Thursday, January 31, 2013

VEA Bill Passes, Two Rough Votes in Senate Ed & Health

This morning the Senate Committee on Education and Health considered a number of controversial education bills.  For now, I'll  only mention two.

SB 1207, the Governor's grade the school bill sponsored by Senator Stanley, reported straight party-line vote.  Under this bill, all schools will be assigned a letter grade.  There are many reasons to be against the bill, but a big one is the failure of the bill to exempt specialty schools like Richmond Alternative.  This school addresses the educational needs of students who cannot succeed in a traditional school, and it does a great job.  It is of little surprise that its students do not test well.  This school gets a D under the Governor's plan.  Another Richmond example is Amelia Street.  This is a special education school serving the needs of severely handicapped students.  Most of the students have physical disabilities, some have intellectual disabilities, and some have both.   Some of these students are learning such things as how to feed themselves.  Guess what, the test scores aren't great.  Despite the fact that miracles are performed by the staff at this school on a daily basis, Amelia gets a C.  One wonders what good purpose is gained by grading any school, but in some cases it is a terrible idea.

YEAS--Martin, Newman, Blevins, Smith, McWaters, Black, Carrico, Garrett--8.

NAYS--Saslaw, Lucas, Howell, Locke, Barker, Northam, Miller--7.

SB1207 is headed to the full Senate.

Ralph Smith's SB 1099, a bill to abolish the Labor Day school opening requirement, failed to report on a 4-11 vote.

YEAS--Howell, Locke, Smith, Garrett--4.

NAYS--Martin, Saslaw, Lucas, Newman, Blevins, Barker, Northam, Miller, McWaters, Black, Carrico--11.

Good news from the House floor - Jim Lemunyon's HB 1889, a VEA initiated measure, passed the House 99-0 on the third and final reading.  This is the bill to screen teacher professional growth indicators from Freedom of Information Act requests.  Let's hope this bill will fare as well in the Senate.

 

 

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Three Bills of Way Too Many


Today HB2313 reported from the House Finance Committee on a 14 to 8 vote.
I am all for fixing Virginia’s transportation problem, but not by reducing the General Fund which funds schools, health, public safety and other core services. 
HB 2313 will transfer $811.5 million in General Fund Revenue to the Highway Maintenance Operating Fund over the next five years.   Approximately 30% of the General Fund now goes to public education, so it appears that $243.45 million less will be available for our schools over these five years.
It is hard to understand eliminating the gas tax when we need more funds for transportation, and then taking funds from schools to fund transportation.  That is what this bill does.
We need more, not less funding for our schools.  Virginia currently ranks 35th in the nation in state per-pupil funding for public education.  We are running our schools on less now that we had in 2007-2008.  This is no time to shrink General Fund revenues.
I urge you to send a message to your delegate urging a vote against HB 2313.  To do so, click here.
HB 1999, a bill to give schools grades, A-F, was reported from the House Education Committee despite opposition from VEA, VSBA, VASS and the VA PTA.  The last thing the schools in Virginia’s poorest neighborhoods, where the job of teaching is most challenging and resources are in short supply, is an F from the state.  Would any of you care to give the Virginia legislature a grade on support for public education? 
House Ed also reported a bill with noble intent and unintended consequences.  HB 2028 means to prevent student deaths related to heart failure; however, the bill requires that “Every person seeking initial licensure or renewal of a license shall provide evidence of completion of certification or training in emergency first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and the use of  automated external defibrillators.”  One more hoop!  If we are going to do this, shouldn’t it be required in-service unrelated to licensure?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Send A Message To Your Delegate Now!



Please write your Delegate urging that he or she support two bills now before the House.  Click here to send a message.

First, urge them to vote for HB 1871.  Bullying remains a persistent problem in our schools and in our society.

