Friday, January 19, 2018

We Have An SOL Innovation Committee Bill- HB1501

As I have been promising, Delegate Chris Hurst is patroning HB1501 that would restore the voting rules of the SOL Innovation Committee as they were originally created- with fairness and equity. Click here to watch a video that describes the issue perfectly.

Please make sure you sign the petition to stand against out-of-control testing. You can click here to sign. Make sure you share it with everyone you know who cares about real reform in Virginia's culture of testing.

If you would like to read the full report from the SOL Innovation Committee and see the recommendations that were vetoed by four legislators, click here.

In other news, budget amendments were made available today and we want to thank Senator Sturtevant for his amendment for a 4% salary increase for all SOQ supported positions for the ENTIRE FIRST YEAR of the biennium. Our members appreciate Senator Sturtevant's efforts to bring Virginia's teacher salaries closer to the National Average. We are hopeful we will see a significant investment in our public schools and our public school employees in the final budget.

Monday is VEA Lobby Day! We look forward to seeing you at one of our briefings and look forward to seeing many of you walking around the Pocahontas building as you find your legislators new offices. The weather looks good, but make sure you bring your patience. It is also Women's Lobby Day and between our two groups, we expect about 500 activists descending on the General Assembly.

Have a great weekend and get ready- next week's pace will pick up dramatically!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

VEA Bills Start Their Journey

Today one of the VEA bills has started its journey through the legislative process.

SB456, carried by Senator Jennifer McClellan, would require the Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop and make available annually to each public elementary and secondary school teacher in the Commonwealth a voluntary and anonymous school climate survey to evaluate school-level teaching conditions and the impact such conditions have on teacher retention and student achievement. The bill requires such survey to include questions regarding school leadership, teacher leadership, teacher autonomy, demands on teachers' time, student conduct management, professional development, instructional practices and support, new teacher support, community engagement and support, and facilities and other resources.

The NEA and the VEA have supported to implementation of school climate surveys for years and we, in fact, encouraged the VA DOE to include a climate survey in their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plan. State-wide school climate surveys have been used by 20 other states and by 5 school divisions in Virginia. These states and divisions are using the data generated by these surveys to inform state and local policies on teacher retention and student achievement. We believe that as Virginia addresses the teacher shortage, we need to take action on the long list of issues that are driving teachers from the classroom.

Without question, salaries are part of the equation, and the VEA continues to fight for teacher salaries that are at or above the national average. But teachers don't get into the profession to get rich, they do it because they have a calling to teach. However, they do deserve to live and retire with dignity, to be able to pay their student loans, to own a home, and to support a family. What they also deserve is to work in an environment that is conducive to good teaching and good learning. We know there are serious issues in our schools that we need to fix to help our teachers teach. Data from a school climate survey will help inform good policy to address these issues.

We are grateful to the Senate Education and Health Sub Committee on Public Education for unanimously reporting SB456 to the full committee and we are hopeful the bill goes to the Senate floor soon. The Senators who voted in sub to move our bill forward are: Senators Carrico (Chairman), Dunnavant, Howell, Locke, Peake.

We have the identical bill on the House (HB1119) side and we look forward to that bill coming to the House Sub Committee soon.

In other VEA bill news, today Delegate Chris Hurst filed his bill that will restore the voting rules of the SOL Innovation Committee back to the original intent, and take away legislators' ability to veto really good, common sense reforms. Delegate Hurst is very brave to take on this bill as any legislation that takes away a legislators authority (that they gave themselves through legislation) is a tough one. But, like us,  Delegate Hurst sees the current voting practice as an overreach of legislative authority and as undermining to the good work of the SOL Innovation Committee. The VEA is issuing a press release on this bill that I will post once it is available. We are also launching a petition. This is where we need your help. Please sign the petition and share it every way you know how. We'd like Delegate Hurst to have thousands of petitions with him when he brings his bill to the House Education Committee. Click here  to sign the survey.

Budget amendments will be public later today, so we will fill you in tomorrow on the good, the bad, and the ugly on those. The outgoing Governor's budget and these budget amendments will form the basis for the final 2018-2020 budget we will have before session adjourns on March 10, so these amendments are very important.

