Friday, February 28, 2014

Will We Have A Chance to Reshuffle the Budget Deck?


As I mentioned yesterday, it appears that the General Assembly will adjourn without having completed a budget on March 8th.  The last time it happened this way was in 2004.
This may give us an opportunity.  New budget bills will be introduced in the special session.  They should reconsider the shoddy treatment given to teachers in the regular session.  Teachers and other school board employees were the only employee group not targeted to receive a salary increase.  The introduced budget from McDonnell has no teacher salary increase, and here is what the House and Senate did:

Higher Education Faculty
Senate                  1% Salary + 1% bonus

House                   Included in Institution’s budget
State Employees

Senate                  1% COLA (12/1/14)

                                1% bonus (12/1/15)

House                   2% adjustment for high turnover positions (12/10/14)

                                2% bonus for those not in high turnover positions (7/1/15)

State Supported Local Employees

Senate                  1% COLA (12/1/14)

                                1% bonus (12/1/15)

House                   2 to 4% additional for certain sheriffs and circuit court staff (1/1/15)

                                2% bonus (7/1/15)

Teachers and Support Personnel

Senate                  0%

House                   0%

The budget bills in the special session should address this inequity.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

SOL Reform Advances, Stand Alone Virtual School Bill Dies, VRS FIS Bill Tabled, Diabetes Bill A Work In Progess, Special Session?


The SOL reform bill, Delegate Greason's HB 930, was amended and reported by the Senate and Education and Health Committee this morning.  This bill, which names VEA as one of the organizations represented on the SOL Innovation Committee, now heads to the Senate floor where final passage appears to be likely.

The committee carried over Delegate "Dickie" Bell's HB 324, the bill which would have created a "stand alone" virtual school students could enroll in as an alternate to attending their public school.  Chairman Lucas will write to the Senate Finance Committee requesting that they examine the funding provisions in the bill, which VEA pointed out as being problematic.  The vote to carry over was unanimous.

Senator Emmett Hanger's SB 420, which had passed the Senate on a 38  to 0 vote, was tabled by the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Compensation and Retirement.  Delegate Joannou moved that the bill be carried over, but there was no second.  This bill would have provided that the fiscal impact statements (FIS) given to legislators as they consider retirement bills would include the impact of the policy change on present and future retirees.  The VRS did not object to the bill.  Senator Hanger asserted that such information "should have a bearing on how legislators vote."  This outcome is most disappointing and reflective of a callous lack of concern for VRS members.

Work continues on the diabetes bills.  The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education conformed Senator Stuart’s SB 532 to Delegate Cole’s HB 134.  The Cole language is much less problematic.  These bills appear to be headed for a committee of conference where the differences between the two will be ironed out.

The scuttlebutt in the Capital's halls is that the General Assembly will adjournSine Die on March 8, without having completed a budget, and that the Governor will call a special session to continue work on the budget.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

VRS Privatization Bill Carried Over, Diabetes Bills Remain a Concern, 1 Year Delay of A-F Passes House


In a remarkable turnaround (see previous posts), reflective of some very hard and effective work on the part of the VEA Lobby Cadre, HB 877, the bill which would have allowed local school boards to privatize the optional portion of the hybrid VRS retirement plan was carried over by the Senate Finance Committee.  Few of the teachers hired after January 1, 2014, who must go into the hybrid plan, will ever know what VEA did for them today, but many years from now, when they retire, they will have a more adequate and secure retirement because we won this battle.  Senator McEachin's motion to carry HB 877 over to the 2015 session prevailed on a 13-4 vote.  We had no better champion on this issue than Senator Creigh Deeds, who spoke effectively on behalf of Virginia's future school employees. 

Our work is not over on the diabetes bills.  Our concerns have been addressed in Delegate Cole's HB 134, but Senator Stuart's SB532 still has troublesome training and reporting requirements.  The House Education Committee reported and re-referred SB 532 to the House Appropriations Committee today without conforming it to HB 134.

