Friday, February 12, 2016

Statewide Health Insurance Clears Senate/First Last Chance to Stop Charter School Constitutional Amendment

The Statewide Health Insurance bill, SB364, passed the Senate on a 39-Y 0-N vote.  Unlike other years, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, Delegate Chris Jones, not only looks favorably on the bill – he has worked with Senators Chafin and Vogel, Delegate Kilgore and with Director of the Virginia Department of Human Resources  Sarah Wilson to craft the acceptable compromise.  This bill will provide the platform to build a plan for a statewide option for local school boards, local governments, and retired employees.  Optimism prevails regarding the prospects for this bill in the House.  VEA has been working for decades to make this happen.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed.

The focus in the House was on the Charter School bills.  Most of the debate centered on HB565, the bill to implement the Constitutional Amendment, Delegate Rob Bell’s HJ1.  There is also HB3, the bill spelling out the actual question that will be on the ballot.  The question is as follows:
"Question: Shall Section 5 of Article VIII of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to grant the Board of Education the authority to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth, subject to criteria and conditions that may be prescribed by the General Assembly?"
Here is what the question should say if they wanted people to understand what's going down:
"Question:  Shall Section 5 of Article VIII of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to give the State Board of Education the authority to create charter school without the approval of local school boards?" 
The final votes on HB3 and HB565 have to occur by Tuesday, but the House voted on HJ1 today, and it narrowly passed on a 52-47 vote.  Thirteen Republicans joined all of the Democrats in opposition.

VEA thanks Delegates Sickles, McQuinn, McClellan and Albo for their contributions to the debate.  Delegate Albo was successful in amending the bill to require that if a new school must be built for a charter school approved by the state Board of Education, that the Board must designate that either the state or the entity seeking the charter school must pay for it.

At the point we must stop the identical constitutional amendment resolutions HJ1 and SJ6 in the Senate.  The Senate vote on SJ6 is pending, and the Senate vote on HJ1 will be after crossover.  Please contact your senator urging opposition to SJ6.

Click here for Senate contact information.  

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Busy Day at the GA

In a very disappointing, but not wholly unexpected development, the Senate Education and Health Committee reported SB734 on a straight party-linevote.  We had some indication that one or more Republicans would break from the fold, but that did not happen.

SB734 is the bill delineating how charter school applications will be handled if the constitutional amendment, SJR6, passes.

A final vote on the amendment is expected in the House of Friday, and the Senate vote could come at any time.

On the upside, VEA initiated SB564, Senator Norment’s bill to exclude records of an application for licensure or renewal of a license for teachers and other school personnel, including transcripts or other documents submitted in support of an application, from the provisions of the Freedom of Information Act gained final passage in the Senate.  The vote was 40-Y 0-N.  Thanks, Tommy!

The House Appropriation Committee Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education reported both the LaRock voucher bill, HB389 and the Dickie Bell virtual school bill, HB8.  Both votes were 3-Y 2-N party line votes.

Long day!

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

VEA Bills Advance!

At this point a number of VEA bills are advancing, and we are having a positive impact on others. 

Yesterday, Senator Favola's SB660, the bill to ensure that nepotism is forbidden when grievance hearing officers are selected, passed the Senate on a 38-Y 2-N vote.

On yesterday as well, and with the help of Delegate Bulova and other members of the Innovation Subcommittee of the House Committee of Education, HB565 was amended at VEA's request to require that charter school teacher be employees of the school division rather than employees of the charter school.  VEA remains opposed to this bill, and the Charter School Constitutional Amendment.  HB565 was reported from the Committee on Education this morning on a 13-Y 9-N vote.

HB524, Delegate LeMunyon's VEA initiated bill to shield teacher professional growth indicators from FOIA requests, was reported on a unanimousvote, and now heads to the House floor.

This morning, VEA initiated bills to provide Statewide a statewide health insurance option to local school divisions, reported from the Senate Finance Committee on a unanimous vote.  Senator Vogel's SB384 was rolled into Senator Chafin's SB364, a substitute was adopted, and the bill is headed for the Senate floor on the uncontested calendar.  There will be a story to tell later regarding all the work that went into coming up with a compromise that has a chance of passing in the House.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Obenshain's War on Teachers

Senator Obenshain’s SB 737, to deny employees of certain organizations the ability to obtain paid leave for professional activities and to make the employers who grant such leave felons, is a declaration of war on Virginia’s teachers and on their primary advocacy group, the Virginia Education Association.  Although police, firefighters, governmental employees,  and social workers are also encompassed by this bill, teachers are somewhat unique.

