Thursday, April 7, 2011

VEA Wins 4 of 5 During Veto Session

VEA’s lobby effort was successful on four of five key issues in yesterday’s Reconvened (AKA Veto Session).

Our only loss was on the Virtual School issue. The manner in which virtual schools are being funded in Virginia makes no sense, but sense did not prevail on this issue. Governor McDonnell offered a budget amendment striking the language we had worked to gain from the budget bill. The Governor’s amendment prevailed in the House on a 94-6 vote and in the Senate on a 23-17 vote. Big money corporate lobbying prevailed, and the states will continue to spend far more on virtual school education than is warranted.

Governor McDonnell’s amendment to allow your local school board to require that you pay the 5% VRS employee contribution was defeated in the House 38 to 60 (NAY was a “right” vote). The vote was as follows:

YEAS--Abbitt, Albo, Anderson, Athey, Barlow, Bell, Richard P., Brink, Carrico, Cleaveland, Cole, Comstock, Cox, M.K., Englin, Greason, Hugo, Ingram, Jones, Lingamfelter, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, May, Miller, J.H., Morgan, O'Bannon, Poindexter, Purkey, Putney, Robinson, Scott, E.T., Scott, J.M., Stolle, Tata, Villanueva, Ware, R.L., Wilt, Wright, Mr. Speaker--38.

NAYS--Abbott, Alexander, Armstrong, BaCote, Bell, Robert B., Bulova, Byron, Carr, Cline, Cosgrove, Cox, J.A., Crockett-Stark, Dance, Ebbin, Edmunds, Filler-Corn, Garrett, Gilbert, Habeeb, Herring, Hope, Howell, A.T., Iaquinto, James, Janis, Joannou, Johnson, Keam, Kilgore, Knight, Kory, Landes, LeMunyon, Loupassi, McClellan, McQuinn, Merricks, Miller, P.J., Morefield, Morrissey, Nutter, Oder, Orrock, Peace, Phillips, Plum, Pogge, Pollard, Rust, Sherwood, Shuler, Sickles, Spruill, Surovell, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Ware, O., Watts--60.

NOT VOTING--Helsel, Lewis--2.

Governor McDonnell’s amendment to create a defined contribution (401K) option passed the House and was killed in the Senate. Here are the votes (NAY is a “right” vote):

House Vote

YEAS--Abbitt, Albo, Anderson, Athey, Barlow, Bell, Richard P., Byron, Cleaveland, Cline, Cole, Comstock, Cosgrove, Cox, J.A., Dance, Edmunds, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Helsel, Howell, A.T., Iaquinto, Ingram, Janis, Joannou, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LeMunyon, Lewis, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, May, Merricks, Morefield, Morgan, O'Bannon, Oder, Orrock, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Purkey, Putney, Robinson, Rust, Scott, E.T., Sherwood, Stolle, Tata, Villanueva, Ware, R.L., Wilt, Wright, Mr. Speaker--58.

NAYS--Abbott, Alexander, Armstrong, BaCote, Brink, Bulova, Carr, Carrico, Crockett-Stark, Ebbin, Englin, Filler-Corn, Herring, Hope, Hugo, James, Johnson, Keam, Kory, McClellan, McQuinn, Miller, J.H., Miller, P.J., Morrissey, Nutter, Phillips, Plum, Pollard, Scott, J.M., Shuler, Sickles, Spruill, Surovell, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Ware, O., Watts--39.

NOT VOTING--Bell, Robert B., Cox, M.K., Jones--3.

Senate Vote

YEAS--Blevins, Martin, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Obenshain, Ruff, Smith, Stanley, Stosch, Stuart, Vogel, Wagner, Watkins--14.

NAYS--Barker, Colgan, Deeds, Edwards, Hanger, Herring, Houck, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Marsh, McEachin, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Norment, Northam, Petersen, Puckett, Puller, Quayle, Reynolds, Saslaw, Ticer, Wampler, Whipple--26.

In another attempt to weaken VRS by creating a defined contribution option, the Governor substituted a DC bill for Delegate Tata’s HB1795. His substitute for HB1795 passed in the House and was killed in the Senate. I will not provide the votes, as they are virtually identical to the votes above.

Finally, the Governor was with us on the veto of SB966 – the “PE Bill.” The Senate sustained the Governor’s veto, killing the bill, on a 16-24 vote (NAY was a vote to kill the bill).

YEAS--Barker, Colgan, Deeds, Edwards, Herring, Locke, Marsh, McEachin, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Northam, Petersen, Puckett, Puller, Saslaw, Whipple--16.

NAYS--Blevins, Hanger, Houck, Howell, Lucas, Marsden, Martin, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Quayle, Reynolds, Ruff, Smith, Stanley, Stosch, Stuart, Ticer, Vogel, Wagner, Wampler, Watkins--24.

We won on 4 of the 5 key votes because of the great job you do of communicating with your legislators. Thank you!!!!!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Sine Die!!!!!!!

Sine Die!

At a much quicker pace than anticipated the House and Senate concluded the session this evening.

In the broadest strokes, for VEA members there is no change relating to VRS (a major victory), and the Senate held strong on PreK-12 funding. Remember the House bill added no new funds for public education, while the Senate increased funding by a little more than $100 million. The bottom line is that the adopted budget includes $76,120,208 more in 2011-2012 Direct Aid for Public Education.

One wrinkle to our disadvantage is that, upon the insistence of the House conferees, the new funds for public education will be “taken out of the base expenditure totals for the purposes of calculating the cost of the FY 2012-2014 biennial budget and for future rebenchmarking considerations.”

If you want to see the bottom line for your school division please click on this link:

http://hac.state.va.us/Committee/files/2011/2-27-11/Public_Education-Appendix_B-FY_2012.pdf

Thanks for all you have done to advance the cause of public education as you have lobbied for our cause in the 2011 session.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Sine Die, NOT!

I am told that the $75 million above the Governor’s introduced budget for PreK-12 will be proportionally distributed based on the Senate’s approach. The money will be used for direct aid and for “hold-harmless.” We will share the spread sheets showing the appropriations for each division ASAP.

The VRS issues remain unresolved, though I am told that school employees will not be included in the 5 and 5 plan being considered for state employees.

There is no expectation that the budget will be completed on time. House conferees seem to think things will be wrapped up as soon as Sunday. Senators are saying Monday or Tuesday.

Friday, February 25, 2011

House Pulls Senate Down/Retirements

The word from the budget conferees is that they have agreed to increase PreK-12 funding by $75 million dollars. They are yet to agree on how to “slice the $75 million pie.” Remember the Senate started at $103 million

Unfortunately, this amount of money won’t go far, but here would be some good uses for the funds:

funding for resource teachers (art, music and PE) in grades six and seven ($34 million)

funding for school buses ($37.7 million)

funding for text books ($17 million)

Pre-K funding ($11.2 million)

support for school employee salaries (about $24 million per 1%)

Please continue to call conferees – see numbers on yesterday’s posting.

Senators Ticer and Whipple have both announced their retirements, and Delegate Pollard announced his retirement today.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Beginning of the End of the Labor Day Bill?

The word on the budget is that the discussions are not proceeding swimmingly, and it looks like a vote on the budget will be on Tuesday rather than Saturday. PreK-12 funding remains a matter of contention.

The Roanoke City Labor Day waiver bill, HB1483, finally came to vote in the Senate today. At long and at last, HB1483 passed the Senate on a 22-18 vote. My hope is that this marks the beginning of the end of the Labor Day law in Virginia!

Please keep the pressure on the budget conferees to move toward the Senate position on PreK-12 funding.

Senate All tel. #’s are area code 804

Charles J. Colgan district29@senate.virginia.gov 698-7529

William C. Wampler, Jr. district40@senate.virginia.gov 698-7540

R. Edward Houck district17@senate.virginia.gov 698-7517

Janet D. Howell district32@senate.virginia.gov 698-7532

Richard L. Saslaw district35@senate.virginia.gov 698-7535

Walter A. Stosch district12@senate.virginia.gov 698-7512


House

Lacey E. Putney DelLPutney@house.virginia.gov 698-1019

M. Kirkland Cox DelKCox@house.virginia.gov 698-1066

Beverly J. Sherwood DelBSherwood@house.virginia.gov 698-1029

R. Steven Landes DelSLandes@house.virginia.gov 698-1025

S. Chris Jones DelCJones@house.virginia.gov 698-1076

Johnny S. Joannou (D-Portsmouth) (no e-mail address) 698-1079

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Keep the Pressure On re HB1483 and the Budget

The word from the budget conferees is encouraging today. In contrast with yesterdays “buzz,” Senate conferees tell me they are holding firm on PreK-12 funding.

