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?