Victims of bullying display a range of responses, even many years later, such as:

1.     Low self-esteem

2.     Difficulty in trusting others

3.     Lack of assertiveness

4.     Aggression

5.     Difficulty controlling anger

6.     Isolation

Research shows us that the prevalence of bullying is predictive of school-wide passing rates on state-mandated achievement testing used to meet accreditation standards.

We learned that the passage of legislation defining bullying in Mississippi in 2010 has had a chilling effect on bullying there, so we seek the legislation before you today.  There is no criminal penalty or cause for civil action in this legislation, but it gives school personnel a definition to cite which clearly shows that bullying behaviors are forbidden by the code of Virginia.

Second, urge him or her to vote for HB 1889.  The Freedom of Information Act allows a governmental body to grant or deny public access to personnel records. 

We are both thankful and well served by the fact that most school boards show great wisdom in regard to this issue; however, with the advent of the collection of discrete student performance data for each teacher we wish to make it clear that this information should not be distributed for public consumption.

One thing that we are discovering from states that are ahead of Virginia in the development of teacher specific data is that news outlets will request this data, and in Los Angeles, for example, this data is published.  We know that the data is volatile and this year’s top teacher may be next year’s low performer.  Assignment of students to teachers has never been random and it never will be. 

If a teacher is a consistent underperformer, the division should address this issue.  However, no teacher deserves to wake up and read in the morning paper that they are the worst teacher at their school.  In one widely reported instance, this rude awakening led to the suicide of a very promising young teacher, who taught special needs students in Los Angeles.

I applaud Virginia’s school divisions for showing wise discretion in regard to this issue; however, the purpose of HB1889 is to make it clear that this data should not be released.

Please send a message to your Delegate urging him or her to vote for HB 1871 and HB 1889.

Monday, January 28, 2013

VEA Lobby Day/Thanks/Legislative News

Today was VEA Lobby Day, and I thank the 250 members strong who participated despite less than ideal weather.  The day was most eventful and fruitful.

We owe sincere thanks to Delegate Tom Rust and Speaker Howell for today’s center-aisle presentation of a House Resolution commending VEA on our 150thanniversary.  Take the time to read the resolution – the history is most interesting.

Two VEA bills reported from the House Education Committee this morning.  Delegate Jennifer McClellan’s HB1871, the bill to make Virginia schools bully-free, was reported with only three NAY votes.
YEAS--Tata, Landes, Rust, Massie, Greason, Bell, Richard P., Stolle, LeMunyon, Robinson, Yost, Yancey, Dudenhefer, Ware, O., McClellan, Bulova, Morrissey, Keam, Hester--18.

NAYS--Lingamfelter, Cole, Pogge--3.

Delegate Jim LeMunyon’s HB1889, a bill to shield teacher Professional Growth Indicators from Freedom of Information Act Requests, was unanimously reported from House Education.

Finally, this evening the House Education Teacher and Administrative Action Subcommittee reported Delegate Greason’s HB 1467.  This bill, which is now headed to full committee, restores local control of the school calendar, repealing the Labor Day provisions.  The vote on this bill is not yet posted.


Friday, January 25, 2013

Monday Will Be Sunny - Come to VEA Lobby Day!

In Richmond we have a saying, "If you don't like the weather - stick around."  It is snowing to beat the band as I post this message, but on Monday we expect it to be partly cloudy and 50%.  Please come to lobby day as we have an important message to deliver - Stand Up for Public Education! 
  
Lobby Day House Marching Orders - Urge your Delegate to:

§  Double Down on Teacher and ESP Salaries (4% not 2%, $7,083 behind the national average/ranking 31st/8th in wealth)

§  Support Statewide Health Insurance (HB1356) – annual savings of $44-$66 million, according to JLARC

§  Support FOIA Exemption for Professional Growth Data (HB1889) – keep your evaluation off the front page of the newspaper

§  Make Virginia’s Schools Bully-Free (HB1871) – research shows that prevalence of bullying is predictive of school-wide passing rates on state-mandated achievement testing

Lobby Day Senate Marching Orders - Urge your Senator to:

§  Support Senator Barker’s 3% teacher salary budget amendment 139 #2s ($7,083 behind the national average/ranking 31st/8th in wealth), include ESP

§  Support Statewide Health Insurance (SB 1367)

Urge Delegates AND Senators to:

§  Restore COCA (Cost of Competing Adjustment) for Support Personnel in NOVA - These funds are provided to allow these divisions to recruit and retain staff in the more competitive Northern Virginia labor market.