The Senate yet again delayed a final vote on Delegate Cleaveland’s HB 1483, the bill giving the students of Roanoke City a level playing field by allowing them, like their Roanoke County neighbors, to start school two weeks before Labor Day. This bill affords them equal instructional time prior to IB and SOL tests. Opponents of the bill said that amendments to the bill were not printed and that consideration should be delayed.

Please call your Senator urging her/him to resist amendments to HB1483 and to vote to pass the bill, and urge your senator to ask the Senate budget conferees to hold firm on PreK-12 funding.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Lost One/One Delayed

Consideration of HB1483, the bill to exempt Roanoke City from the post- Labor-Day school opening requirement, was delayed for another day. One suspects that some fierce arm twisting must be taking place behind the scenes on this one. We obviously had the votes for passage on Monday, when efforts to re-refer the bill to Commerce and Labor garnered only 13 votes.

We were beaten badly on HB2494. Our locals will have to pay close attention to plans from local school boards to see exemptions from state standards to make sure that we watch out for the interest of students and those who work in our schools. We were shellacked on a 33-7 vote.

The word from the budget conference committee is that progress is being made. The buzz is that the House and Senate have agreed to meet half way, but no final decisions have been made regarding the policy issues relating to PreK-12. What is disturbing is that the VRS issues, employee payment of the 5% and the defined contribution option, are still being promoted by the House conferees despite the fact that all bills to forward this agenda were defeated.

Please call your Senator urging support of HB1483.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Call Your Senator Today

No holiday on Capitol Hill!

HB 1483 is a narrowly crafted Labor Day bill providing a level playing field to the students of Roanoke City, a location surrounded by a county (Roanoke County) with a Labor Day waiver. County students have two more weeks of instruction before IB and SOL tests than their city neighbors. This bill will fix that.

As reported earlier, this bill reported from the Senate Committee on Education and Health on a 10-5 vote. Senators Saslaw and Norment led efforts to re-refer the bill to the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor, where Labor Day bills are routinely killed. Big News!!! The motion to re-refer failed in the Senate on a 13-26 vote. Norment then moved that the bill go by for the day. The final vote should be tomorrow. Please call your Senator urging support of HB 1483.

HB 1548 was a bill that would have unnecessarily burdened teachers and other school personnel with additional reporting requirements. It required the reporting of every act which singularly or in cumulative effect is likely to result in the student’s suspension or the filing of a court petition.

The removal of professional discretion as to when to report infractions to parents would have undermined the position of the classroom teacher and would have imposed an unnecessary burden on those already overburdened. This bill was defeated by the Senate on a 12-28 vote. VEA joined forces with VSBA and VASS to defeat this bill, which was supported by the Family Foundation.

Finally, HB 2494, which allows local school divisions to seek waivers to the rules and regulations governing our schools, went by for the day to delay the final Senate vote until tomorrow. One of the reasons why we have the fourth best schools in the nation is that we hold our schools to uniform standards. Our biggest concern is that this bill could erode these standards and be used to reduce planning time, increase class sizes, and reduce access to school nurses, guidance counselors, and libraries.

Please call your Senators urging support for HB1483 and opposition to 2494. Need your Senator's number? Click here.

Friday, February 18, 2011

It's Up to the Budget Conferees

This is the hardest part of the session. This is when lobbyists feel most helpless to influence what is going one in the places where the budget conferees hide to have fateful and consequential discussions. From time to time you are called in to have confidential discussions with this Senator, that Delegate or that staff member so they can guage your reaction to various trial balloons.

Between now and a week from tomorrow the following conferees will decide the fate of public education in the year ahead:

Senate All tel. #’s are area code 804

Charles J. Colgan district29@senate.virginia.gov 698-7529

William C. Wampler, Jr. district40@senate.virginia.gov 698-7540

R. Edward Houck district17@senate.virginia.gov 698-7517

Janet D. Howell district32@senate.virginia.gov 698-7532

Richard L. Saslaw district35@senate.virginia.gov 698-7535

Walter A. Stosch district12@senate.virginia.gov 698-7512


House
Lacey E. Putney DelLPutney@house.virginia.gov 698-1019

M. Kirkland Cox DelKCox@house.virginia.gov 698-1066

Beverly J. Sherwood DelBSherwood@house.virginia.gov 698-1029

R. Steven Landes DelSLandes@house.virginia.gov 698-1025

S. Chris Jones DelCJones@house.virginia.gov 698-1076

Johnny S. Joannou (D-Portsmouth) (no e-mail address) 698-1079

Let’s hope that children and public education will be a priority.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Wild Day at the Capitol

The Senate Committee on Education and Health could not have been crazier. The docket was loaded with controversial bills from abortion to the 65% solution.

There was even a contingent of nuns favoring a bill for the benefit of “Little Sisters for the Poor,” a wonderful organization that provides for the impoverished elderly.

With you help, HB 1416, the 65% Solution bill, failed to report.

YEAS--Quayle, Martin, Newman, Ruff, Blevins--5.

NAYS--Houck, Saslaw, Lucas, Howell, Edwards, Whipple, Locke, Barker, Northam, Miller, J.C.--10.

HB 1483, a narrowly crafted Labor Day bill, which provides a level playing field to the students of Roanoke City, a location surrounded by a county with a Labor Day waiver, was reported on a 10-5 vote. County students have two more weeks of instruction before IB and SOL tests than their city neighbors. This bill will fix that.

YEAS--Houck, Lucas, Howell, Quayle, Edwards, Whipple, Blevins, Locke, Northam, Miller, J.C.--10.

NAYS--Saslaw, Martin, Newman, Ruff, Barker--5.

HB 1548 is a bill that will unnecessarily burden teachers and other school personnel with additional reporting requirements. It requires the reporting of every act which singularly or in cumulative effect is likely to result in the student’s suspension or the filing of a court petition.

The removal of professional discretion as to when to report infractions to parents undermines the position of the classroom teacher and imposes an unnecessary burden on those already overburdened. This bill reported on an 8-7 vote and heads to the full Senate.

YEAS--Saslaw, Lucas, Howell, Quayle, Martin, Edwards, Whipple, Barker--8.

NAYS--Houck, Newman, Ruff, Blevins, Locke, Northam, Miller, J.C.--7.

HB 2494 is that this bill could be used to reduce planning time, increase class sizes, and reduce access to school nurses, guidance counselors, and libraries. This bill reported on a 8-7 vote as well and is headed to the full senate.

Please write your Senator now urging support of 1483 and opposition to 1548 and 2494. Click on write now.

Having passed the Senate on a 25-12 vote, Senator Marden’s SB 805 failed to report from the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Compensation and Retirement on a 3-1 vote. Delegate O. Ware moved to report. There was no second. Delegate Ingram moved to table, and Delegate C. Jones and Delegate Poindexter joined him in voting to table. Delegate Tata was not in the room. Thanks to VRTA for rising with VEA in support of the bill.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

VRS Victory - Are We There Yet?

It is never over until it is over, but it appears that we have a major victory. When VEA ended up being the only organization standing in opposition to Chairman Putney’s HB2410, which imposed the 5% employee contribution to VRS and weakened VRS by providing a defined contribution plan to future hires, I hoped and prayed that we were doing the right thing.

We were! Delegate Putney announced, when presenting his bill to the Senate Finance Committee today, that teachers and local government employees are now left out of the bill. I personally thanked Delegate Putney after the meeting.

Although, there may be efforts on the part of the House, in the budget deliberations, to revisit this issue – our chances of successfully avoiding the imposition of the 5% employee contribution and defending VRS have improved dramatically.

Thanks to each of you who took the time to write your legislator in opposition to HB2410. You made a difference

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Voucher Bill Bites the Dust/Big VRS Vote Tomorrow

Consideration of the Massie Voucher Bill (HB2314) resulted in quite a show at today’s Senate Finance Committee meeting. The bill was targeted at children who qualify for free- and reduced-lunch. The same ploy was used in Florida, but as soon as the voucher door was opened by exploiting poor children, the plan was expanded to create a new entitlement program providing private school vouchers to even the wealthiest children.

