Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Games Continue

SB 5003 passed the Senate today on a 22-15 vote, and was communicated to the House.  The House referred it to the Appropriations Committee, but did not schedule a meeting of the committee.
The House budget bill, HB 5002, lies dormant in the Senate Finance Committee.

Both chambers adjourned with no future sessions scheduled.  The Senate was told to be on 48 hour notice, and the House was told that they would next meet on the call of the Speaker.
The games continue, and there is no sign of progress on the budget.

What a mess!






Monday, April 7, 2014

No More Games

The Senate Finance Committee reported SB 5003, which includes a number of the amendments offered by Governor McAuliffe in his proposed budget.

If you remember, VEA sought state funding for a 6% salary increase this year, and Senator Puckett and Delegate Chafin carried our amendments.  Unfortunately, neither the Senate nor the House included any salary funding for public school employees in their respective budget bills.  The House offered a 1% increase beginning on July 1, 2015 in conference,  as the regular session ended, but the conferees could not agree on a budget.

When Governor McAuliffe introduced his budget bill, it included 2% for teachers and support personnel and the statewide health insurance option, but this bill was killed by the House Appropriations Committee.

Today the Senate Finance Committee reported its own budget bill (SB 5003).  The Senate included VEA’s top two priorities in their substitute, the 2% salary increase beginning on April 1, 2015, and the local school board option to participate in the state health plan.

The Senate bill includes Marketplace Virginia, which will close the health insurance coverage gap and provide health insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of Virginian’s.
This bill reported on a strong bipartisan 11-3 vote.
The Senate will meet at 11 tomorrow, followed by a meeting of the House at 4.  One never knows for sure, but it is expected that the Senate will pass SB 5003, which will then be communicated to the House.

If the bill goes to conference, the difference between the ensuing conference and where things stood at the regular session’s end is that both chambers will have teacher and support salary funding on the table (1% House/2%Senate), and the Senate will have the statewide health insurance option on the table.  Thanks to your hard work, we are in a better position than we were when the regular session ended in a budget impasse.

Let’s hope the House will request a committee of conference tomorrow and end the games.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

President Gruber and Local Presidents Appear Before the Senate Finance Committee

On April 1, VEA President Meg Gruber was joined by Charlotte Hayer (Richmond), Kimberly Adams (Fairfax), and Don Wilm (Chesterfield) at the Senate Finance Committee to support Governor McAuliffe's budget proposal.  I think you will find Meg's testimony most informative:

Chairman Colgan, Chairman Stosch, committee members, ladies and gentlemen – I am Meg Gruber, President of the Virginia Education Association. I represent teachers and support personnel in all 132 school divisions across Virginia.

I speak in support of SB 5003 and the Governor’s accompanying  amendments, which will provide needed additional funds to public education. Our state per-pupil support for public education ranks 38th, our teacher salary ranks 37th, even though we are the 9th wealthiest state in the nation.

Virginians support better funding for our public schools. This year’s Commonwealth Education Poll revealed that “65% of Virginians say schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs,” and “75% say that the amount of funding affects quality a great deal.” The poll also found that “Virginians are willing to pay more in taxes to support school funding levels.”

As you know, your colleagues in the more numerous legislative body do not agree with Virginians in this regard—and that brings me to the issue at hand. As Joe Flores clearly revealed to you at your November retreat, Medicaid expansion offers a significant opportunity to take pressure off the General Fund by providing funding for indigent care, and the medical care of Department of Corrections inmates, for example. This use of federal funding, with the federal taxpayer dollars paid by Virginians, will free up General Fund dollars for our schools, and this is precisely what we see in Governor McAuliffe’s budget proposal.

As you fulfill your Constitutional obligation to “ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained” there is no more significant variable under your control than our Commonwealth’s ability to attract and retain teachers of high quality. Budget Amendment 78, Item 467 makes a step in the right direction in this regard, and it puts public school employees on equal footing with other employee groups.