 Delegate Greason effectively spoke to the bill, pointing out that the improper administration of insulin can be fatal.  Greason asserted that "we are going to have to start drawing the line on what we hold teachers accountable for and what we ask them to do."

VEA has long contended that we need nurses in all of our schools.  We cannot endlessly expand the responsibility of instructional personnel to perform medical procedures, especially when an error in administration can lead to the death of a child.

 The delay of the A-F delay is over.  Today the House conformed Sen. Miller’s SB 324 to Del. Landes’ HB 1229 and passed it 99-0.  So the House still says A-F implementation should be delayed 1 year.  The Senate will take up HB 1229 on the Senate Education and Health Committee tomorrow morning.  My guess is that they will conform HB 1229 to SB 324, so the Senate will still say implementation should be delayed 3 years.  The bills would then head to a committee of conference.  Is anyone betting on a two year delay?

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Delay Delayed


This session’s consideration of the A-F School Grading Bills (Del. Landes’ HB1229 and Sen. Miller’s SB 324) goes on yet another day, as the Miller bill went by for the day in the House.  The Landes bill will delay the issuance of the first school grades until October 1, 2015, while the Miller bill delays the issuance of grades until October 1, 2017.  VEA’s position is that the delay should be until the second coming, but we supported both bills in their chambers of origin.
Two factors seem to shape the debate.  First, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patricia Wright has asserted that it will take three years to gather the necessary data to use in calculating the growth indicators which, in part, determine the grade.  Second, there is a significant amount of “buyer’s remorse” in the General Assembly.  Many who supported school grading are realizing that the grades may have unanticipated consequences such as a negative influence on faculty recruitment, school zone housing values, and economic development in high poverty areas where schools will tend to get low grades.

The Senate unified behind the three year delay, with a bipartisan 23-17 vote, and they added significantly to the basis of the grades by adding the following factors:  student growth indicators; student mobility; the experience and qualifications of staff; total cost and funding per pupil; remediation programs offered; extracurricular activities offered and the number of participants in such activities; parental engagement and satisfaction levels; any external awards or recognitions; and school safety.”    The Senate language also includes requiring a  format which allows for a comparison of similarly situated schools in terms of percentage of students who qualify for free or reduced lunch, percentage of English language learners, local funding beyond what is required by the composite index, student mobility, and any other category the Board deems appropriate; (iii) provide an opportunity for public comment on both the system and the grades ….”
The House appears divided, with Delegate Jackson Miller leading the charge to extend the delay to three years, and Delegates Landes and Greason in support of a one year delay.  Greason was the sponsor of the A-F School Grading legislation in the last session.  Greason carried the bill last year for Governor McDonnell, who also championed the state take-over of underperforming schools.  These two bills appear to have originated with the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC).

Opponents of the school grading system, such as Diane Ravitch, contend that, “It was never about improving but about labeling so that there would always be a fresh crop set up for closure and privatization.”
Tomorrow may tell whether the delay to Virginia’s A-F school grading will be delayed one or two years.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Block Efforts to Privatize the VRS Hybrid Plan/Lactation Support Bill Awaits Governor's Signature/Bill Protecting Teachers from Medical Liability Reports


Years ago, then VRS Director, Glen Pond was known to say, "You can't have a pile this big without attracting some flies."  Glen's crude analogy fits current efforts to privatize a portion of the hybrid retirement plan which is mandatory for those hired after January 1, 2014.

Although VEA opposed the creation of the hybrid plan, if we were to have one, we wanted it to be the best hybrid possible.

When the Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission (JLARC) offered the hybrid option, they supported a "closed architecture" hybrid managed exclusively by VRS.  The VRS consultant in regard to the hybrid plan, Mercer, concurred with this judgment.

Here’s what the December 2011 JLARC report said:

Mercer recommends that the administration of the defined contribution plan be limited to a single vendor for simplicity and for cost efficiency. This is the administrative structure used for the State’s deferred compensation plan. Officials from South Carolina’s retirement system who were interviewed by JLARC staff also echoed this recommendation.