Private school students were brought in to testify to the bill, and some of them cried when it failed.

What was most surprising was that representatives of Verizon (Can you hear me now?) and Waste Management, Inc. (Think Green), testified in support of the voucher bill. This is the first time I ever recall major corporations publicly undermining public education in the General Assembly. Senator Wampler moved to report the bill. Senator Saslaw moved a substitute motion to pass by indefinitely (PBI). Senators Marsh and Houck debated against the bill. Wampler and Stosch praised the bill.

The vote on the bill was a straight party-line vote, with the nine Democrats voting to kill the bill (YEA) and the six Republicans voting against the motion to PBI (NAY).

YEAS--Colgan, Houck, Howell, Saslaw, Miller, Y.B., Marsh, Lucas, Whipple, Reynolds--9.
NAYS--Wampler, Stosch, Quayle, Norment, Hanger, Watkins--6.

Lukily the Verizon call was dropped and it was all too apparent that the only green Waste Management was thinking about was reducing their corporate tax bill.

The big vote on Delegate Putney’s HB2410, which creates a defined-contribution option for future hires, is tomorrow in the same Senate Finance committee. It’s not too late to call members of the Senate Finance Committee (see names in vote above) to ask them not to mess with our VRS!

Monday, February 14, 2011

Won One/Lost One/Repair the Damage Rally

Delegate Cleaveland’s HB1483, a Labor Day Bill exempting Roanoke City from the Labor Day law, cleared another hurdle today when it was reported from the Senate Committee on Education and Health. Could it be that the dam is ready to break on this issue? The fact that Roanoke City’s youth have two weeks less time to prepare for IB and other tests was an issue. I think it may be time for a frontal assault on the Labor Day bill. Shall we put that on next year’s agenda? Delegate Cleaveland is a highly effective advocate for his legislation, especially considering that this is his first session.

We were less lucky on the PE bill. O’Bannon’s bill was reported from the same committee on a 3-2 vote.

Tomorrow will be a big day in the Senate Finance Committee, Delegate Massie’s voucher bill, SB2314, will come up. It’s not too late to make calls to members of that committee urging defeat of SB2314.

Thanks to all who attended today’s “Repair the Damage” rally. Please check out the coverage on the VEA website.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Senate, Hold Firm!!!

Yesterday, I addressed some aspects of the House budget. Today, let’s look at the Senate budget.

First, it provides $100.6 million more funding for public education than the Governor’s introduced budget. Remember, the House cuts $93.1 million.

The 97 school divisions harmed by the Governor’s cuts in the “LCI Hold Harmless” are made whole in the Senate budget.

It eliminates the 2% reduction in pay provision – remember, the Governor said school employees would pay the 5% VRS employee contribution if local school divisions provided a 3% increase. The Senate budget leaves things as they now are.

The Senate restores some Standards of Quality (SOQ) funding for school operating, construction costs, textbooks, ESL and remedial summer school.

The Senate chose not to give any salary increases. They said if we can’t do for all, we won’t do for any. The Governor had funds for state worker increases, but nothing for school employees.

The Senate puts $31 million into VRS teacher fund and raises the employer contribution rate by 2.4% to strengthen the fund.

The Senate cuts funding for the College Lab Schools from $0.6 million to $0.3 million, and cuts the funding for the Governor’s merit pay plan from $3 million to $1 million.

In keeping with a long and hard battle for VEA, the Senate provides $0.5 million for an “Analysis of Statewide Health Insurance.” As statewide plan could save the state, localities and VEA members a fortune in health insurance costs.

We can only hope that the Senate holds firm in their fight to increase funding for our schools now that the budget deliberations are underway.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Tell Your Delegate to Fix the House Budget!

Despite improving revenues on the state level, the proposed House Budget Bill, HB1500, continues to inflict permanent damage to the Standards of Quality, the school funding formula in Virginia. Despite the fact that Virginia now ranks 38th in the nation in state funding per pupil, the house budget makes the following permanent cuts:

• Eliminates funding for resource teachers (art, music and PE) in grades six and seven

• Eliminates funding for school buses

• Reduces funding for text books

• Cuts Pre-K funding

As Virginia’s finances improve, we should be repairing the damage done to your schools by the deep cuts of the recessionary years. We should not be making additional cuts.

Please urge your delegate to restore these cuts and to begin repairing the damage done to our schools.

Click on Write Now!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Great Intentions/Bad Bill

While the goal of increasing the physical activity of our children to reduce childhood obesity is one upon which we all agree. The manner in which this issue is addressed in SB966 is most problematic.

Those who do not work in schools are not aware of just how jam-packed the school day is. If we provide the minimum of 150 minutes per week for physical activity we will have to take time away from other activities such as remediation, music, art and foreign language instruction unless we lengthen the school day.

To improve the health of our children, the envisioned physical activity should involve rigorous uninterrupted physical activity for at least thirty minutes. Especially for our older students, grades 5-8, the students will need to change before and shower afterwards. Locker rooms and showers are not present at most of our elementary schools.

The proponents of this bill advocate shifting P.E. instructional responsibility to the classroom teacher and away from the P. E. teachers. It is ironic that the experts in our schools in the realm of physical education will lose their jobs as this bill is implemented. We fear that music and art programs will be eliminated as well.

There are no inclement weather provisions in the bill, and for schools without gymnasiums, this is a problem.

If the state would share in the cost of implementing this state policy shift, by providing the state share of funding the facilities, lengthened day and additional teachers we would support it. But at this point, the
bill is a costly and unfunded mandate.

Please click on the link below to send a message to your delegate urging oppositions to SB966.

http://capwiz.com/nea/va/issues/alert/?alertid=26919511&queueid=6437180991

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Votes to Remember in November

Yesterday, I referred to three bills of special interest to VEA. Today, I’ll let you know where these three bills stand as we reach crossover. On the House side is the HB2410, Delegate Putney’s bill to create a defined contribution option; and HB2314, Delegate Massie’s voucher bill.

Delegate Jennifer McClellan led the debate against the voucher bill yesterday, and the 55-44 vote to pass the bill in the House was close.

YEAS--Abbitt, Albo, Anderson, Athey, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Byron, Cleaveland, Cline, Cole, Comstock, Cosgrove, Cox, J.A., Cox, M.K., Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Howell, A.T., Iaquinto, Ingram, Janis, Joannou, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, May, Miller, J.H., Morgan, O'Bannon, Oder, Orrock, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Pollard, Purkey, Putney, Robinson, Scott, E.T., Sherwood, Stolle, Tata, Villanueva, Ware, R.L., Wilt, Mr. Speaker--54.

NAYS--Abbott, Alexander, Armstrong, BaCote, Barlow, Brink, Bulova, Carr, Carrico, Crockett-Stark, Dance, Ebbin, Edmunds, Englin, Filler-Corn, Herring, Hope, Hugo, James, Johnson, Keam, Kory, Lewis, McClellan, McQuinn, Merricks, Miller, P.J., Morefield, Morrissey, Nutter, Phillips, Plum, Rust, Scott, J.M., Shuler, Sickles, Spruill, Surovell, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Ware, O., Watts, Wright--45.

We will now go to work in an effort to kill this bill in the Senate.

The House vote on HB2410, the bill to weaken VRS by creating a defined contribution option, was as follows:

YEAS--Abbitt, Albo, Anderson, Athey, BaCote, Barlow, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Brink, Byron, Carrico, Cleaveland, Cline, Cole, Comstock, Cosgrove, Cox, J.A., Cox, M.K., Dance, Edmunds, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Howell, A.T., Hugo, Iaquinto, Ingram, Janis, Joannou, Jones, Keam, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, May, McQuinn, Merricks, Miller, J.H., Miller, P.J., Morgan, O'Bannon, Oder, Orrock, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Pollard, Purkey, Putney, Robinson, Rust, Scott, E.T., Scott, J.M., Sherwood, Shuler, Spruill, Stolle, Tata, Torian, Villanueva, Ware, O., Ware, R.L., Wilt, Wright, Mr. Speaker--72.

NAYS--Abbott, Alexander, Armstrong, Bulova, Carr, Crockett-Stark, Ebbin, Filler-Corn, Herring, Hope, James, Johnson, Kory, Lewis, McClellan, Morefield, Morrissey, Nutter, Phillips, Plum, Sickles, Surovell, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Watts--26.

