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.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A 2% Salary Increase, Our VEA Bill Passed 140-0, and We Protected VRS

As I have had some time to reflect on the 2017 General Assembly Session I am happy to report some real victories for the VEA and for our public schools. We were heard!

The Budget includes the state share for a 2% salary increase for all SOQ funded positions. Yes, it is only for 4.5 months this budget cycle, BUT it resets teacher salaries as we re-benchmark in 2018. That is important. When budget talks started, the House seemed to have little appetite for including the 2% language, but House members heard you. So how did we make them move our way? Hard work.

On Lobby Day, VEA members were sent out with marching orders to demand a 2% salary increase. Our Board of Directors hand delivered letters to the leadership of the House and Senate Money Committees asking for the same thing. The VEA Lobby Cadre kept meeting with House leadership and we kept the pressure on for a 2% increase. Governor McAuliffe pressed the General Assembly to include teachers in any salary increase they included in the budget. Senator Emmett Hanger and Senator Tommy Norment pushed hard for our 2%. Finally, our members emailed, called, and wrote to their legislators asking them to include the salary increase. It all worked. We were heard. Also interesting, all along we asked that the salary increase not be tied to revenue projections. They heard us on that one, too! Our voices mattered!

Also this session we were able to get HB2332, that added “it is the goal of the Commonwealth that VA teacher salaries be competitive with the National Average Teacher Salary” to state law. VEA has tried to get this legislation passed in seven, yes, seven, other sessions and we were not successful. This year not only did the bill pass without a single NO vote on the floor of the House or Senate, the House amended the bill to define “competitive” to mean “at OR ABOVE the national average”! Delegate Tyler was a wonderful patron, but our voices kept school employee salaries at the top of the discussions this session. We were heard!

Finally, our other big victory was protecting school employees from another attack on VRS. HB2151 would have established an “optional” defined contribution retirement plan for our newest employees. VEA saw the writing on the wall that an optional plan this year could be non-optional next year. We were fighting an “optional” bill alone. None of our usual allies were with us as they didn’t see the need to fight an “optional” plan. Our champions were in the Senate where Hanger and Norment were assuring us that the bill wouldn’t pass. We still put a call out to our cyber-lobbyists urging legislators to vote NO on the bill. Ultimately the bill died on the very last day of session. We were heard!

So thank you to our cyber-lobbyists! Thank you to everyone who called, emailed, or wrote to your legislators. Thank you to our members who showed up on the rainiest Lobby Day in recent memory and carried our message. WE WERE HEARD!

So our hard work, our voices, and our stories made this session a successful one for us. We still have a long way to go, but we moved the mountain.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Final Day?? Maybe.

Session is scheduled to finish up tomorrow, Saturday, February 25th, but legislators are talking about finishing up tonight. We will see.

Some good news for bills VEA opposed. HB2251, Delegate Jones’ Optional Defined Contribution VRS plan bill, was sent to Conference. The House and Senate could not agree on the amendments that Senator Tommy Norment added to the bill earlier this week, so that forced the Conference action. Conference only moves forward when legislators are assigned to the conference committee to come up with a compromise bill. The Senate did not assign conference members, so the bill died. We owe a huge thank you to Senators Tommy Norment and Emmett Hanger for their continuing opposition to this bill. VEA was basically alone in this fight. It isn’t easy to fight an “optional” plan that was championed by the Speaker of the House in his last session before retirement, but we did. Thank you to our cyber lobbyists who contacted legislators asking for opposition to the bill. Thank you, as well, to the Senate Democratic Caucus who voted in a block in opposition to this bill. The VEA appreciates your support!

As you may have heard, the school discipline bills that addressed long-term suspensions have died. The patrons had diminishing support in the House and Senate, so they decided to wait for next year. VEA is committed to working with legislators during the off session to determine the best way to implement programs in every public school in Virginia that address and diminish long term suspensions. We must do better for all of our students, and with the right resources and programs, all of our schools can be better equipped. President Livingston is committed to visiting programs that are working around the state, and we will invite legislators to go with us. We will make a case for implementing best-practices in every school in Virginia.  VEA and teachers really took a beating over these bills, but, regardless, we are focused on solutions. We will move on and, because we are educators, we will learn from this session and be ready for next.