The chief benefit of a closed architecture is that VRS has, by benefit of high volume, great leverage as it negotiates for low administrative fees to manage the investments of VRS members.

HB 877 proposes "open architecture," where the door is open to an array of corporations to manage VRS member investments.  Open architecture is a high fee option which will lead to lower retirement benefits.

Our shared long-term goal is to do our very best to ensure that Virginia's school board employees, teachers and support personnel, have adequate and secure retirement benefits.

HB 877 takes us in the wrong direction in this regard.

One can only wonder why this option is only being proposed for teachers and support personnel.  If this is such a great idea, why is it not being proposed for the four state employee VRS plans?

HB 877 is before the Senate Finance Committee on Wednesday morning.  Please call SFC member offices urging opposition to HB 877.


HB 720, Delegate McClellan's Lactation Support bill, gained final passage in the Senate today on a 40-0 vote, and it awaits the Governor's signature.  Thanks to Delegate McClellan for carrying this VEA legislation so effectively!

Senator Newman’s SB 624 reported from the House Civil Laws Subcommittee on a 10-0 vote.  This bill says the school board employees who perform medical services shall not be held liable.  VEA thanks Senator Newman for sponsoring this bill.
 

 

 

Friday, February 21, 2014

Busy Morning at the Capitol


Legislators worked this morning to move bills through committees before they returned home for the weekend.  For education advocates the focus was on the Senate Education and Health Committee Subcommittee on Public Education.

All three surviving school calendar bills were reported to full committee.  Del. Greason’s HB 333 is the broadest.  It returns control of the school calendar to local school boards.  Delegate Robinson’s HB 610 is a creative attempt to appease the hospitality and tourism industry by eliminating the Labor Day school opening requirement while requiring that the Labor Day weekend be a four day holiday.  Finally, Delegate Stolle’s HB 577 frees divisions containing underperforming schools from the Labor Day calendar constraints to facilitate additional instructional time.  VEA supports these bills.
Two virtual school bills were taken up.  Delegate Greason’s HB 1115 facilitates sharing of online courses developed by the various school divisions.  It establishes a mechanism allowing a small school system to gain access to online courses developed by larger school systems through Virtual Virginia and the Department of Education.  This bill was reported.
The second was Delegate Bell’s HB 324 which would have created a stand-alone virtual school students could access as an alternative to going to the local school.  VEA opposed this bill for a number of reasons which was commonly referred to as the K-12 bill, as it advantaged online instruction offered by K-12, Inc.  You may remember that Carroll County ended their relationship with K-12, Inc., when the test scores of the online students were pulling down the division average.  The bill would have provided an illogical and overly generous funding level for virtual schools, actually providing more per-pupil than the state provides per pupil for traditional schools.  This bill was carried over to the next session.

Delegate Minchew’s HB 515, which would have required communication with parents in the case of student violation of any school board policy that could lead to suspension.  This bill, which VEA opposed, was passed by indefinitely (PBI) on a 4-0-1 vote.

Tag Greason’s HB 930, the SOL reform bill, was reported on a 4-1 vote.  Please see earlier postings regarding this bill which reduces the number of SOL tests. 

 

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Lactation Support Bill Reported Unanimously, Tebow Bill Killed, Are We Still Behind?


Delegate McClellan's HB 720, the Lactation Support bill, was reported unanimously by the full Senate Committee on Education and Health this morning.  It now heads to the full Senate where it will be placed on the uncontested calendar.

HB 63, Delegate Rob Bell's bill to allow home-schooled students to participate in public school interscholastic programs, was Passed by Indefinitely (PBI) on a 9 to 6 party-line vote.

Where do we stand with the House and Senate budgets?  In 2009 the state was providing $5274 per pupil.  We are slowly making our way back, but at this rate it will take forever.  For FY2015 the House proposes $5037 per pupil, and the Senate proposes $5063.  We are still behind the 2009 funding level.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Budget Battle Looms: What's It Mean to You?