For years, VEA has sought the option of participation in the state employee health plan for school divisions. JLARC has estimated that this will save between $44 and $64 million dollars annually. We thank this committee for securing funds for the feasibility study, which was done in preparation for the 2014 session. Senator Norment helped us with a study of this issue in 2007. Amendment 3, Item 81 jump starts this effort, and provides this option to school divisions beginning on July 1, 2015.

We share this committee’s commitment to addressing the needs of students in the underperforming schools in Virginia. Amendment 15, Item 135 increases funding for the extended school year grant program, a wise investment.

Investment in Pre-K Education and in Drop-Out Prevention, too, are wise investments of education funding.  Both will increase our students’ future prospects. Amendment 25, Item 136 provides hold harmless funding for the Virginia Preschool Initiative, and Amendment 16, Item 135 increases funding for one of Virginia’s most successful and accountable dropout prevention programs, Jobs for Virginia Graduates. 

I have highlighted just a few of Governor McAulliffe’s amendments, which are reflective of the leadership our Governor has shown in offering his plan to break the budget impasse that serves us so poorly. This budget invests $150 million dollars more in public education than did Senate Bill 30 in the regular session.

From my perspective, SB 5003, which substantially increases Virginia’s investment in public education, and which substantially elevates the quality of healthcare to our citizens most in need, is worthy of your support.  

Monday, March 24, 2014

Day 1 of the Special Session: McAuliffe Stands Up for Public Education

When neither the House nor the Senate included salary increases for teachers and support personnel, VEA went to work.  We let every elected official know how wrong-headed it is to ignore the fact that Virginias teacher salary is heading in the wrong direction (37th in the nation, and $7,456 behind the national average).  Many of our sent cyber-lobby messages to Delegates, Senators and the Governor.

 House Republicans showed the first positive reaction, proposing state funding for a 1% salary increase on July 1, 2015. The cost of this increase in the biennial budget is $40.4 million.

Today, Governor McAuliffe showed that he listened, by proposing the state share of the 2% increase beginning on April 1, 2015 school year.  This 2% increase will cover all SOQ funded position, including support positions.  The cost of this increase in the biennial budget is $100 million.

McAuliffe also is attempting to undo what the House did when it defeated the statewide health insurance option for school divisions (Yost HB 463 and Kilgore HB 1016 were both killed in House Appropriations despite the fact that they would have saved the state between $44 and $66 million dollars a year).  The McAullife amendment allows schools divisions to participate in the state plan beginning on July 1, 2015.

In additional to salary and health care provisions, the budgets amendments include the following provisions:

Increased funding for extended school year grants

It doubles funding for the JVG dropout prevention program

It increases pre-K funding

In all, above and beyond the salary funding the Governor's amendments provide an additional $30 million for public education.  We will be providing detailed analysis in the days ahead.  The Governor's proposal is clearly the superior to the proposals of the House and Senate, but it will be a fight to gain passage of the Governor's amendments.

It is imperative that you call and email your delegate and senator urging support for the Governors budget amendments.

If any of you want to know the legislative process, here is what I think will happen.  The House Appropriations Committee (HAC) took up the Governor's budget bill (HB 5003) this afternoon.  Delegate Dance moved to report.  Delegate Landes offered a substitute motion to pass the bill by indefinitely (PBI), and that motion carried.  HAC then reported HB 5002, the bill that reflects the House position when the regular session ended.  The committee votes were along party lines with the exception of Delegate Joannou, who voted with the Republicans.  Presumably the Senate will adopt the Governor's bill (HB 5003), and when the House communicates HB 5002 to the Senate, the Senate will substitute HB 5003.  The House will reject the Senate substitute and request a committee of conference.  The conference will then begin anew, the difference will be that the Senate position will provide $89.6 million dollars more for public education than was in the introduced budget - thanks to Governor McAuliffe.   Then the conferees will begin the work of trying to develop an acceptable compromise.

The Senate announced a 2 p.m. public hearing in Richmond on April 1.  The next regular meeting of the Senate will be on April 7th.

