will be a crazy day here. MLK Day is always "Gun Day at the General Assembly." Gun rights advocates from across the Commonwealth come to Richmond, openly carrying their weapons, to demand protection of their 2nd amendment rights. The gun violence prevention groups will be here too. It is amazing to see their silent protests and quiet work on Gun Day especially since many of them are victims of gun violence. The VEA is proud to stand with them on common sense gun violence prevention legislation.

As if Gun Day wasn't crazy enough, Monday is always a marathon day for House Education. Dockets haven't been published, but I expect quite a large number of important VEA bills to come up. Make sure to read the Daily Report on Monday for a full run down.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Early Start in Senate Education and Health

An early start today in the full Senate Education and Health Committee this morning. Let's get to the good news first. SB1397, the bill that the VEA and the School Superintendents worked on together, passed unanimously. This is the Teacher Diversity Bill that will break through the current roadblocks that keep minority students from entering the teaching profession. It is a really good bill. It now goes to the floor of the Senate early next week. Since it passed unanimously out of the full committee, it will go to the floor as an uncontested bill and likely pass in the block and cross over to the House. A really good outcome. Interestingly, the House version of the bill (HB2037) hasn't been heard in a subcommittee yet, so while we are hearing the House is as favorable to the bill as the Senate has been , we haven't seen a vote on the bill on that side of the General Assembly. So while we feel confident, we are still talking to members of the House and leadership on the House Education Committee and answering any question that have on the bill. We want to make sure this bill gets through the House with identical language to the Senate bill, too. That is important so that it can get on the "fast track" when it crosses over. This is a really big, really impactful bill. Lots of good work has been done to highlight the lack of diversity of Virginia's teacher workforce and this bill is a direct result of all of that work. I am proud of the VEA for taking this issue on and fighting for some really good solutions to this problem. So that's today's good news.

Making a right hand turn, there is some bad new to report. Senate Bill1236,Senator DeSteph's bill that goes after the VEA and other teacher unions, reported out of the full committee today. Interestingly Senator DeSteph offered a revised version of the bill and claimed that he "developed the substitute bill after discussing the issue with stakeholders and coming to a compromise." I am trying to figure out who those "stakeholders" were and how he can call something a compromise when you only talk to one side. Neither the VEA nor the other two opponents to the bill- the School Boards Association (VSBA) and the Association of School Superintendents (VASS)- were invited by the senator to discuss a compromise. The bill is better but it still puts all employee "groups" on an even playing field with the VEA. It also directs local school boards on how they will mange their relationship with the local education association. That is a complete overstep of local control of our schools. You can read the new version of the bill here. This is a tough committee for anti-union bills. Frankly it was our goal to make sure the Democrats on the committee knew what the issue was and that they voted to protect the union. We visited the office of each of the Democratic members and dropped off a one pager on the bill. Because Senator DeSteph claimed to have reached a compromise with stakeholders, two members who are usually with us, abstained from the vote because there was no testimony allowed on the substitute bill. The vote tally is below. A NAY vote was to kill the bill:

SB 1236 Public schools; equal access, education employee associations, etc.

01/17/19  Senate: Reported from Education and Health with substitute (8-Y 4-N 2-A)

YEAS--Newman, Black, Carrico, Cosgrove, Dunnavant, Chase, Suetterlein, Peake--8.
NAYS--Saslaw, Lucas, Howell, Locke--4.
ABSTENTIONS--Barker, Petersen--

The bill will now go to the floor of the Senate. We will be getting out a cyberlobby action later today on the issue asking our members of the VA Senate to vote NO on the bill. We are making sure that VASS and VSBA are reaching out to their members, too. If we can get school superintendents to call their school division's senator, we may be able to kill this on the floor. If not, we will, hopefully, kill it before it gets to the floor of the House.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