§  Oppose Governor’s Transportation Plan which will take ¼ billion from VA schools in the next 5 years

§  Support Medicaid Expansion (400,000 insured, 30,000 jobs)

§  Support local school board control of the school calendar

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Long, but successful day!

I’m hoping that this will be the longest day of the session.  I was at work before 6 and am posting this after 9, BUT it was a good day.  Two VEA bills advanced from House Education subcommittees on unanimous votes.
 
HB 1889, Jim LeMunyon’s bill to shield teacher professional growth indicators from Freedom of Information Act request reported on a 6-0 vote.  Some of you may recall the tragic story of the LA teacher suicide after his scores were released in the LA Times.  If LeMunyon’s bill passes you won’t have to worry about your PGI being in the local paper.
YEAS--LeMunyon, Bell, Richard P., Robinson, Yost, Yancey, Keam--6.

NAYS--0.

ABSTENTIONS--0.

NOT VOTING--Cole, McClellan, Morrissey--3.

Our anti-bullying bill, HB 1871, also reported unanimously and is headed to full committee on Monday.
YEAS--Bell, Richard P., Landes, Stolle, Robinson, Yost, Morrissey, Keam, Hester--8.

NAYS--0.

ABSTENTIONS--0.

NOT VOTING--0.

More tomorrow – the first subcommittee is at 7 and I need sleep.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Noble Effort to Repeal Virginia’s Neo-Vouchers Failed


There are so many bills coming before committees tomorrow that I don’t have a clue regarding what you should write and call about, so I’m going to reflect upon a bill defeated today.

Senator Henry Marsh, a distinguished civil rights champion, the first Black mayor of Richmond, and the recipient of NEA’s Dr. Martin Luther King Memorial Award, sponsored SB 1000, which would have repealed the tuition tax credit bill that passed in the 2012 legislative session.

Speakers in support of Marsh’s measure included Richmond School Board member Kim Gray, and representatives of VA- NAACP, First Cities, VASS, VSBA, and VEA.

Senator Marsh fought the vouchers of Massive Resistance, which paid for white children to attend private schools when the schools were closed in some localities so that they would not have to admit Black children.  He knows that siphoning money to private schools will weaken public education, which he calls “Virginia’s secret economic development tool.”

When I spoke on VEA’s behalf, I pointed out that Virginia ranks 31st in teacher pay, 38th in state per-pupil funding, that we earned a grade of D+ in public education funding in the recent Quality Counts report despite the fact that we are the nation’s 8th wealthiest state, and that we arerunning our schools on less money per-pupil than we did in 2008.  I suggested that we should not be channeling millions to private schools when we are woefully underfunding our public schools.

The vote on Marsh’s bill was a party line vote (The motion was to Pass By Indefinitely, so a “Nay” vote was for the bill.):

YEAS--Stosch, Norment, Hanger, Watkins, Newman, Ruff, Wagner, McDougle, Vogel--9.

NAYS--Colgan, Howell, Saslaw, Marsh, Lucas--5.

My hope is that Henry will keep bringing the bill back, and that one day we’ll have a Senate Finance Committee committed to standing up for public education.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Act Today to Gain Statewide Health Care Insurance


Two measures now before the General Assembly, Delegate Yost’s HB 1356 , and Senator Barker’s SB 1367, will enable school divisions to participate in the state employee health insurance plan.