There is a frequent refrain here at the Capitol, "We'll be here until June."  Those uttering the refrain are aware of what is shaping up to be a lengthy budget battle between the House and Senate budget conferees over the contentious issue of Medicaid expansion.

The last time we endured a budget standoff was in 2004, and what happened then may provide insight into what we might expect.  In this circumstance, local school boards base their budgets on the budget of the chamber with the lower level of state support.  This year, they will likely be basing their budgets on the House budget.  Local education associations should be working with  local school boards to determine how any additional funds that may be provided may be spent.

Second, without an adopted state budget, local school boards hold contracts.  This is a good time to ask your superintendent how your system will address this issue.

Each chamber will act on its budget bill tomorrow, and the budget conferees will be named.  We will be asking you to communicate with the conferees soon after.

Many VEA members have expressed dissatisfaction regarding the lack of funding for school employee salary increases, and we will certainly be addressing this concern in our message.




Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Little Action as Legislators Study the Budget Bills


Members of each chamber are studying their budget bill in preparation for Thursday’s vote.

The Education Reform Subcommittee of the House Education Committee took up Senator Miller's SB 324, which would delay implementation of the A-F school grading program for three years, this morning.

President Gruber testified that delay is necessary because SOL reform will require a longer period of time to collect the necessary data.  Indeed, State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Patricia Wright has asserted that three years are required to gather the data needed for the school growth indicators.  VASS, PTA and others joined President Gruber in supporting the three year delay in the Miller bill.

The subcommittee amended the bill to conform it to the one year delay called for in Delegate Landes' HB 1229. 

SB 324 will now go to the full Education Committee.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Time to Call Your Delegate and Senator?


We’ve had a little more time to review the House and Senate budget released yesterday, and I need to apologize for frequently amending yesterday’s blog entry as I worked to make sense of the numbers.  One thing that is clear now is that both the House and Senate have honored the pledge to move toward full funding of the VRS certified contribution rate by July 1, 2018.

We’ve also had a chance to figure out which groups of employees got raises:

Higher Education Faculty

Senate             1% Salary + 1% bonus

House              Included in Institution’s budget

State Employees

Senate             1% COLA (12/1/14)

                        1% bonus (12/1/15)

House              2% adjustment for high turnover positions (12/10/14)

                        2% bonus for those not in high turnover positions (7/1/15)

State Supported Local Employees

Senate             1% COLA (12/1/14)

                        1% bonus (12/1/15)

House              2 to 4% additional for certain sheriffs and circuit court staff (1/1/15)                   

2% bonus (7/1/15)

Teachers/Support Personnel

Senate             0%

House              0%

If you don’t think this is right, the first people to call are your Delegate and your Senator.

Contact information for Senators

Sunday, February 16, 2014

First Look at House and Senate Education Budgets

The VCU Commonwealth Education Poll 2013-2014 was presented to the education committees of the House and Senate last week.  The findings were not surprising:

In yet another year of concerns over budget balancing, Virginians remain strongly supportive of funding for public schools.  Sixty-five percent of Virginians say that Virginia schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs, while only 27% say schools have enough funding now.  Respondents are also concerned about how funding affects quality.  Three‐quarters of respondents (75%) said that the amount of funding affects quality a great deal or quite a lot, which is an increase of 8% over last year.

Further, funding for our public schools is the public’s top budget priority according to the poll.

Let’s see how the House and Senate budget proposals, released today, stack up in consideration of the priorities of Virginians as revealed in the Commonwealth Poll.

House Highlights

No incentive funds for teacher salary increase

Provides funds for the transition to fully funding teacher retirement

$150,000 for OEI

FY15 per pupil funding level = $5037 (FY09 level was $5274)

Senate Highlights

No incentive funds for teacher salary increase, but suggests that $40 million in formula changes be used for salary

Provides funds for the transition to fully funding teacher retirement

No funding for OEI

FY15 per pupil funding level = $5063 (FY09 level was $5274)

In summary, the Senate provides $26 more per pupil next years that the House, but we remain behind 2009 funding levels.  There is no cause for celebration for public education advocates.