School Safety Bills and A VEA Bill Faces Its First Test

This morning the House Education Committee took up the recommendations from the House Select Committee on School Safety. The VEA is encouraged by many of the recommendations from the committee. We are especially grateful for the focus on increasing school counselor's ability to work directly with  students rather than being assigned many of the responsibilities on test administration and data. Here's the rub. Just saying that school counselors should be relieved of those other responsibilities without providing any additional staff or state funding to hire either more counselors or more support staff to take on some of those other responsibilities is an unfunded mandate. The work will still exist and that means someone will need to take it on. Should that be the school administrators who are already overburdened and unable to be real instructional leaders because of the paper-pushing they are required to do? Should it fall on the teachers who are already stretched beyond their limits? Should these responsibilities simply fall into the "other duties as assigned" and everyone can just try to figure it out? None of these is OK with the VEA. If the General Assembly wants to change the roles of school counselors so that students mental health needs are met, they need to fund additional positions or lift the support staff cap so that state dollars for the support positions we need are funded with state dollars. Delegate Landes' legislation that increases the percentage of time that school counselors spend on true counseling is very well intended and we are grateful to him for highlighting this issue, but the state's idea that this change is "free" is ridiculous. There must be state dollars that follow this change. His bill was referred to Appropriations for review, but we are concerned that it will pass without any additional state dollars to support its implementation.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education had its first meeting this afternoon. House Bill 2144, VEA initiated legislation that came from a New Business Item at our 2018 Convention, was heard. HB2144, carried by VEA member and teacher, Delegate Chery Turpin would reestablish the Duty Free Lunch Incentive Grant. This grant would make limited state funding available for school divisions that wanted to provide duty free lunches to their teaching staff. Currently there is no federal or state requirement that teachers have a duty free lunch. The incentive fund was established in 1950 and funded until the 1990s. At that time, school divisions were required to report the extent to which they were providing duty free lunches to their teachers. When the reporting requirement was there, more divisions were providing that time during the day. The fund was repealed in 2011 and the reporting requirement also went away.

In 2017, the VEA asked school divisions what their polices were on duty-free lunches. Most reported they did their best to provide them as often as possible. Ours was a soft ask since there is no state report, so the data was what it was. We know that fewer teachers are getting a break to have even a 15 minute lunch. We are grateful to Delegate Turpin for carrying this legislation. In good news, as we traveled the state talking about this bill, we heard from some of our hourly ESPs who were not getting an unencumbered break for lunch. Hourly employees are on a different category depending on how may hours they work. We were able to connect some of our ESPs with their UniServ Directors to help resolve those issues. The more we talk, the more we learn.

In good news,  the members of the sub committee were very responsive to our bill. While the bill was laid on table, that is actually a good outcome on a bill that needs to be funded. The members of the committee can "pick the bill up" off the table once the budget is drafted. I will tell you anything that isn't a kill in that committee is a good outcome. Delegates Peace, Landes, and John Bell asked great questions and engaged on the issue. They also asked about any data the state had on teacher morale. Delegate Peace asked specifically about the school personnel climate survey that the VEA proposed last year and, while not funded, was still required to be implemented. It allowed us to make a case for state funding for a more deep dive into issues. So two birds with one stone on that one. A good day for a good bill that was initiated by your VEA Convention delegates! We will have to see how the budget talks progress, but Delegate Turpin and I were pleased with the outcome in sub committee today.

House Appropriations Tears Apart Governor's Budget Proposals

A quick post that will be followed up with a recap of the day, but WOW, we are sitting in the House Appropriations Committee listening to the Department of Education's review of the Governor's budget proposals and Dr. Lane and his staff are getting torn apart by the leadership of the committee. Not a good first sign of where this committee is heading as they begin to develop their budget development.

If you thought a single penny of the Governor's $269 million in increased funding to K-12 was a sure thing, you need to change your thinking and get to work putting pressure on your member of the House of Delegates.

Not a good sign of things to come.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Lobby Day is Coming. Have You Made Your Plans?

So in big news, the Equal Rights Amendment passed the Virginia Senate! A huge victory, but there is still a HUGE problem in the House. The Chair of the House Privileges and Elections committee, Delegate Mark Cole, has refused to put the House version of the bill on the committee docket for consideration. The Speaker of the House, Kirk Cox, has yet to intervene and force the issue. We will have to see if the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates is really prepared to block a vote on legislation that the vast majority of Virginians support and that the Senate passed. So while we celebrate a victory today, we are along way from passing the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia. We need to be contacting our legislators and put pressure on them to do the right things. They need to hear from you.

Hearing from you is why the VEA has a Lobby Day every year. This year it is Monday, January 28. It is one, coordinated day where school employees from across the Commonwealth come to Richmond to demand that legislators to do the right thing for us and for our schools. This year it is vital that you come to Richmond. We are facing a budget fight that will set the stage for how K-12 public education is funded for years to come. We need to put pressure on every member of the House and Senate to do the right thing. Come to Richmond, lobby your member of the General Assembly, and then come to the noon rally for education on the grounds of the VA Capitol. Members of Virginia Educators United will join us to demand that the General Assembly FUND OUR FUTURE! It is time to make structural, long-term changes to how we fund our public schools and pay our public school employees. Click here to learn more about VEA Lobby Day and the Fund Our Future Rally.

For anyone who is not a member of the VEA, we encourage you to learn more about the Virginia Educators United plans for January 28 by clicking here.