By opening the State employee plan and allowing local government and school division employees to join voluntarily, we will be able to reduce costs to localities and increase benefits for employees.  Localities will be able to take advantage of the increased bargaining power and reduced administrative costs associated with the State plan.  Locality employees will receive the same comprehensive benefit coverage that state employees currently receive.  Localities will see savings that can be used locally and may be able to offset property tax increases.

JLARC estimates that a statewide plan for school system employees will save between $44 and $66 million a year.

Delegate Yost’s HB 1356 is now before the House Appropriations Committee.


Senator Barker’s SB 1367 is before the Senate Committee on Finance


Please call or email your Delegate and Senator in support of statewide health insurance for public school employees.




 Click on the legislator’s name to get to the email address.

 Don’t know who your Delegate and Senator is?  Clickhere.

 

 

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Teacher Contract Bill


Last year, many of you will remember, we successfully thwarted Governor McDonnell’s efforts to deny Virginia’s teachers continuing contract.  That was an all-consuming battle.  We lost in the House, but prevailed in the Senate by a mere three-vote margin.

I remember vividly that after we prevailed in the Senate, Senator Norment, who had famously taken a Valentine’s Day walk to keep the continuing contract bill from passing on the first Senate vote, told me, “You better come in next session knowing what you are willing to deal, because something will pass next year.”

McDonnell came back this year with a much less radical bill (HB 2151/SB 1223) aimed at streamlining the teacher dismissal process and reducing the costs of dismissing teachers as well.  As I said earlier, we lost the battle in the House last year, and McDonnell chose as his Senate Sponsor, Majority Leader Norment, arguably one of the most powerful members of the Senate.

After the Governor’s bill was introduced, the VEA Legislative Committee reviewed the bill, the political context, and the risk associated with the options of either attempting to kill the bill or working to fix it.  We had little or no chance of killing the bill in the House, and we were not at all sure that we could kill this year’s version in the Senate.

Unsuccessfully going for a kill would have left Virginia’s teachers with an unfair dismissal procedure devoid of due process.

The VEA Legislative Committee weighed the two options and directed the Lobby Cadre to work to fix the bill.  The mission of last year’s session was to save continuing contract – this year’s became saving due process.

The central issues for us became:

blocking a new definition of teacher which would have excluded reading and math resource teachers, reading and math specialists, school level diagnostic personnel, school psychologist, and many others from holding a teaching contract. This would have deprived new hires in these positions of continuing contract,

fighting the extension of the probationary period for new teachers to five years, and

ensuring that teachers who contested their dismissal received a fair hearing before an impartial hearing officer who made a recommendation to the school board.

We initially thought it wise to battle the new definition of incompetence which included “one or more unsatisfactory performance evaluations,” but counsel and several UniServ directors informed us that school boards can currently move for dismissal based on one evaluation.

You judge for yourself how we did on the three crucial issues.  

First here is the definition of teacher in the introduced bill – "Teacher" means a person who (i) is regularly employed as a classroom teacher, guidance counselor, or library-media specialist or librarian and (ii) holds a valid teaching license.”  The final bill does not define teacher, and consequently does not deny access to the teacher contract to many licensed professional in our schools.  Had we not been successful here, those individuals would not have been able to gain continuing contract.

Second, the compromise was to go from a five year probationary period to at least three and no more than five years in the bill now before the House.

Third, here is how the hearing officer was defined in the introduced bill, “Each school board may appoint a hearing officer from among the members of the school board, the employees of the school board, or from outside the school division to conduct hearings pursuant to this section. A hearing officer shall not have been involved in the recommendation of dismissal as a supervisor of the employee, a witness, or a representative.”  And this hearing officer would not have made a recommendation.

Here is the language in the bill now before the House, “Each school board may appoint an impartial hearing officer from outside the school division to conduct hearings pursuant to this section. A hearing officer shall not have been involved in the recommendation of dismissal as a witness or a representative. A hearing officer shall possess some knowledge and expertise in public education and education law and be capable of presiding over an administrative hearing. The hearing officer shall schedule and preside over such hearings and shall create a record or recording of such proceedings. The hearing officer shall make a written recommendation to the school board, a copy of which shall be provided to the teacher.”