Quote of the Day:


“Virginian’s should be very proud of its public education system that supports and produces high caliber students and that consistently outperforms the majority of peer-group students, from other states, and on a number of nationally recognized achievement tests.  And does so at a very competitive cost to taxpayers:  Virginia ranks 49th lowest, out of the 50 states, on Stand and Local Revenues (taxes) as a Percentage of Average Virginian’s Personal Income!” 


-  Delegate James P. Massie, III, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education
Please look for a detailed analysis of the proposals in the days ahead.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Saint Valentine would be pleased by VEA's success on his day!

In the Senate Subcommittee on Public Education, Delegate McClellan's HB 720, the lactation support bill, advanced on a unanimous vote.  This bill will now head for the full Senate Committee on Education and Health where is should be taken up on Thursday.  We thank Delegate McClellan for her excellent work on this bill.

In the House, Delegate Favola's SB 43, the bill which allows teachers more time to contest a dismissal notice, was the first bill on the calendar.  Delegate Rust ably presented the bill on the House floor, and it gained final passage on a 94-0 vote.  This bill now awaits Governor McAuliffe's signature.  We thank both Delegate Rust and Senator Favola!  This is the first VEA initiated bill to gain final passage in the 2014 session.  Hopefully, more will follow.

Look for a special Sunday posting, as the House and Senate money committees will report their budget bills this Sunday. 

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Timely Help from Afar/VEA Bill Advances/VEA Bill Up Tommorrow in Sub

The VEA office is closed, downtown Richmond is a ghost town, but this is no snow-day for the Lobby Cadre.  The General Assembly never shuts down for snow.

The legislative calendars are light as the budget writers are hunkered down as they prepare for Sunday's presentations of the House and Senate budgets.

We offer kudos to Melanie Lewis, President of the Amherst Education Association, whose actions generated a most timely Lynchburg News and Advance editorial.  I am calling attention to the piece here at the Capitol today.  What better piece could run when the budget decisions are being made?  Check it out!

Let's hope we see some progress salaries for educators in the budget proposals to be released on Sunday.  Weve been pushing for it.


Senator Favola's SB 43, which gives teachers more time to contest a dismissal notice, advanced to it's third and final reading in the House tomorrow.  Thank you Senator Favola!

Delegate McClellan's HB 720, the lactation support bill, will come up tomorrow morning at 9 in the Senate Subcommittee on Public Education.  This bill has generated no controversy, let's hope it stays that way.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

On Slow Day One VEA Bill Is Fast-Tracked

This was the slowest day of this session in terms of legislative work.  Crossover requires the committee staff to shift gears to prepare for the bills from the other chamber, and the money committees are hard at work behind the scenes working to complete their proposed budgets.

However, the House Education Committee did report Senator Favola’s SB 43 on a unanimous vote.  This is the bill that gives teachers five more days to contest a dismissal notice.


Former State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Dr. Williams C. Bosher, presented the 2014 Commonwealth Education Poll to the Education Committee.  You might want to check it out.

 




 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Senate Effort to Privatize VRS Thwarted in the Senate/House Labor Day Bills Advance/House Bill Delays A-F Implementation by 1 Year/House SOL Reform Advances


There was a flurry of legislative activity as each chamber had one last day to advance bills from their respective chambers.  All bills that passed in their chamber or origin “cross over” after session today, and tomorrow each chamber begins working on the bills from the other body.

 

In a come-from-behind effort, VEA's lobby effort scored a major victory when the Senate voted 22-18 in favor of Senator Saslaw's motion to re-refer SB 422 to committee and the carry over the bill to the 2015 session.  The bill had been reported from the Senate Finance Committee with only two votes against it (Deeds and Edwards).

 
This bill would have begun the privatization of VRS by allowing local school boards to contract with corporate vendors to manage the defined compensation portion of the VRS hybrid plan, a plan for employees hired after 1/1/14 and those hired prior to then who opted-in to the hybrid.