Englin’s no vote should be recorded later. He said his “Nay” button malfunctioned.

We will need to work our hardest to defeat this bill in the Senate.

On the Senate side, SB1031, Senator Barker’s bill to allow school boards to retain unspent funds at year’s end failed on a close vote (17-23):

YEAS--Barker, Colgan, Edwards, Herring, Houck, Howell, Locke, Marsden, McEachin, Miller, J.C., Miller, Y.B., Petersen, Puller, Reynolds, Saslaw, Ticer, Whipple--17.

NAYS--Blevins, Deeds, Hanger, Lucas, Marsh, Martin, McDougle, McWaters, Newman, Norment, Northam, Obenshain, Puckett, Quayle, Ruff, Smith, Stanley, Stosch, Stuart, Vogel, Wagner, Wampler, Watkins--23.

Please plan to attend the “Repair the Damage” rally in Richmond on February 14th.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Crossover & Three Major Votes Tomorrow

The House and Senate calendars are full as we approach Crossover. Three bills are of special interest to VEA.

On the House side is the HB2410, Delegate Putney’s bill to create a defined contribution option; and HB2314, Delegate Massie’s voucher bill.

After lengthy debate of the voucher bill, the bill was engrossed and passed to the third reading. The final house vote on this bill will be on Tuesday. Please use the link below to write your delegate urging opposition to HB2314:

http://capwiz.com/nea/va/issues/alert/?alertid=25928501&queueid=6419770286

HB2410, too, was engrossed and passed to its third reading. The final vote is tomorrow. Please click the link below to write your delegate urging opposition to this effort to weaken the VRS.

http://capwiz.com/nea/va/issues/alert/?alertid=25712501&queueid=6412064421

On the Senate side, we have SB1031, Senator Barker’s bill to allow school boards to retain unspent funds at year’s end. This bill was engrossed and advance to its third reading tomorrow. That will be the final vote. Please use this link to email your senator urging support for SB1031.

http://capwiz.com/nea/va/issues/alert/?alertid=25997501&queueid=6421919921

Please plan to attend the “Repair the Damage” rally in Richmond on February 14th.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What Super Bowl? It's Budget Sunday.

The House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees presented their budgets today, so that lobbyists would not be able to watch the Super Bowl.

I am going to offer very broad-stroke observations based on my first glance of the two proposals. More detail will follow.

First, let’s look at the FY 2012 Direct Aid to Public Education provided in each budget:

House $5,404,513,733 Senate $5,597,954,315

Remember, the Governor provided $5,497,604,129.

So the House actually cuts $93,090,396 in addition to the Governor’s cuts.

The Senate increased K-12 funding by $100,350,186.

On a per pupil basis, here is how it breaks down:

Governor: $4,519
House: $4,441
Senate: $4.600

The House calls or a 2% teacher salary bonus, and allows the imposition of the 5% employee contribution to VRS only if a 5% raise in provided.

The Senate does not mention a salary target, but provides much more money to school divisions.

In the days ahead, the House will reject the Senate budget - the Senate will reject the House budget - and a committee on conference will be appointed to come up with a joint conference proposal.

One way to pressure the House to move in the Senate's position is to attend the "Repair the Damage to Public Education" rally on February 14th.

My quotes of the day come from Senate Finance Committee Chairman Charles Colgan, who said:

“Despite these significant ‘short session’ restorations, we are mindful of the unprecedented magnitude of the reductions in this area over the past two years. The final FY 2010 general fund Direct Aid to Education appropriation was reduced almost 20 percent from the original appropriation, to below the FY 2007 level.”

And from Senator Yvonne Miller, who said,

“… we have elected not to reinstate payment of the five percent employee retirement contribution at this time. …Our state employees, faculty, teachers, and state-supported local government have stuck by us during these hard times. Now is not the time to thank them with a … reduction in pay.”

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Urge Your Senator to Support SB1031

SB1031 should come up for final vote on Tuesday.

SB1031 allows local school boards to retain unspent funds at the end of the year. This change in policy rewards sound fiscal stewardship, eliminates the “spend it or lose it” mentality, and affords education a higher priority in the budget process.

This bill is one small step to help local school divisions in these hard economic times.

Click on "Take Action!" to urge your Senator to vote for SB1031

Friday, February 4, 2011

Act Now to Stop HB2314

The House will debate Delegate Massie’s HB2314, a private school voucher bill, on Monday. The final vote should be on Tuesday. Please click on “Take Action!” to send your delegate a message urging the defeat of HB2314.

This bill will create a new entitlement, the state provision of funds for private school tuitions. Although the bill claims to benefit only poor children, it is a foot in the door. The bill is modeled on Florida’s voucher program. Newsweek reported on January 24, 2011, that, “Gov. Rick Scott is the first [Governor] to propose making vouchers available to all students, not just those in low-income areas.”

The bill will drain the General Fund of up to $25 million dollars by providing a 70% tax credit to corporations contributing to private school voucher foundations. Public schools would lose the state funding for the children who receive the vouchers.

This bill is being proposed at a time when we have seen Virginia’s state per-pupil funding fall from a 2009 level of $5,274 to the 2012 level of $4,519 proposed by the Governor on December 17th.

This bill will deplete the General Fund, which presently does not adequately fund core services, including education, for the purpose of offering a financial incentive to abandon our public schools. The $25 million could be better used to begin repairing the damage done to our schools by the funding cuts of the last three years.

This bill will provide a greater incentive (70% credit) to corporations to contribute to private schools than is provided for contributions to public school foundations, which are considered a charitable donation and not eligible for a tax credit.

The worth of the vouchers will vary by locality. The range is from $1,300 to $6,700. This amount is not sufficient to provide for the tuition of a poor child to attend a private school of high quality. The qualifying family of four, earning $40,793, could certainly not bridge the gap to pay the tuition of a high quality private school, many of which approach or exceed $20,000.

No accountability provisions for the academic performance of the schools which will benefit from the state’s support are included in the bill. Should not schools benefiting from state funding, even if it is indirect, be held to the same SOL accountability system as our public schools?

Thursday, February 3, 2011

They Really Don't Know What They Are Doing!

I try to refrain from being too critical of our elected leaders, as they are dealing with so many complex issues, and most are, like the rest of us, giving it their best try. But in the case of HB2410, I have to say that they literally do not know what they are doing. Some have admitted to me that they to not understand the bill, but they vote for it.

VEA, by virtue of a long-held position of our board of directors, supports the exclusive maintenance of the defined benefit plan for school employees. HB2410, which is now before the full House, creates an optional defined contribution (DC) plan for future hires.

One of the reasons for considering this bill is the $17 billion VRS unfunded liability, and the other is the hope of controlling future costs of the system. HB2410 does not change the unfunded liability of the current plan. The Fiscal Impact Statement (FIS) says, “… current unfunded liabilities for the DB pension and retiree healthcare benefits will remain substantially unchanged.” Further, the FIS says HB2410 will increase the cost of the current plan - “As fewer hires join the current DB [defined benefit] plan, the payroll base under this plan would begin to decline immediately. Since the payroll base is used to fund the DB system’s unfunded accrued liabilities (UAL), the financial burden as a percent of payroll will increase.” The FIS also says it “will increase the contribution required to the DB plan, at least in the near term.”

In plain English this means that the bill will weaken the current plan, make the current plan more expensive and do nothing to address the unfunded liability.
The FIS also says, “It will take many years before the System may begin to realize any benefits anticipated by creating a DC plan.”

Adequate deliberation of the question before the House should include the consideration of the impact of the plan on future retirees.

The DC model in the 2008 JLARC report on State Compensation according to PricewaterhouseCoopers would offer 52% of the benefit of the current plan. The House canot tell us what the ultimate value to retirees of the plan in HB2410? Should they vote without knowing the answer to this question?

Asking a 22 year-old new hire, who knows nothing about the virtues or risks of the various plans, to make an irrevocable election of tremendous consequence is unwise and unfair.

This is too big an issue to address in this short session. There is over $50 billion in the fund – retirees will be paid. The actuarial horizon of the unfunded liability is 85 years. Please urge your Delegate to vote to defeat HB2410 and to study a bit more before making this decision which is of tremendous consequence to future employees.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What a difference: House and Senate

I started my day in the House Appropriations Committee subcommittee on Compensation and Retirement as they took up two bills to create a defined contribution plan for future hires in Virginia. I summarized the retirement bills in an earlier posting. Delegate Jones’ HB2465 (the mandatory bill) was incorporated into Delegate Putney’s HB2410 (option bill).