This week has been slow, so get ready to roll next week. All of the House Sub Committees will FINALLY meet and take up bills, so things will start moving very quickly. As a reminder, Monday, January 22 is VEA Lobby Day. It is also Women's Lobby Day so we are expecting very large crowds all day. The new building will really be tested as will your patience. Right now the weather looks good, so that will help. Tomorrow I will post details on some of the events for Women's Lobby Day as I know many of you will be in Richmond for VEA Lobby Day and may want to also participate in those events.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Snow, Good Data, and Still Slow

The General Assembly has only had a "snow day" twice in the last 40 years. So although it was  very cold, snowy day, we proceeded with committee work.

The House Education Committee met this morning to hear reports from three groups: The Virginia High School League, VCU Wilder School of Public Policy, and The Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Still no bills on the docket, but there was really good information presented and good questions from the new members of the Committee.

VCU presented their data from their annual survey of Virginians on their feeling and perceptions on public education. The data show that most Virginians support a strong system of public education and believe there should be more funding to meet the increasing needs of our students. It is always a morning that validates what we, who work in public education, know; the families we work with believe we need additional resources. The breakdown this year showed that Virginians in the Southwest lead the way in demanding more resources for their public schools, with Central Virginia very close behind. You can read a summary of the report here.

Next week the work of House Education should begin to pick up. Let's hope it does as the legislation is stacking up and the Committee has yet to hear a single bill. The solution to this problem, you ask? Sub Committee meetings at 7am starting next week.

We were hopeful that the House Finance Sub Committee would take up a few Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship bills that are problematic to the VEA, but the committee was cancelled at the last minute. So finance bills are stacking up, too.

So with slow action, I was able to spend time today prepping our bill sponsors. Our Senate bill requiring the DOE to implement a state-wide school climate survey that would inform state and local policy to address the teacher shortage and student achievement will be up in a Senate sub tomorrow afternoon. Our good friend, Senator Jennifer McClellan, is carrying that bill (SB456) for us and Delegate Schyler VanValkenburg has an identical bill (HB1119) in the House.

I also caught up with Delegate Hala Ayala who is carrying our Tax Credits for Educators bill (HB624). This bill would allow educators (as defined in the bill) to receive a tax credit of up to $250 for  non-reimbursed classroom supplies. Delegate Ayala let me know that Delegate Mark Cole signed on to this bill. We are excited about the bipartisanship, but this is going to be a tough bill to get out of House Finance. We will see.

Finally, I touched base with Delegate Chris Hurst who is carrying a bill that would repair the SOL Innovation Committee voting rules that currently allow 4 legislators to veto the vote of 28 citizen-members appointed to the committee. These citizen-members act as subject matter experts on revising our system of standards and assessments here in VA. The bill doesn't have a number, yet, as we purposefully delayed its filing to that it would still be alive on VEA's Lobby Day on Monday, but as soon as I have one, I will share. Tomorrow the VEA will launch an on-line petition to let Delegate Hurst know we are with him and to ask the General Assembly to support this bill. It has a tough fight and the Senate is looking to kill it quickly. I have some confidence in the House, but, regardless, we are so appreciative of Delegate Hurst for seeing the real issue at play when legislators give themselves the power to override appointed citizen-committee members. He wanted this bill as soon as I talked to him back in November. I think the reporter in him is happy to shine a light on this.

So hopeful tomorrow I will be able to report that bills were heard and our bill advanced in the Senate! Also tomorrow I will make sure to include a link to our petition so you can sign it and share it- grassroots style!

One last update, send some healthy vibes to your Lobby Cadre. The flu has struck and we are down about 1/2 of our Cadre. There are so many people in such close quarters during session, it is a breeding ground for germs. So healing thoughts and grassroots efforts are the ask for today.

Stay warm!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Very Little Action Today

It is another day of limited action. The House is struggling to get organized with so many new members and limited meeting space in the new building. The bills are stacking up as the House is slowly starting to assign bills to subcommittees.

The Senate, where there are always fewer bills, is following the House's lead and is slowly getting to work. While it's nice to have a few days to learn our way around the new building and meet all the new House members, we are going to be facing a TON of bills everyday once they get rolling. These days will be VERY, VERY long.

So a short post... and prepping for very long days.

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.