 

I thank each of you who sent cyber-lobby messages on this bill, and I thank our Lobby Cadre for their good work on this bill.

 

In the weeks ahead, we will have to bring the Senate to oppose the House companion bill, Delegate Jones’s HB 877.

 

Three bills related to the Labor Day school opening policy were reported from the House today (HB 333, HB 577, HB 610).  Please see the previous posting concerning these bills.  HB 577 may have the best chance in the Senate as it only extends calendar flexibility to underperforming schools.


Delegate Landes’ HB 1229, which delays implementation of A-F school grading for one year gained final House passage.  Efforts to amend the bill to increase the delay to three years were abandoned when Landes threatened to strike his bill.


Finally, Delegate Greason’s HB 930, the SOL reform bill, gained final passage on a 99-0 vote.

 

Monday, February 10, 2014

Defensive Victories: Bad Bills Amended or Killed


As we approach Crossover, the halfway point of the General Assembly session, when bills leave their chamber of origin to be considered in the other end of the Capitol, we can celebrate a few defensive victories.  We killed some bad bills and amended others to reduce their negative consequences.  The efforts frequently involved a little help from our friends.  Often, the patrons helped once they saw the possibility of unintended consequences.
The two diabetes bills, Delegate Cole’s HB 134 and Delegate Stuart’s SB532, have been amended extensively.  For background, see the January 17th posting on this blog.  Cole’s bill does not harm at this point, and it make an important step forward by allowing diabetic students to carry and use supplies, including a reasonable and appropriate short-term supply of carbohydrates and equipment for immediate treatment of high and low blood glucose levels, and to self-check blood glucose levels on a school bus, on school property, and at a school-sponsored activity.  Most of the problematic sections of SB 532 have been removed.

These bills may be headed for a committee of conference, as they are now in conflict.  I thank both Delegate Cole and Senator Stuart for working with us on these bills.  VSBA has been immensely helpful in this effort.

Delegate Bacote’s HB 993 addressed an extremely important issue, human trafficking.  However, the solution she sought was a licensure requirement for those seeking or renewing teachings licenses in Virginia.  In service training can be required without making certification of training a prerequisite of licensure.   HB 993 was tabled in the House Appropriations Committee.

Delegate LaRock’s HB 950 would have allowed the parents of a child receiving home instruction or a child attending an accredited private school to claim a credit against the individual income tax for amounts paid for such child’s (i) instruction-related materials, including textbooks, workbooks, and supplies; (ii) courses or programs used in the home instruction; or (iii) private school tuition.  HB 950 was tabled in the House Finance Committee.

Senator Newman’s SB 89 would have allowed school divisions to reduce the level of disability insurance offered to school employees in the VRS Hybrid Plan (employees hired after 1/1/14 or who opt-in to the hybrid).   This bill was killed by a 6-11 vote in the Senate Finance Committee.

 We came to call Senator Reeve’s SB 385 the “Dead Peasant” bill.  Please see the January 23rdposting on this blog for background.  This one was just too strange to be true.  I’ll never forget the line from the Fiscal Impact statement, ““Doubts as to whether profiting from the deaths of VRS members is good public policy.”   I thank Senator Reeves for striking this bill.

Unfortunately, Senator Obenshain’s SB 457 is a perennial.  It’s the one that allows school boards to deny charter school VRS retirement benefits.  I hope the senator will spare us this one next year.  Once again, it died – this time on a 6-11 vote.

 

 

Friday, February 7, 2014

We hear what you are saying about HB 930.


In Wednesday’s posting, I included the language below from HB 930, Tag Greason’s SOL reform bill.

The Standards of Learning assessments administered to students in grades three through eight shall not exceed (a) reading and mathematics in grades three and four; (b) reading, mathematics, and science in grade five; (c) reading and mathematics in grades six and seven; (d) reading, writing, mathematics, and science in grade eight; and (e) Virginia Studies and Civics and Economics once each at the grade levels deemed appropriate by each local school board.