In the next few days, we will firm up the list of bills we will ask Governor McAuliffe to veto. Public education is very fortunate to have a Governor who recognizes that legislation that strips state funding from our public schools and hands it over to parents, charters, or virtual schools with no real accountability or assurance that state education money is helping students reach measurable educational outcomes, is bad legislation. Our Governor will also not allow legislation that violates the Virginia Constitution to become law. While we will have to wait and see what Governor McAuliffe’s does, I think we see language referencing the Constitutional issues of bills when he explains his veto action.

Be on the lookout for a cyber lobbyist action on vetoes soon.

I want to take a minute to thank the VEA’s tremendous Lobby Cadre who made this session easier. There is no other association that has representation in every single full and subcommittee during session. The days of session are very long, and emotionally draining. They stayed sharp and strong even on the toughest days. Thank you President Jim Livingston, Vice-President James Fedderman, Gail Pittman, Jay Deck, Pat Wood, Lisa Staib, Cindy Kirby, and Alicia Smith for everything you did for our members, our schools, and our communities! You ROCK!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

We Have A Budget

The House and Senate reached a deal on the budget for the remainder of the 2016-18 biennium. The budgets from each body were very close going into Conference, so we didn’t anticipate huge changes. What is most interesting change is that the Conference Budget actually spends more on K-12 than all other budgets we have seen this session (Governor, House, or Senate) although the amount is very small.

As we expected, the Conference Budget did include language and funding for a 2% salary increase, but they lowered the appropriation amount by making it effective February 15, 2018. Also, as mentioned in this blog, school divisions can pull the money down if they have already given a raise. So limited funding, and school divisions can use it to back-fill. The budget does substantially beef up the supplemental lottery funding that will go to the school divisions with maximum flexibility, so school scan use that to fund pay raises as well. Of course to do that, they will need to make some tough decisions given the fiscal stress on the localities including the state-mandated VRS acceleration payment. 

The silver lining in this budget is that this is only the 3rd time in 10 years the state has funded any portion of their share of a salary increase for SOQ positions. It is also not tied to a revenue trigger, so the funding will not be rescinded. We must thank our legislators for that. They listened to us. But, it is a very small (state funding for 4.5 months for their share of SOQ funded positions) step. It doesn’t get us where we need be, but I am hopeful we are on the right path. Members of the House and Senate certainly seem focused on trying to do the right thing for public school funding, but we have dug quite a hole since 2008. But, with the passage of HB2332 on teacher salaries and the inclusion of a salary increase, I am hopeful we are carving out a path towards the newly adopted state goal of making teacher salaries in VA at or above the National Average.

As I already said, the budget also includes additional supplemental lottery funding that will be dispersed to the school divisions on a per pupil basis without a local match required. School divisions can use this funding for anything they choose including supplementing teacher salary increases. The conference budget increases the amount of the per pupil allotment which should help school divisions that have struggled to fund many K-12 expenses with mostly local funding.

Also in the compromise is an additional $7.3M for school divisions that have lost state funding through student population loss. School divisions that have lost 5% or more if their student population from 2011-2016 will receive this funding. This will be very helpful for some of our far southwest divisions and other divisions that have struggled to deal with lost state funding.

Later in the afternoon we received a detailed budget presentation that you can see by clicking on the link below. You can open the full presentation and scroll to K-12. You will also see a link to the school division distributions as calculated by the House Appropriations Staff. 

Thank you to our Cyber Lobbyists for all your work. Keep telling your stories, keep talking to your legislators, build a relationship with him or her during the off session, invite them to your schools, invite them to a meeting, make sure they are engaged all year long. They work for you.

Conference Budget Presentations

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.