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.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Sine Die

The pace of the final days of a session is often maddeningly slow.  Legislators waited for conference committee reports on the bills which required that the differences between the House and Senate be ironed out.  A good example was today conference report of HB8, the virtual school bill, which was accepted by both the House (60-Y 36-N 1-A) and Senate (23-Y 17-N).  VEA will be requesting that Governor McAuliffe veto this bill.

Two bills, now conformed, Delegate Greason’s HB895 and Senator Miller’s SB336, have the potential to drastically change graduation requirements and consequently our high schools.  These bills begin the process of reexamining what graduates need to know and be able to do.  Verified credits may become a thing of the past, industry certifications may become a viable alternative to a diploma.

We also waited as a consequence of the time constraints of the budget adoption procedures.  The rules require 48 hours to review the budget prior to adoption, so the soonest this evening’s budget vote could occur was at 8 PM.  But, Virginia has a budget, HB30, for the next biennium, and following adjournment of the House Sine Die, the Senate adjourned Sine Die at approximately 8:35.

This session, my last as your chief lobbyist, is over. 
Please look for a session summary posting in the weeks ahead.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Time to Thank Conferees for a Good Public Education Budget

The briefings on the conference reports on the budget bill were today, so we can go from speculation to hard facts in regard to the budget.  The budget bill now before the House and Senate has $73 million more for public education that the introduced budget.  Of that $73 million, $51.1 million was provided for the "teacher" increase for next year.  The 2% salary increase will begin in December 1.  Remember, "teacher" includes all SOQ positions, and that this funding will help your school board to provide raises.

The budget also fully funds the VRS Board Certified contribution rate to the teacher retirement fund in FY 18.  This is a year ahead of the scheduled transition to full funding agreed to in the 2012 session.

Governor McAuliffe’s initial budget set the mark fairly high.  Few who I talked to prior to the session anticipated that the Republican controlled legislative branch would provide more funding for public education than what he proposed, but that is just what happened.  We owe thanks to the budget conferees in the House (Delegates Cox and Greason) and Senate (Senators Newman, Howell, Norment and Hanger) who handled public education funding in the budget bill. We end up making significant progress in recovering the funding we lost in the Great Recession, but we still have a ways to go. 

It is my sincere hope that we are beginning an era in which support for public education is truly bipartisan.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

We Won! Teacher Salary Funding Provided for Next Year

Our efforts to gain state support for a teacher salary increase next year paid off.  This funding should help your local school board give an increase for next year.  In addition, the conference committee report includes $73 million more for public education than what we saw in the introduced budge.

When the Governor included no salary funds in year one of his budget proposal, we knew we had a battle on our hands but, as this overview of the public education section of the budget provided by Senator Norment reveals, we won:

The budget proposal makes significant investments in K-12 education, increases flexibility for local school divisions, and makes targeted investments in early childhood education.
Invests over $900 million in new funding for K-12 education compared to previous biennium, $73 million more than originally proposed by Governor McAuliffe.

Includes a 2% teacher pay raise in the first year of the budget.

Re-establishes the lottery proceeds distribution in the second year of the budget, sending 29% of lottery proceeds back to local schools by FY18. The House goal is to fully restore the 40% distribution, which was the policy prior to 2010.

Funds the pilot program for mixed-use delivery models in early childhood education and includes $3.2 million to increase Virginia Preschool Initiative slots.

Includes $36 million for Cost to Compete in Northern Virginia.

Includes $35 million for the at-risk add on to direct funding to schools with disproportionate free and reduced lunch populations.

We will attend budget briefings tomorrow, and will be providing a detailed analysis of the budget once the Department of Education releases the numbers.

In the years ahead, we need to continue to seek parity with other employee group, as higher education faculty and state employees will receive 3%.

Other than the completion of the behind the scenes work of the budget conferees, this was a day of recesses and wasted time.  Certainly, Cuccinelli's withdrawal from consideration for the Supreme Court is the headline.  It appears that Judge Stephen McCoullough will be appointed tomorrow.  

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

The Second Strangest Day In All My Years At The Capitol

We are at the point in the session when all of our legislative battles are done, and we await word on the budget.  Rumor is that the work on the public education section of the budget is completed, and that we are actually going to be receiving a little more in funding for our schools that was in either the House or Senate budget proposals.  If that is true – that will be a first in my memory.

It was hard not to get engrossed in the ongoing battle over filling the vacancy created on the Supreme Court of Virginia when the GA chose to unseat Governor McAuliffe’s appointed justice, Justice Jane Marum Roush.  The Republican majorities in both the House and Senate tried to elect Court of Appeals Judge Rossie Alston to the high court but fell one vote short on both the House and Senate resolutions.  Senator Glen Sturtevant sided with the Democrats on both votes, so there were only 20 votes to elect Alston, not the required 21.

Following today’s Senate adjournment, the Senate Committee on Courts of Justice met to take up judicial appointments, including HR79 with which the nominated Kenneth T. Cuccinelli for the Supreme Court of Virginia.  The vote was straight party-line with Sturtevant voting with the majority.

This resolution will head to the Senate floor tomorrow.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Best of Days and the Worst of Days

Final passage of Senator Chafin's SB364 (96-Y 0-N) was cause for celebration this morning.  This bill may lead to creation of a statewide health insurance option for local government and school board employees.  Passage of SB364 reflects years of VEA work.

However, for the plan to be successful we need at least 3,000 to 4,000 participants - 10,000 would be ideal.  So, we are going to have to go to work at the local level to encourage participation in the new state plan.  Details will be available in the months ahead.

Our celebration was tempered by the passage of both HB8, Del "Dickie" Bell's virtual school bill and Delegate LaRock's HB389, the parental choice savings account bill.

HB8 passed on a 23-Y 17-N vote with Democratic Senators Lewis and Petersen voting with the Republicans.

HB389 contains a reenactment clause, requiring that the bill pass again next year before it goes into effect.  The vote was 20-Y 19-N with Senator Norment not voting.

Back to good news, SB360, Senator Howell's bill which in its amended form requires that the Board of Education create a model exit survey for departing teachers, gained final passage (40-N 0-N).