For your information, the hearing officer replaced the three-person panel for state workers some years back.

As you can see, we were successful in retaining due process in Virginia’s teacher dismissal policy.  

Do we think we gained the best dismissal policy we could have gained in the current political climate? Yes.

Elect a better cast of characters in the General Assembly and we’ll go to work to make it better.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Act Now to Protect Virginia Students from Bullying


SB 951, the Anti-Bullying bill, will be heard on Monday, Jan. 21st in the Public Ed subcommittee 1/2 hour after adjournment.

The Commonwealth should enact anti-bullying legislation similar to a law now in place in Mississippi that prohibits bullying or harassing behavior in the public schools.  The bill requires all local school districts to adopt a policy prohibiting bullying and harassing behavior.   Further, it:

        Prohibits bullying or harassing behavior, including written, electronic or verbal communications, in the public schools, including school property, at any school-sponsored function, or on a school bus;

        Requires each local school district to include in its personnel policies, discipline policies, and code of student conduct a prohibition against bullying or harassing behavior and adopt procedures for reporting, investigating, and addressing such behavior; and

        Requires that policies recognize the fundamental right of every student to protect himself or herself from an attack by another student who has evidenced menacing or threatening behavior through bullying or harassing.

Please call or email members of the Public Education subcommittee urging support of SB 951

Senator Harry Blevins, 804-698-7514, district14@senate.virginia.gov

Senator Bill Carrico, 804-698-7540, district40@senate.virginia.gov

Senator Janet Howell, 804-698-8283, district32@senate.virginia.gov

Senator Mamie Locke, 804-698-7502, district02@senate.virginia.gov

Senator Dick Black, 804-698-7513, district13@senate.virginia.gov

Please get a few friends to call or email as well.


Thursday, January 17, 2013

Due Process Preserved

The following is President Gruber's statement in regard to the agreement we reached today with the Governor:

As you know, we’ve been discussing with the Governor’s office for some months proposed changes to law relating to a fair dismissal process for teachers. It was through our sustained efforts last year, you should recall, that we preserved Continuing Contract and made it untenable for the Governor to again propose term contracts in this legislative session.

This afternoon, after securing improved legislative language that we fought very hard for, we reached agreement with the Governor’s office on an acceptable bill. We preserved due process for teachers. We prevailed on cutting out language regarding the definition of “teacher” that would have meant that some in specialist positions would not have been eligible for continuing contracts. We moved the discussion from a straight five-year probationary period to a period that is three to up to five years, at the school board option.

On behalf of the Legislative Committee, I’m proud to say that through our involvement, teachers have a voice in changes that affect our profession. The public statement we’re distributing to news media is below.

Statement by VEA President Meg Gruber

The Virginia Education Association advocates high-quality instruction in the Commonwealth’s public schools, and the 60,000 educators who are our members provide just that on a daily basis.

Virginia’s schools rank among the best in the nation, and our teachers have risen to meet higher expectations posed by tougher student performance standards. They’ve done this in spite of an increase in paperwork and other duties that take away from time to focus on lessons. The vast majority of our teachers do an excellent job in the face of significant challenges that increase each year.

Teachers who are struggling should receive support to help them improve their performance. When that falls short, however, the dismissal process must be fair to all concerned.

In consultation with our members across the state, we’ve been working with Governor McDonnell, Secretary of Education Laura Fornash, and others to improve the teacher dismissal process so that it is efficient and fair. We have agreed with the Governor on several proposed changes to existing law, including:

· A measure that gives local school boards the option of extending the probationary process for a new teacher from three to five years to allow more time to evaluate performance;

· Technical changes to the hearing process in teacher grievances and dismissals. The changes include a shortened timeframe and the appointment of a single impartial hearing officer instead of a three-member panel.

We believe the VEA’s involvement in the process has resulted in an improved bill, and Virginia’s teachers have had a meaningful voice in laws that directly affect their profession.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Why did VEA seek to have HB1889 introduced?