On the House side, VEA stood alone in opposing the bill, and it was reported on the following recorded official vote:

YEAS--Jones, Tata, Ingram, May, Poindexter, Joannou, Ware, O.--7.
NAYS--0.

Soon after, in the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Watkins was carrying SB1008 and SB1115, which also would have created a defined contribution option for future hires. VEA was joined in opposition here by the firefighters, the state police, and the local police.

The unofficial vote on a motion from J. Howell to kill the bill (PBI) was as follows:

Yeas – Colgan, Wampler, Howell, Saslaw, Houck, Hanger, Y. B. Miller, Marsh, Lucas, Whipple and Reynolds
Nays – Stosch, Quayle and Watkins

I offered the following testimony in both chambers:

VEA by virtue of a long-held position of our board of directors supports the exclusive maintenance of the defined benefit plan.

Offering a defined contribution option to future hires has no impact on the VRS unfunded liability.

Adequate deliberation of the question before you should include the consideration of the impact of the plan on future retirees.

The DC model in the 2008 JLARC report on State Compensation according to PricewaterhouseCoopers would offer 52% of the benefit of the current plan. Can you tell us what the ultimate value to retirees of the plan before us?

Asking a 22 year-old new hire, who knows nothing about the virtues or risks of the various plans, to make an irrevocable elections of tremendous consequence is unwise and unfair.

This is too big an issue to address in this short session. There is over $50 billion in the fund – retirees will be paid. The actuarial horizon of the unfunded liability is 85 years. Please study a bit more before making this decision which is of tremendous consequence to future employees.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

ESP Health Care Credit Advances

Another bill on VEA’s legislative agenda, Senator Marsden’s SB805, which provides local governments with the option of providing the retiree health care credit to support personnel, was reported from the Senate Finance Committee on a 7-5 vote. Senator Howell moved to report the bill, and Senator Houck seconded the motion. It appeared that the bill had failed on a voice vote, but then there was a call for a recorded vote, and the bill passed on the following vote:

YEAS--Houck, Howell, Miller, Y.B., Marsh, Lucas, Whipple, Reynolds--7.
NAYS--Colgan, Wampler, Stosch, Saslaw, Watkins--5.
ABSTENTIONS--Quayle, Norment--2.

Please call your senator urging support for SB805

The Finance Committee was the scene of one of the most spirited debates of the session, when Senator McWaters tried to advance his SB1394. The bill would have diverted $1 billion in general fund revenue, now used to support education and other core services, over the next ten years, to fund transportation projects in NOVA and Hampton Roads. When asked about the impact of the bill on funding for education, McWaters said that teachers are “missionaries” who would understand why money needs to be diverted from education to transportation. When President Boitnott rose to speak to the bill, she stated that, “Teachers are highly skilled professionals who should be fairly compensated.” Senator Lucas moved that the bill be Passed by Indefinitely (PBI) – and so the bill died on a voice vote.

Last year, in my mind, was the “more with less” session. I remember the Governor saying that teachers would once again, “do more with less.” That you have done. This year is the much, much more with even less session. This morning a House Education Subcommittee voted to go forward with requiring that schools teach an additional financial literacy course with no state funding to do so. That same subcommittee had earlier required that K-8 students have 30 minutes of physical education per day, but provided no funds to implement this laudable policy. You know that test scores are going to have to rise 5 points per year until 2014 – there’s no additional money for that either. How much more can you do with much, much less?

Monday, January 31, 2011

Labor Day Bill + VEA Bill Advances

The last day of January was an interesting one at the General Assembly.

First, in an unexpected development, a Labor Day bill granting Roanoke City a waiver from the mandatory post Labor Day school opening passed the House Education Committee on a 14-8 vote. Republican Delegate Cleaveland did an excellent job of presenting the bill, HB1483, and his Democratic Roanoke Valley neighbor, Delegate O. Ware, offered able support, pointing out that the city’s children were at a disadvantage in competing with their Roanoke County neighbors, as the county starts school two weeks before Labor Day, and both localities have to give the SOL tests at the same time. I think the dam is breaking – doing away with the Labor Day Bill statewide is looking like a possibility in the years ahead.

A bill on VEA’s legislative agenda, Senator Barker’s SB1031, was reported from the Senate Committee on Education and Health Subcommittee on Public Education on a 5-0 vote! This is the bill to allow school boards to retain unspent funds at the end of the fiscal year rather than having them revert to the city council or board of supervisors.

Please check your email, you should have a cyber-lobby alert.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Think Before You Mess With VRS!

There seems less certainty now regarding how the session will address VRS reform. That is good news. A knee-jerk reaction to the Governor’s Chicken Little rhetoric could have a negative impact upon the ability of the commonwealth to attract and retain high quality personnel and, there are legitimate questions regarding the adequacy of some of the proposals on the table to afford retirees some dignity in their final years.

It seems that if we are going to take a rational approach in regard to Virginia Retirement System reform, some questions should be answered regarding the pending retirement legislation and the degree to which they will “fix” VRS.

1. Does changing who pays the 5% employee contribution add one cent to the fund?

2. Is there a danger that current retirees won’t get their checks in the years ahead?

3. Does creating a defined contribution plan for future hires, be it optional or mandatory, reduce the $17.6 billion unfunded liability of VRS?

4. If we adhere to the ten year repayment schedule, in regard to last year’s VRS contribution shortfall, and; from this day forward, honor the VRS Board of Trustee’s certified rate; won’t we achieve a sounder funding status? If we follow this path, isn’t it likely that we will move to a much firmer footing within a decade?

5. Isn’t the actuarial horizon of the $17.6 billion rather long? Consequently, don’t we have decades to address this problem?

6. I keep hearing that the current system is not sustainable. Isn’t it a fact, that if we bite the bullet and pay the certified rate that the system is sustainable?

7. Aren’t the high anticipated contribution rates, which will be a burden in the short-run, just a repayment for our failure to make appropriate contributions most of the time over the past twenty years?

8. In the 2008 JLARC report on state compensation, PricewaterhousCoopers found that the defined contribution model in the report d would provide 52% of the replacement income of the current defined benefit plan. Shouldn’t we take the time to do this same kind of analysis on each proposal to know the expected consequence of each on those that will retire after years of honorable service to the commonwealth?

Your legislators, both delegates and senators, are heading home for the weekend. Look for a chance, by letter, call, email or in face-to face conversation to ask them if this isn’t just too big an issue to address in a short session when so many questions remain unanswered.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

An Overview of Key VRS Bills

My day was a strange one. The General Assembly is in session, but I spent the day in the hospital with my mother who had hip surgery. She is doing well, but there were complications and her recovery will take a bit longer than anticipated.

I managed to turn off the damn TV in the waiting area and analyze what seem to be the most important of the forty-one VRS related bills.

HB1784 (Tata) and SB861 (Wagner) allow local governments to establish their own retirement systems in lieu of VRS.

HB2410 (Putney) provides for an optional defined contribution plan for new hires. New hires will have to make an irrevocable election of the defined contribution plan or the defined benefit plan within the first 60 days of employment.

This bill provides for an employer contribution of 2%, a 100% employer match of the first 5% the employee contributes, and a 50% match of the next 3%. So, if the employee contributes 8% the employer provides a 8.5% contribution.

If the employee leaves with two years of experience, he receives 50% of the employer contribution.

If the employee leaves with three years of experience, he receives 75% of the employer contribution.

If the employee leaves with four or more years of experience, he receives 100% of the employer contribution.

If one leaves before two years of service the employer contribution is forfeited.

The employee directs all investment decisions.

No loans or hardship distributions are allowed from the employer contribution.

Current VRS participants can switch to the defined contribution plan no later than March 31, 2012.

HB2465 (C. Jones) creates a mandatory defined contribution plan for those who hire on after January 1, 2012.

The employer match is 50% of the first 5% the employee contributes.

If the employee leaves with two years of experience, he receives 50% of the employer contribution.

If the employee leaves with three years of experience, he receives 75% of the employer contribution.

If the employee leaves with four or more years of experience, he receives 100% of the employer contribution.

If one leaves before two years of service the employer contribution is forfeited.

No loans or hardship distributions are allowed from the employer contribution.