The House goes back into session at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow evening.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Final Action on Key Bills is Pleasing/Budget Session Starts on March 24th

This was it!  The final day of the regular session, and the General Assembly decided on the final fate of five bills of interest to VEA.

Del. Greason's HB 930 and Sen. Deeds' SB 306, now identical, are the SOL reform bills.  Final action came down to the final day, not over policy issues, but over how many Senator and Delegates will sit on the SOL Innovation Committee.  The conference committee reports were approved by both chambers, and the bills now head to the Governor's desk.

Del. Hope's HB 1106, which calls for a review and report on the use of seclusion and restraint in public and private schools.  The final controversy was over which agency would take on this charge:  The Joint Commission on Health Care, the Department of Education, or the Commission on Youth.  The Commission on Youth will conduct the review and issue the report.  Both chambers adopted the conference report, and the bill awaits the Governor's signature.

Landes' HB1229 and Miller's SB 324 address the delay of A-F school grading implementation.  The conference reports, adopted by both chambers, call for a two year delay.  These bills await the Governor's action.

Del. O'Quinn's HB 1242 addresses how school boards with "tie breaker" provisions select the tie breaker.  This is obscure to most of us, but some Southwest Virginia school boards have an even number of members, and they appoint a tie breaker to resolve tie votes.  This individual has sometimes been the crony of the power structure, and this bill requires that the tie breakers be elected rather than hand-picked.  The conference committee report was adopted by both chambers, and this bill is headed for the Governor's desk.

 Although 2014 Session adjourned Sine Die, it did so without adopting a budget.  Consequently, the Governor is calling for a special session beginning on March 24th.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Diabetes Bills Passed, Work of Conference Committees Continues

Long day at the General Assembly as both chambers frequently recessed to allow time for conference committees to meet and to facilitate communication between the chambers.

The Senate and house have adopted the conference reports on Senator Stuart's SB 532 and Delegate Cole's HB 134, the diabetes bills.  The outcome was good for VEA, and if you want to see the impact of lobbying and perfecting in committee, contrast the introduced bill and the adopted conference report.  VEA, VASS, VSBA and the lobbyists from the various school divisions (the ducks) all worked on these two.  They went from being bills we opposed to ones we can applaud.

Both chambers go back into session on Saturday at 10, when the conference reports on SOL reform and A-F school grading should be heard.

The Governor is calling for the special session on the budget on March 24th.  This should make for a most interesting VEA Convention for your GR staff.









Thursday, March 6, 2014

Correction, Bills in Conference, Refusing to Give Up on Salary

Please accept my apology and allow me to offer a correction regarding my premature assertion that HB 930, Del. Greason's SOL reform bill, was on the way to the Governor's desk.  I missed the fact that the Senate had amended the bill.  The House has now rejected the Senate amendments, and the Senate has insisted on its amendments and requested a committee of conference.  House conferees are Delegates Greason, Rust and Brink, and Senate Conferees are Miller, Deeds, and McWaters.

The conferees have been named for the diabetes bills, Sen. Stuart's SB 532 and Del. Cole's HB 134.  They are Senators Barker, Deeds, and Stuart, and Delegates Cole, Dickie Bell, and Keam.  Both the Senate and House language constitute a dramatic improvement over the introduced bill, but we prefer the House language.

In regard to the A-F School Grading bills, Sen. Miller's SB 324 and Del. Lande's HB 1229 and heading for conference.  The Senate conferees on SB 324 are Miller, Barker, and Newman, and the House Conferees are Landes, Miller, and Bulova.  The Senate conferees on HB 1229 are Miller, Puller, and Carrico and the House conferees are Landes, Miller, and Bulova.  These conference committees are to our advantage.  Del. Miller is a fierce opponent of A-F.  I'm still hoping for a three year delay, but thinking it will be two.

We continue to meet with all urging support for funding for teacher and support personnel salaries.  The special session will offer VEA a new opportunity to fight for salary funding.