The Freedom of Information Act Virginia Code section 2.2-3705.1(1) allows a governmental body to grant OR deny public access to personnel records.  School boards can exercise discretion to deny access to personnel records to persons other than the teacher.  But the teacher currently has no basis for complaint if the school board exercises discretion to allow access.  The school board has DISCRETION whether or not to release information.

We are both thankful and well served by the fact that most school boards show great wisdom in regard to this issue; however, with the advent of the collection of discreet student performance data for each teacher we wish to make it clear that this information should not be distributed for public consumption.

One thing that we are discovering from states that are ahead of Virginia in the development of teacher specific data is that news outlets will request this data, and in Los Angeles, for example, this data is published.  We know that the data is volatile and this year’s top teacher may be next year’s low performer.  Assignment of students has never been random and it never will be.

If a teacher is a consistent underperformer, the division should address this issue.  However, no teacher deserves to wake up and read in the morning paper that they are the worst teacher in their grade at their school.  In one widely reported instance this rude awakening led to the suicide of a very promising young teacher.

I applaud Virginia’s school divisions for showing wise discretion in regard to this issue; however, the purpose of HB 1889 is to make it clear that this data should not be released. 

We thank Delegate Jim LeMunyon for championing this bill.

 

 

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Are the Stars Aligning for Statewide Health Insurance? Yes, and the Governor is helping!


For many years the VEA has been working to gain a statewide health insurance option for Virginia school divisions.  A statewide plan would offer small divisions the economy of scale, reduce the volatility of rates associated with small groups and save all involved a significant amount of money.

Senator Norment and Delegate Jackson Miller have both worked to help us on this issue in past sessions.  This year Delegate Joseph Yost of Montgomery is carrying HB 1356 for us.


Today your chief lobbyist met with Delegate Yost, Delegate Chris Peace and Sarah Wilson, the Director of the Department of Human Resource Management.  Mrs. Wilson’s agency would administer the statewide plan and she has been most helpful and supportive over the years.

Delegate Peace is an experienced and respected member of the House Committee on General Laws to which the bill has been assigned.  He offered helpful tactical suggestions and his support will be most helpful.

What is also extremely helpful is that the Governor has made it clear to individuals I have talked to that this issue is important to him as has his Chief of Staff Jasen Eige.  They have been supporting this effort with budget language and arm twisting.  Should this bill pass, it is one for which school board and local government employees across Virginia could long be thankful.  If that happens, we’ll need to remember who helped.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Trains and Boats and Planes


Why should educators care about the Governor’s transportation plan – other than being happy that someone may finally be doing something about the traffic in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads?

If the money wasn’t taken, in part, from funding for our schools - we wouldn’t.

But, McDonnell’s plan takes a good deal of money from the General Fund, the portion of the budget traditionally used to fund core services such as education.

So how much will our schools lose if the Governor’s plan passes?

The take from the General Fund grows from year to year:

2014 - $48 million

2015 - $102 million

2016 - $158 million

2017 - $219 million

2018 – $283 million

Five Year Total = $810

Public Education currently receives approximately 30% of General Fund Revenues.  So how much would we lose?

2014 - $14 million

2015 - $31 million

2016 - $47 million

2017 - $66 million

2018 - $85 million

Five Year Total = $243 million

When our state currently ranks 38th in per pupil state support for public education, we can hardly stand to lose a quarter of a billion dollars for our schools over the next five years.  Shouldn’t we fix our roads without taking funding for our schools?

Friday, January 11, 2013

What are you willing to trade for a 2% raise?


It’s the “Year of the Teacher,” so we are going to offer you a 2% raise if you give up your fair dismissal policy.  Isn’t it wonderful that according to Education Week’s Quality Counts that we have the 4th best state school system in America, but don’t we need to get rid of all those bad teachers.  This has been the incongruent message of the first week of the General Assembly.