Current VRS defined benefit plan participants can switch to the defined contribution plan no later than March 31, 2012.

SB1115 (Watkins/Stosch) establishes an optional defined contribution plan for new hires. Those hired after January 1, 2012 must make an irrevocable election when hired.

This bill provides for an employer contribution of 2%, a 100% employer match of the first 5% the employee contributes, and a 50% match of the next 3%. So, if the employee contributes 8% the employer provides a 8.5% contribution.

If the employee leaves with two years of experience, he receives 50% of the employer contribution.

If the employee leaves with three years of experience, he receives 75% of the employer contribution.

If the employee leaves with four or more years of experience, he receives 100% of the employer contribution.

If one leaves before two years of service the employer contribution is forfeited.

No loans or hardship distributions are allowed from the employer contribution.

SB1008 (Watkins/Stosch) requires that the employee pay the 5% employee contribution, but allows a 1% per year phase-in. The contribution increases by 1% in years when the employee gets at least a 1% increase. It provides for an optional defined contribution plan.

Current defined benefit plan participants can switch to this plan by October 1, 2011.

This bill provides for an employer contribution of 2%, a 100% employer match of the first 5% the employee contributes, and a 50% match of the next 3%. So, if the employee contributes 8% the employer provides a 8.5% contribution.

If an employee participates in the defined contribution plan and moves to a locality that does not offer the defined contribution plan, he can use funs from his defined contribution account to purchase service credit in the defined benefit plan at a rate determined by the VRS Board.

An employee must have five years of service to collect the employer contribution upon termination of service.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Are Elementary Art and Music Programs Threatened?

To follow up on yesterday’s posting, the new language Delegate O’Bannon’s HB1644 inserts into the code reads as follows:

“A program of daily physical education available to all students in grades kindergarten through eight consisting of at least 150 minutes per week on average during the regular school year. Each local school board shall incorporate into its local wellness policy a goal for the implementation of a similar program for high school students during the regular school year.”

The following words are the final words of the bill:

“That the provisions of this act shall become effective beginning with the 2014 - 2015 school year.”

These words allegedly provide time for the bill’s implementation, but the true purpose of these words may me to keep the bill from having a fiscal impact on the current budget cycle, to allow the bill’s sponsor to claim no fiscal impact and to keep the bill’s costs from being taken into consideration.

This strategy worked today, and the efforts of those, who favor increasing the time students have for physical activity without harming our music art and other programs failed.

More time for physical education should be provided. Doing this will probably require more P.E. teachers and a longer school day. This will cost money, and if the General Assembly chooses to impose this good policy on our schools, the General Assembly should help pay the costs.

It appears that the General Assembly will not even examine the cost implications of the bill.

My fear now is that localities will implement the policy with no help from the state, and that the localities which are cash poor at this juncture and tired of unfunded state mandates will do so at the cost of art and music.

This bill is headed to the full house following a 16-6 Education Committee vote to report the bill. There may be an effort on the floor to refer this bill to the Appropriations Committee to examine the costs. Please call or email your delegate urging them to support referring the bill back to Appropriations.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Childhood Obesity and Physical Education

No one doubts that we have a child-hood obesity problem in Virginia. We also know that increasing the portion of the day our children devote to physical activity is one component of addressing this problem, along with proper diet, sleep habits and other factors.

That is why House bills 1644 (O’Bannon) and 1710 (A. Howell) along with Senate bills 803 (Lucas), 966 (Northam) and 934 (John Miller) are on the fast track.

HB1710 has been rolled into O’Bannon’s HB1644, and two of the Senate bills were rolled into Northam’s SB966. Perhaps it is a coincidence that physicians are carrying both of the surviving bills, but the two doctors certainly understand the health consequences of Virginia’s childhood obesity epidemic. Senator Saslaw, though not a physician, provided a quip that reveals the problem, “Some of our kids look like circus freaks.”

It appears that in both the House and Senate, the surviving bills require 150 minutes of “daily physical education” per week in grades K-8 and “a goal for implementation of a similar program in high school students.” They give our schools until 2014-2015 to meet the requirement.

None of the bills speak to the costs associated with implementing this policy. To his credit, House Education Subcommittee Chairman Scott Lingamfelter steered the house bill to the House Appropriations Committee for an examination of the fiscal impact of the legislation.

The costs are but one factor to consider. If the time for physical education in the school day is expanded, what will we take out of the day? In many of our elementary schools, physical education, music, art and sometimes library time are provided on a rotating basis. If daily physical education is required, what becomes of music and art? It appears that the school day would need to be extended to preserve these programs. This could make the costs of implementation high.

The physical education, music, art and library time rotations also provide the planning time for elementary teachers. If more physical education teachers are not provided to implement the requirement, when will elementary teachers have time to plan?

In addition, currently, students are pulled for tutoring during this time period. The fact that the target test scores to meet AYP have been ratcheted-up yet again makes this tutoring all the more important. When will these tutoring sessions take place?

It seems that implementing these bills will be a far more complicated, consequential and expensive that the bill’s sponsors imagined. It’s the right thing to do, but will the state come up with the funds to implement the policy? Don’t hold your breath.

Although VEA has not taken a position on this legislation, we are trying to ask the right questions. You may wish to weigh (no pun intended) in on the issue with your delegate and senator.

Monday, January 24, 2011

350 Lobby Day Participants

Three hundred and fifty VEA members participated in our 2011 VEA Lobby Day. We thank each and every one of them for standing up for public education on this cold day in Richmond.

Here is the lobby day message they delivered to legislators:

1. As Virginia’s economy recovers from the Great Recession, and state revenues pick up – place high priority on repairing the damage done to our schools in the past two years, when we have seen state funding per-pupil fall by almost 15%.

2. Please support the budget amendments from Delegate Tata and Senator Houck to provide 3% salary increases to school employees (see the one-sider in your folder).

3. Please protect the VRS defined benefit program, reject the notion of re-imposing the 5% employee contribution, and reject efforts to move to a defined contribution plan. Please commit to repaying last year’s VRS shortfall and to honoring the certified contribution rate from the VRS Board of Trustees in the future. That is the route to a strong VRS (see the one-sider in your folder) .

4. Please protect the General Fund, upon which core services such as public education depend for funding. Reject efforts to increase debt and future debt service costs and reject tax credits which deplete the fund. The percentage of the state budget going to public education is at an all-time low point (29.88%) and “shrinking the pie” will only make things worse. The course we are on will “starve” our schools.

5. Restore the “Hold Harmless” funds appropriated in Chapter 874. Cutting these funds cuts instructional funding in 97 school divisions.

Please share with your representatives how the cuts to public education are eroding the quality of the educational opportunity of the children you serve.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

65% Passes House by a Two Vote Margin

The vote on Delegate Loupassi’s “65% Solution” bill was interesting. Our goal was to weaken the bill as much as possible in the House to make it easier to kill in the Senate. The 48-46 vote to pass the bill was far from a party-line vote. Twelve Republicans voted with us, and two Democrats voted against us. A "NAY" vote supported the VEA position.

YEAS--Abbitt, Albo, Anderson, Athey, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Byron, Carrico, Cline, Cole, Comstock, Cosgrove, Cox, J.A., Cox, M.K., Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Iaquinto, Joannou, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, May, Morefield, Morgan, O'Bannon, Oder, Orrock, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Pollard, Putney, Robinson, Sherwood, Stolle, Villanueva, Ware, R.L., Wilt, Wright, Mr. Speaker--48.

NAYS--Abbott, Alexander, Armstrong, BaCote, Barlow, Bulova, Carr, Cleaveland, Crockett-Stark, Dance, Ebbin, Edmunds, Englin, Filler-Corn, Habeeb, Herring, Hope, Howell, A.T., Hugo, Ingram, James, Johnson, Keam, Kory, Lewis, McClellan, McQuinn, Merricks, Miller, J.H., Miller, P.J., Phillips, Plum, Purkey, Rust, Scott, E.T., Scott, J.M., Shuler, Sickles, Spruill, Tata, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Ware, O., Watts--46.

ABSTENTIONS--0.

NOT VOTING--Brink, Janis, Morrissey, Nutter, Surovell--5.

Of those not voting, Surovell told VEA that he had to be in Northern Virginia on Friday to attend to pressing personal business.

Let’s watch this one on the Senate after crossover.