The practical impact of the bill is that teachers will not be able to take paid leave to attend an activity of the Virginia Education Association.  Those activities include representing their colleagues at a compensation committee meeting, attending an instructional conference, serving as a VEA convention delegate, or even coming to the Capitol on Lobby Day.

And here is where the unique world of the teacher comes into play.  Teachers must have leave to leave the classroom.  Few teachers can afford leave without pay, and teachers do not get annual leave days as do almost all other professional employees.  The impact of this bill will be to silence the voice of the teacher on the local, state, and national levels.

Under this bill, who can still come to Richmond to lobby in support of their professions?  Obenshain starts by carving the constitutional officers out of the bill – local treasurers, sheriffs, Commonwealth attorneys, clerks, and commissioners of the revenue.

There are a whole host of public employees who regularly lobby in Richmond while they are on the clock, and on the payroll.  Superintendents, college presidents and faculty, state agency heads, registrars, and the list goes on and on.  These folks aren’t on leave, and they usually arrive in government cars. 

Teachers must get leave to represent their students and their profession at the capital.  The manner in which this leave is granted varies greatly.  We have 132 school divisions and the policies vary widely.  These policies are a matter of local control, as they should be.

If there are problems with these local policies they should be addressed at the local level.

Senator Obenshain references figures from the Center on National Labor Policy which claim that Fairfax County Schools spend $2 million a year on “release time.”  The actual figure he referenced was $5.8 million over the last three years.  It is interesting that 17 organizations in Fairfax are eligible for this “release time,” while only three of them appear to have a 501(c)(5) designation.  Should Senator Obenshain’s bill pass, for example, a member of the Fairfax County High School Principal’s Association could take “release time” to lobby in Richmond, but a member of the Fairfax Education Association could not.  Regardless, the total leave used last year by the VEA affiliate was 876 hours.  To date, this year they have used 366.5 hours.  

Teacher’s employers, which are school boards, are threatened with a felony conviction if they grant leave  to “work for or on behalf of a professional association, labor union, or labor organization.”  What does this include?

Neither the Virginia Education Association nor its affiliates are labor unions as we are prohibited from engaging in collective bargaining by Virginia law.  We do, however, represent highly competent and effective professionals who have given Virginia a level of educational attainment which has far exceeded Virginia’s investment in public education.

This bill wrongly takes the power to develop local leave policies from Virginia’s local school boards, and it is based on misinformation that tarnishes the reputation of Virginia’s teachers.

I ask you to call your Senator ASAP and leave a message urging opposition to SB 737.

Monday, February 8, 2016

One Killed, One Reported, and One Disaster in the Making

There really should be a law against 7 AM subcommittee meetings on the Monday following the Super Bowl.  Two subcommittees of the House Education Committee, Innovation and Elementary ad Secondary ran back to back starting at that time.

The Elementary and Secondary subcommittee killed VEA initiated HB864, carried by Delegate Tim Hugo.  This bill would have offered local schools boards the option of utilizing a three-person panel rather than a hearing officer in teacher dismissal cases.  HB864 was tabled on a voice vote.

The House is now delaying action on the charter school constitutional amendment until Friday.  In the Senate, it went by for the day.

The Senate Committee on General Laws and Technology reported VEA initiated SB564, Senator Norment’s bill to shield school personnel licensure applications prom FOIA request.

Finally, in a very bad bill for VEA, the same committee reported Senator Obenshain’s SB737.  Please read this bill as it will have a major impact on your ability to attend Lobby Days, Instructional Conferences, the VEA Convention and many other association activities.

Both of these bills head to the full Senate with a final vote as soon as Thursday.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Thanks to Chairman Landes, Thanks to Mr. Speaker, and BIG Vote on Monday

VEA offers special thanks to Delegate Steve Landes, Chairman of the House Education Committee, for including VEA in the work group for the proposed study (HJR112), on "the revision or reorganization of the Standards of Quality with a particulars emphasis on the use of educational technology."
We also thank Speaker Howell for including VEA on the proposed Commission on Employment Retirement Security and Pension Reform (HB665).