Each school board shall annually certify that it has provided instruction and administered an alternative assessment, consistent with Board guidelines, to students in grades three through eight in each Standards of Learning subject area in which a Standards of Learning assessment was not administered during the school year. Such guidelines shall (1) incorporate options for age-appropriate, authentic performance assessments and portfolios with rubrics and other methodologies designed to ensure that students are making adequate academic progress in the subject area and that the Standards of Learning content is being taught; (2) permit and encourage integrated assessments that include multiple subject areas; and (3) emphasize collaboration between teachers to administer and substantiate the assessments and the professional development of teachers to enable them to make the best use of alternative assessments.

This language has given rise to messages regarding the degree to which alternative assessments will affect the burden on teachers.  One person fears that, “requiring VGLA-style assessments for all students in an SOL class in which an SOL test will not be administered will create an insurmountable bureaucratic burden on already overtaxed teachers.”
This is a very legitimate concern, and we hear you.

The “alternative assessment” language was added in response to the concerns raised by science and social studies teachers who expressed the fear that if their subjects were not assessed that they would be deemphasized.
The beauty of the bill is that it does permit school boards to allow classroom teacher designed assessment to take place of the SOL test.

We will need to be engaged in the Board of Education’s guideline development, and we will need to use our place at the table on the Standards of Learning Innovation Committee to work to ensure that the new assessments are not more burdensome and time consuming than the tests that they replace.  This may be a battle.  President Gruber and Dr. Rogers have already engaged the help of NEA in developing appropriate options for alternative assessments.
This could be a battle, and we may need to call on members to stack some meetings and raise a little hell.

I do hope, though, that we’ll not ignore the other side of this coin.  We have an opportunity to move away from teaching to the test and toward greater professional autonomy for teachers.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Long Day at the Old GA – We won a few and lost a few.


The Senate Education and Health Committee had a long agenda filled with controversial measures in both the education and health realms.  Delegate Stuarts SB532, the diabetes bill is still problematic, but as a result of help from Senator Martin it is  less so.
The bill would have required instructional aides and clerical personnel to give glucagon injections.  If they refused to do so they could be disciplined or dismissed.  We delineated the eight steps in the procedure to the committee, and Senator Martin moved an amendment to address our concern.  The bill, as reported 14-1, still has some problematic elements, but this most worrisome provision has been removed.

We want the needs of diabetic children addressed, but making it mandatory that all instructional aides and clerical personnel be required to give injections is not the answer.
The same committee reported Delegate Rust’s HB 977, the bill that will allow a teacher more time to determine whether or not to appeal a dismissal, was reportedunanimously.

On the House floor today, Delegate McClellan’s HB 720 reported on a strong 87-9 vote.  This is the lactation support bill (#expressyourself).  We thank Delegate McClellan for her hard work.  Now this bill goes to the Senate.
The Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee reported (6-0) a very flawed virtual school bill, Dickie Bell’s HB 324, which creates a stand-alone virtual school that students can enroll in instead of attending their local public school.

Finally, the House Appropriations Compensation and Retirement Subcommittee failed to report Joseph Yost’s HB 463, Statewide Health Insurance, despite the efforts of Delegates Yost and Kilgore.  There was broad support for the bill, and no opposition, but the bill died for lack of a motion.  This one hurt!

 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

SOL Reform, Virtual School Disaster, Bipartisan Redistricting, Degradation of Hybrid Plan


On a day that was not all good news, the progress on SOL reform is good news indeed.  Delegate Greason’s HB 930 reported from the House Education Committee today on a unanimous vote.  This bill will reduce the number of SOL tests given in grades 3-8 from 22 to 17.  Authentic assessment will be used to assess content no longer assessed with SOL tests.  The bill establishes a Standards of Learning Innovation Committee to address ongoing SOL reform.  This committee includes a representative from VEA.
Here is the meat of the bill as it relates to the reduction of tests:

The Standards of Learning assessments administered to students in grades three through eight shall not exceed (a) reading and mathematics in grades three and four; (b) reading, mathematics, and science in grade five; (c) reading and mathematics in grades six and seven; (d) reading, writing, mathematics, and science in grade eight; and (e) Virginia Studies and Civics and Economics once each at the grade levels deemed appropriate by each local school board.