Please make a point of thanking your delegate if she/he voted right on this one.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Hope for a Better Budget for Education

Following the development of Virginia’s budget is even more difficult than following the process for bills. Many of the decisions are made in behind-the-scenes meetings that are technically open to the public, but the unspoken word is that you attend to the detriment of your cause.

Yesterday, member’s budget amendments were posted, and these amendments provide an insight regarding their respective priorities. Look, for example, at the amendments proposed by Delegates O’Bannon and Cox. You can view the Delegates and Senator’s amendments at the following sites:

House - http://leg2.state.va.us/WebData/11amend.nsf/House+Patron?OpenForm

Senate - http://leg2.state.va.us/WebData/11amend.nsf/Senate+Patron?OpenForm

Thanks to Delegate Tata and Senator Houck, we are still in the battle to win a pay increase for school employees. Although Tata’s budget amendment is entitled with the word “teacher,” it includes all SOQ positions. Houck’s K-12 funding amendment is a “place holder” for funds to provide the option of improving pay or saving jobs.

We are fortunate, too, that a number of members from both parties are fighting to restore the Hold Harmless funds that were slashed by the Governor ($57,599,781).

House Amendments
Bacote - 132 6h Restore Composite Index in FY2012 $57,599,781
Carr - 132 5h Restore Composite Index in FY2012 $57,599,781
Tata - 132 1h Teacher 3% Salary Adjustment $99,355,544
- 132 2h Restore Composite Index in FY2012 $57,599,781

Senate Amendments

Barker - 1 3s Jt. Sub. To Study Virtual School Funding
- 30 1s JLARC Study of VRS
- 132 4s Freeze Virtual School Enrollment
Houck - 132 7s K-12 Funding YR1 $83,159,970 YR2 $87,698,039
Marsh - 132 2s Restore FY12 LCI Hold Harmless $57,599,781
Quayle - 132 1s Restore FY12 LCI Hold Harmless $57,599,781
Reynolds - 132 3s Restore FY12 LCI Hold Harmless $57,599,781

Our job now is to support these amendments to make the reports that come out of the House Appropriations Committee and Senate Finance Committee more generous to public education than what the Governor proposed on December 17th.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

65% and Home Schoolers on Public School Sports Teams

HB 1416 was taken up on second reading in the House today, and after an acrimonious debate in which the Virginia Education Association and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents were said to be unions by the bill’s sponsor Manoli Loupassi. Delegate Pollard pointed out to Loupassi public employees in Virginia, by law, cannot unionize. Delegate Morrisey did an excellent job of revealing the bill’s flaws to no avail, and the bill passed on a voice vote. The final vote will be tomorrow.

The goal of the bill, getting more money into the classroom, is laudable, but the real impact of the bill will be cutting the support services so important to the success of teachers in the classroom (librarians, counselors, bus drivers, custodians and etc.).

This morning the Students and Daycare Subcommittee of the House Education Committee reported Delegate Bell’s HB2395, a bill to allow home schooled students to participate in interscholastic (public school) sports, to the full committee. This bill should come before the House Education Committee on VEA Lobby Day, this Monday. Please contact the House Education Committee members urging opposition to HB2395 (link to committee information).

If we do this for public schools shouldn’t we do this for our public universities? Why should you have to go to UVA to play on the sports teams?

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

It’s time for some sober reflection on the VRS issues: The sky is not falling.

Virginia is confronted with an unfunded liability in the various Virginia Retirement System (VRS) funds of $17.6 billion. The General Assembly has failed to adequately fund the VRS. They have provided sufficient funds to meet the VRS Board of Trustee’s certified contribution rate only four times in the last twenty years for the teacher fund and six times in the last twenty years for the state employee fund.

It has taken us a decade to dig the hole we are in. As recently as 2001, the teacher fund, for example, was actually over-funded (106%).

The VRS plan for teachers is relatively conservative in its benefit structure. In terms of replacement income, we rank 37th among the states.

We strongly support efforts to make the VRS fiscally sound, but we do not feel that taking money from under-paid teachers, ESP, and from our school divisions is the best way to address this problem.

It is important to recognize that the sky is not falling. The market value of the VRS fund now exceeds $50 billion. Current retirees need not live in fear of losing their benefits.

The Governor suggests that we address this problem by making employees pay the 5% employee contribution to VRS, by giving future hires a choice of participating in VRS as we know it or in a defined-contribution plan, and by increasing the employer contribution rate for school board employees by 2% in the year ahead.

This plan breaks a promise made to state workers and school board employees who were told in the 1980s that the 5% employee contribution would be paid on their behalf in lieu of a raise. We were told that this was an irrevocable decision.

This action was taken by the state and local school boards because it was less expensive for the employer to pick up the 5% contribution than to provide a 5% salary increase, since the increased costs of certain fringe benefits would not have to be provided (FICA and VRS). Employees saw a 5% increase in take home pay, but it cost the employer less than 5%.

The Governor’s plan for a one time infusion of $311 million, a third or which comes from local revenue, will do little to address a $17.6-billion problem.

The actuarial horizon of the unfunded liability is, according the VRS, 80 to 90 years. We don’t have to repair the damage of underfunding and the Great Recession in a day. The best course of action is to follow the ten year repayment schedule for last year’s underfunding which was adopted in the biennial budget and to honor the rate certified by the VRS Board of Trustees in all future years. That is a reasonable approach to fill the hole, and an approach that does not impose an unfair hardship on VRS members.

Virginia, the 7th wealthiest state in the nation, currently pays her teachers a salary $5,400 below the national average. When we compare the average pay of teachers to the average pay of all workers in each state, only South Dakota teachers fare worse than Virginia’s teachers.

Most Virginia’s teachers have earned the same pay for the last three years, and many of them have seen salary reductions from cuts and furloughs.

This is no time to cut the salaries of Virginia’s teachers by re-imposing the 5% employee VRS employee contribution.

The Commonwealth is also considering the bifurcation of the teacher retirement plan by offering a defined-contribution option to future hires.

“The process by which the level of salaries and benefits is considered should be based on an established set of principles and goals.” - JLARC Review of State Employee Compensation, Oct. 2008

In the case of instructional staff in our public schools, the primary goal should be to attract and retain highly skilled teachers. Research indicates that, “Skilled teachers are the most critical of all schooling inputs.” – Dr. Ronald Ferguson, Harvard University

“Studies at the state, district, school, and individual level have found that teachers’ academic background, preparation for teaching, and certification status, as well as their experience, significantly affect their students’ achievement.” - Linda Darling-Hammond, Stanford University

While providing a defined-contribution option to school employees may in the long-term reduce the cost of providing a retirement benefit to employees, and it might even be attractive to prospective teachers who have no long-term commitment to the teaching profession, such a course is contrary to what should be the state’s goal of retaining experienced teachers in Virginia’s classrooms. The required service of 30 years to achieve full retirement benefits is a significant factor in retaining experienced teachers.

JLARC found that, “The defined benefit retirement plans the State provides are competitive
with what other employers offer and achieve their goals of retaining longer-tenured employees and providing an adequate benefit to retire.” – JLARC Review of State Employee Compensation, Oct. 2008

The adequacy of the retirement benefit generated by a defined-contribution plan to meet the needs of dedicated school board employees in their final years is questionable. PwC, in the 2008 JLARC study of Total Compensation for State Employees, found that “after 30 years of service, the defined contribution plan would have approximately 52 percent of the value of the current defined benefit plan. With Social Security, the defined contribution plan would also provide an income replacement of approximately 29 percent less than the current defined benefit plan.”

A Bedford County teacher, for example, who retires after 30 years experience in the current VRS pension will receive an annual benefit of $26, 223 (30 x 01.7% x $51,417). Using the PwC analysis, she would receive an annual benefit of $13,636 had she been in the defined-contribution plan.

A young person fresh out of college is not in the best position to make a decision of this consequence to her long-term well-being.

The defined-contribution option is not the best policy for the Commonwealth if our goal is to attract and retain high-quality personnel in our schools, and it is certainly not the best option for teachers and other school board employees.

As we work with the General Assembly in the days ahead, our shared goal should be to ensure the financial viability of VRS and to treat employees in an equitable manner that does not show them the door.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

65%, Merit Pay and Vouchers

I am going to delay the posting of the promised retirement legislation analysis as more urgent legislative issues have arisen.