It appears that both the House and Senate will vote on the Charter School Constitutional Amendment this coming week.  Here is what we circulated to Delegates and Senators today:

Charter School Constitutional Amendment:  H.J.R. 1 and S.J.R. 6

This Constitutional Amendment radically changes how charter schools are approved in Virginia.

This constitutional amendment shifts the decision making process regarding charter schools from where it rightfully belongs—with the local school board—to the nine member Virginia Board of Education appointed by the Governor.

Nine members of the Virginia Board of Education, appointed by the Governor, could require the localities you represent to build, staff, and administer a charter school regardless of local needs, fiscal constraints or desires. 

This constitutional amendment would take the charter granting responsibility away from the local governments that would provide the lion’s share of funding for the charter school.  

Let’s look at the example of Arlington.  The state provides only 12% of the funds, on a per-pupil basis, to run Arlington’s schools.  But under this proposal, the state could require Arlington’s taxpayers to foot 85% of the bill for establishing a charter school.

Virginia’s public schools are high performing.  Research on charter schools suggests their educational outcomes are no better than traditional public schools, and oftentimes worse.

Research does not support overriding the authority of the local school board inherent in this amendment.  The findings of the Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) on achievement in multiple subject areas found that:

Almost one-fifth of charters (17 percent) performed significantly better (at the 95 percent confidence level) than the traditional public school. However, an even larger group of charters (37 percent) performed significantly worse in terms of reading and math. The remainder (46 percent) did not do significantly better or worse.

The CREDO findings are consistent with other mainstream research on this topic.

Many Virginia schools would be considered charters in other states – we have many public choice options.

Many schools in Virginia would be considered to be charter schools in other states.  For example, we have governor’s schools, specialty schools, magnet schools, IB schools, and Montessori schools.  Virginia law affords great flexibility to our schools boards, and where population density and funding allow, they are providing public school choice options.  Virginia ranks 6thin the nation in the percentage of public schools which are magnet schools.

Virginia’s current charter school law has prevented the fraud and abuse we have seen in other states.  This amendment would open that door to for-profit charters, which have corrupted the charter movement in fifteen states.

There is significant documentation of fraud and abuse within the charter school movement.  “Charter School Vulnerabilities to Waste, Fraud And Abuse,” authored by the Center for Popular Democracy and Integrity in Education, echoes a warning from the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of the Inspector General. The report draws upon news reports, criminal complaints and more to detail how, in 15 of the 42 states that have charter schools, charter operators have used school funds illegally to buy personal luxuries for themselves, support their other businesses, and more. 

Let us not fool ourselves; Virginia’s underperforming schools are the consequence of the concentration of poverty – not the absence of charter schools.

JLARC’s June 2013 report on Low Performing Schools in High Poverty Communities offered the following:

“More than 50 years of research literature documents the negative effects of poverty on students.”

“The research literature is replete with evidence of the importance of having a sufficient number of effective teachers, using sound instructional practices, and providing additional student support services. Unfortunately, many high poverty schools—especially those that struggle—do not have these. The lack of these key practices further compounds the difficulty of negating the effects of high poverty.”

Facing up to these challenges is the real answer.  The charter school debate is a distraction.

Don’t fix what isn’t broken.

Your vote is not about whether or not we have charter schools in Virginia:  it is about who makes the charter granting decision.  Please leave the charter granting authority closest to the people with local school boards.  Please vote against H.J.R. 1 and S.J.R. 6

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Labor Day Repeal Killed/VEA Hearing Officer Bill Advances

The Senate Committee of Education and Health killed Senator Garrett's SB340, a bill to repeal the Labor Day law, on a 9-Y 6-N vote to pass the bill by indefinitely (PBI), sending a clear signal of the ultimate fate of the House bills which repeal the Labor Day School closing law.

The committee also reported Senator Favola's SB660, a VEA initiated bill to bar school boards from appointing as a hearing officer an employee of the school board or the spouse, child, parent, grandparent, or sibling of (i) any member of the school board or (ii) the school superintendent."  This bill is part of our continuing effort to ensure the impartiality of hearing officers in teacher dismissal cases.  SB660 reported on a 13-Y 1-N vote, and should be on the calendar for first reading in the Senate tomorrow.

Our lobbying efforts in opposition to the Charter School Constitutional Amendment continue.