Each school board shall annually certify that it has provided instruction and administered an alternative assessment, consistent with Board guidelines, to students in grades three through eight in each Standards of Learning subject area in which a Standards of Learning assessment was not administered during the school year. Such guidelines shall (1) incorporate options for age-appropriate, authentic performance assessments and portfolios with rubrics and other methodologies designed to ensure that students are making adequate academic progress in the subject area and that the Standards of Learning content is being taught; (2) permit and encourage integrated assessments that include multiple subject areas; and (3) emphasize collaboration between teachers to administer and substantiate the assessments and the professional development of teachers to enable them to make the best use of alternative assessments.

Delegates Greason and Krupicka worked tirelessly on this bill, and VEA thanks them for involving us at every step of the way.  
Delegate Dickie Bell’s virtual school bill, HB324, reported on a 12-10 vote.  This bill creates a stand-alone virtual school students can enroll in instead of coming to the public school in their locality.  It provides both state and local funds to the virtual school, and it exempts the contracts with private vendors from the Virginia Public Procurement Act.  We will have to work hard to kill this bill when it gets to the Senate.

Senator Miller’s SB 158, which provides for a November 2014 advisory referendum on the question of whether a bipartisan advisory commission should be created to propose redistricting plans for the House of Delegates, state Senate, and congressional districts, passed the Senate 36-4.
Finally, the Senate Finance Committee reported Senator Watkins’ SB 422, despite our protestations, on a 15-2 vote.  This bill applies to the Virginia Retirement System (VRS) Hybrid Plan, which is for employees who were hired on or after January 1, 2014 or who chose to opt in to the plan.  The Hybrid plan is part defined-benefit (with a 1% multiplier rather than the 1.7% multiplier enjoyed by Plan 1 and 2 members), and part defined-contribution (you can contribute up to 5% of your salary, and your employer provides up to a 3.5% match).

When the Hybrid Plan was created in 2012, VEA pushed to have both the defined benefit (DB) and defined contribution (DC) managed by VRS, rather than allowing private vendors (VALIC, Horace Mann, ING, Lincoln and others) to administer the DC.  Having VRS administer the DC ensures low administrative costs, low fees, and returns that are historically better that those gained by the private vendors.
SB 422, and the House companion carried by Delegate Jones, HB 877, will allow your local school board to opt out of the VRS DC plan, and contract with a private vendor to provide that portion of your retirement.  It will be their choice and not yours.

These bills put the economic interests of the financial services corporations ahead of the financial interests of school employees.
Some points to take into consideration are:

·         The use of school division plans rather than the VRS plan will result in higher administrative costs and higher fees for employees as the pool of investors will be smaller. 

·         The use of a division-specific plan will put additional administrative costs on the school division to ensure compliance with various legal provisions. 

·         Employees will not be able to get consolidated information from VRS about their retirement in opt-out localities, adding complexity to the employee’s retirement planning. 

·         School divisions not only choose who the vendor will be, they can change vendors leaving employees with multiple accounts.

·         Employees already in the hybrid plan were promised the defined contribution plan from VRS.  These bills change that provision.

·         Employees who were already in VRS Plan 1 or 2 may have already chosen the hybrid plan with the understanding that the defined contribution portion would be managed by VRS.  This could change in January 2015, past the point where employees could reconsider their decision to go into the hybrid plan.  

·         403(b) plans will likely have higher administrative costs and higher fees than the VRS administered 457.  This will reduce retirement benefits.
School board employees hired after January 1, 2014, already have a reduced retirement benefit as compared to their more senior colleagues.  These bills further degrade this benefit, and they benefit no one but the investment companies.