If there is a cause for hope, it is that there is bipartisan recognition in the Education Committee of the Senate Finance Committee that we cannot maintain a high quality teaching core without raising salaries.  Republican Tommy Norment and Democrat Dick Saslaw are both on that same page.

Although Senator Obenshain reintroduced his bill eliminating continuing contract from last session (SB 935) it appears that most of the attention will be on the companion bills carried by Delegate “Dickie” Bell and Senator Norment.



These bills:

·       Do not do away with continuing contract

·       Extend probationary period from 3 – 5 years (teachers only, not administrators)

·       Teachers who have continuing contract in a Virginia school division who transfer to another Virginia school division will serve 2 years on probation before returning to continuing contract status.  It is currently 1 year.

·       Teacher incompetence is defined in the VA State Code.  This bill would expand the definition to include 1 or more unsatisfactory evaluations.  In other words, teachers who receive 1 unsatisfactory evaluation may be deemed incompetent and recommended for dismissal.  However, the bill would not require dismissal. 

·       The 3-member fact finding panels for teacher dismissal cases will be replaced by 1 hearing officer who may be an employee of the school division.  The hearing officer would be selected by the school board.  The hearing officer would run the hearing and provide the evidence to the school board but will not make a recommendation.

·       The definition of teacher is changed to exclude a wide array of school personnel now covered by teacher contracts such as school psychologists, math and reading specialists and diagnostic personnel.

 The change in the dismissal process is our biggest concern as we do not believe it will afford adequate due process to teachers.

 We will be working our hardest to fix these bills by offering amendments to restore fairness and due process.  Please stay posted as we will be calling on you to lobby from afar when the time is right.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Testimony to the Compensation and Retirement Subcomittee of House Appropriations


I made brief remarks to the Compensation and Retirement Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee this afternoon. Today's posting is my remarks:

Chairman Jones, members of the subcommittee, I am Robley Jones of the Virginia Education Association.  I deeply appreciate this opportunity to briefly address our compensation and retirement concerns as we begin the 2013 session.

As the Appropriations Committee considers school funding in this session and in the years ahead, a guiding principal should be trying to reduce the significant educational disparity that exist in our Commonwealth.   Our schools are highly dependent on local government for school funding and offer a very low level of state funding.  This most disadvantages those students in Virginia’s poorest localities, urban and rural, where local governments simply do not have the wealth to make up for what the state is not doing.

We are running our schools with lower per pupil funding today than we did in 2009 when the recession began.  The per pupil funding level for 2014 is $463 lower, and when adjustments are made for inflation the figure is $1,034 less.  Those who I represent stand before larger classes.  Students have fewer course offerings.  Salaries have been frozen or stagnant, and take-home pay has declined as health insurance costs have risen.  School modernization, maintenance, and vehicle purchases are being deferred.

Our teacher salaries are not competitive, and we fear that Virginia will not attract high quality personnel to the public education workforce if our salary standing continues to erode.  In 1989-1990 our salary ranking was 18th – now it is 31st.  Although Virginia is the 8th wealthiest state, our teacher salary is $7,083 behind the national average, as you can see on page three.

We deeply appreciate the Governor’s provision of funding for teacher salaries, but we asked that it not be tethered to the passage of any particular bill.  In the parlance of the day, we asked you to double down on this investment in the teaching profession.  We believe the Governor’s approach of requiring a local match is sound.  I’d be glad to share the history of that approach, which was first employed by Governor Baliles.  We support the concept of strategic compensation grants, the support for Effective School-wide Discipline.  We much prefer a teacher fellows approach over the Teach for America model, as the former encourages a career long commitment to the teaching profession.

 We suggest that it would be good to take a year off in regard to VRS changes.

 I know that we will be discussing many of the policy proposals before this subcommittee and other committees.  I look forward to those discussions.

Mr. Chairman, I thank you and the subcommittee members for your commitment to public education, and I thank you for your continued courtesy and your open doors.