In a close vote (11-9) the House Education Committee voted Monday morning to report Delegate Manoli Loupassi’s HB 1416, the 65% solution bill. The bill will provide pressure on local school divisions to spend 65% of funding on instruction.

The ongoing concern regarding the bill is that it may negatively impact the programs not included in the USDOE definition of instruction such as guidance counselors librarians, pupil transportation, principals and assistant pricipals, nurses, food services, facilities maintenance (heating and cooling), testing to comply with SOLs and NCLB, curriculum development, PTs and OTs and other services necessary for SPED.

YEAS--Landes, Cole, Athey, Pogge, Massie, Loupassi, Greason, Bell, Richard P., Stolle, LeMunyon, Robinson--11.

NAYS--Tata, Rust, Shuler, Alexander, Ebbin, McClellan, Tyler, Bulova, Morrissey--9.

ABSTENTIONS--0.

NOT VOTING--Lingamfelter, Ware, O.--2.

The bottom line is that if this bill passes, the jobs of many who are necessary to support classroom instruction will be lost. The most threatened positions are custodians, bus drivers, librarians, guidance counselors, schools social workers, physical and occupational therapists, food service workers and maintenance personnel.

Please call your delegate today urging him/her to vote against HB 1416.

The Governor held a press conference this morning to proclaim his support of pay-for-performance and Delegate Massie’s tuition tax credit bill, HB 2314.

The merit pay initiative will provide $3 million dollars to pilot pay-for-performance in eight hard-to-staff divisions. The bonus payments will be $5000 per teacher.

The voucher bill will drain $25 million from the General fund to provide $4,500 private school scholarships to students who qualify for free-or-reduced lunch. It should be noted that private school tuitions in Virginia can be as much as $20,000.

So, our Governor, who cut $50 million in public education funding with his introduced budget amendments, is now proposing that the state spend $25 million to provide private school vouchers.

Monday, January 17, 2011

VRS Legislation from the Democrats

Friday we examined the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) legislation from the Republican side of the aisle. Today, let’s look at the bills from the Democratic legislators.

HJ 649 from Delegate Plum directs the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to study the Virginia Retirement System to determine whether the General Assembly is complying with its Constitutional obligation to fund the Virginia Retirement System using methods that are consistent with generally accepted actuarial principles.

HJ 680 from Delegate Englin proposes a Constitutional amendment requiring that contributions to defined benefit retirement plans that are maintained for state employees and employees of participating political subdivisions and school divisions be made in strict adherence with contribution rates and times for the payment of the contributions as recommended by the Board of Trustees of the Virginia Retirement System (VRS).

The contrast between what is proposed by the two parties is sharp.

Tomorrow, I’ll post your lobbyists take on where we stand on VRS legislation.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Retirement Legislation Part One

Virginia’s two political parties have sharply contrasting approaches in regard to pension legislation. The following three bills are the most significant bills from the Republican side of the aisle.

Two Virginia Beach Republicans, Delegate Tata and Senator Wagner, have submitted companion bills (HB 1784 and SB 861). These bills permit “any locality or school board to establish a defined contribution retirement plan in lieu of any other retirement plan, for employees hired after such plan is established.” Stated more simply, any locality could choose not to be in VRS. The consequence of this bill would be severely reduced retirement benefits for teachers and other local employees.

Two central Virginia Republican Senators , Stosch and Watkins, have submitted the Governor’s bill, SB 1008. This bill “allows political subdivisions that participate in the Virginia Retirement System to establish a … defined contribution plan.”

The adequacy of the retirement benefit generated by a defined contribution plan to meet the needs of dedicated school board employees in their final years is questionable. PricewaterhouseCoopers, in the 2008 JLARC study of Total Compensation for State Employees, found that “after 30 years of service, the defined contribution plan would have approximately 52 percent of the value of the current defined benefit plan. With Social Security, the defined contribution plan would also provide an income replacement of approximately 29 percent less than the current defined benefit plan.”

A Bedford County teacher, for example, who retires after 30 years experience in the current VRS pension plan will receive an annual benefit of $26, 223 (30 x 01.7% x $51,417). Using the PwC analysis, she would receive an annual benefit of $13,636 had she been in the defined contribution plan.

The Employee Benefit Research Institute found that fewer than 50% of workers in defined contribution plans had more than $25,000 saved. A quarter of workers had put away next to nothing.

In SB 1008, Local employers would retain the option of paying member retirement contributions on behalf of their employees participating in the Virginia Retirement System.

The Governor indicated that he will submit legislation to do the following:

Require employees hired after 7/2011 to pay the 5% VRS employee contribution

Allow school divisions to make employees hired before 7/2010 to pay the 5%---if pay raise given of at least 3%. No phase in of 5% allowed.

Hired after 7/2010 but before 7/2011? Who knows?

I am yet to find these provisions in a bill and legislation is required to enact these proposals.

In a subsequent posting, I will summarize the bills from the Democratic side of the aisle.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

VEA Initiated Legislation

Your lobbyists are swamped by the thousands of bills that have been filed, and we are working to identify those that will affect students, those who work in schools, and the quality of public education. The following measures that VEA has initiated are now “Prefiled and ordered printed”:

HB 1786 School boards; funds appropriated by locality shall be reappropriated to board.

A BILL to amend and reenact § 22.1-100 of the Code of Virginia, relating to unexpended local school and educational funds.

Summary as introduced:

Local school boards; unexpended funds. Provides that any funds appropriated by the locality to a local school board that are not expended in any fiscal year must not revert to the locality but shall be reappropriated to the local school board.

Patron: Tata

HJ 649 Study; Virginia Retirement System; report.

Directing the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to study the Virginia Retirement System. Report.

Summary as introduced:

Study; Virginia Retirement System; report. Directs the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to study the Virginia Retirement System to determine whether the General Assembly is complying with its Constitutional obligation to fund the Virginia Retirement System using methods that are consistent with generally accepted actuarial principles.

Patron: Plum

SB 805 Health insurance; credits for retired school division employees.

A BILL to amend and reenact § 51.1-1401 of the Code of Virginia, relating to health insurance credits for retired school division employees.

Summary as introduced:

Health insurance credits for retired school division employees. Provides that the health insurance credit currently being provided to retired teachers would also be provided to all retired employees of the local school division at the option of the local school division and as a cost borne by the local government.

Patron: Marsden

SB 1022 Virginia Retirement System; creditable compensation of teachers.
A BILL to amend and reenact § 51.1-124.3 of the Code of Virginia, relating to creditable compensation of teachers under the Virginia Retirement System.

Summary as introduced:

Virginia Retirement System; creditable compensation of teachers. Provides that the creditable compensation of teachers for retirement purposes under the Virginia Retirement System shall include all compensation payable to teachers by their public school boards, including compensation that is not pursuant to a contract for teaching.

Patron: Puckett

SB 1031 Public schools; unexpended funds.

A BILL to amend and reenact § 22.1-100 of the Code of Virginia, relating to unexpended school funds.

Summary as introduced:

Public schools; unexpended funds. Allows local school divisions to keep any unexpended funds from the Commonwealth or local sources for use the next year.

Patron: Barker

Much more information regarding VEA’s bills will follow, but this will give you the bill numbers to reference as you advocate for the VEA agenda. Please note that the bill numbers are “hot links” which will take you to a display of the status and history of the bills.

Tangentially, economist, Robert Reich recently did an interview on NPR which explains why it is so hard to gain support for public education in today’s America. I think you will find it most insightful.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The General Assembly Session Begins Today

The General Assembly technically starts at noon today, but the Senate Finance Committee Subcommittee on public education met yesterday afternoon, and Sarah Herzog, legislative analyst for public education issues, presented an Overview of the Governor's Proposed Amendments to the 2010-2012 Budget for Public Education and Other Education Agencies. Although the Governor had one half of a billion dollars in additional revenue, he actually cut public education by over $50 million. In light of the more than 14 percent cuts in public education funding since 2009, at least some of the additional funds should have gone to repairing the damage to our schools.

Job #1 for your VEA lobbyists will be to urge legislators to develop a budget proposal more in keeping with the values of Virginia – a budget which restores our investment in the education of the children of Virginia.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

VEA Legislative News Flash is Out

The Pre-Session issue of the Legislative News Flash is now available. View or download a copy below. We'll publish other print versions of the News Flash during the session, but the most recent information will always be at this blog.

VEA Legislative News Flash, Pre-Session Issue