As I have had some time to reflect on the 2017 General Assembly Session I am happy to report some real victories for the VEA and for our public schools. We were heard!
The Budget includes the state share for a 2% salary increase for all SOQ funded positions. Yes, it is only for 4.5 months this budget cycle, BUT it resets teacher salaries as we re-benchmark in 2018. That is important. When budget talks started, the House seemed to have little appetite for including the 2% language, but House members heard you. So how did we make them move our way? Hard work.
On Lobby Day, VEA members were sent out with marching orders to demand a 2% salary increase. Our Board of Directors hand delivered letters to the leadership of the House and Senate Money Committees asking for the same thing. The VEA Lobby Cadre kept meeting with House leadership and we kept the pressure on for a 2% increase. Governor McAuliffe pressed the General Assembly to include teachers in any salary increase they included in the budget. Senator Emmett Hanger and Senator Tommy Norment pushed hard for our 2%. Finally, our members emailed, called, and wrote to their legislators asking them to include the salary increase. It all worked. We were heard. Also interesting, all along we asked that the salary increase not be tied to revenue projections. They heard us on that one, too! Our voices mattered!
Also this session we were able to get HB2332, that added “it is the goal of the Commonwealth that VA teacher salaries be competitive with the National Average Teacher Salary” to state law. VEA has tried to get this legislation passed in seven, yes, seven, other sessions and we were not successful. This year not only did the bill pass without a single NO vote on the floor of the House or Senate, the House amended the bill to define “competitive” to mean “at OR ABOVE the national average”! Delegate Tyler was a wonderful patron, but our voices kept school employee salaries at the top of the discussions this session. We were heard!
Finally, our other big victory was protecting school employees from another attack on VRS. HB2151 would have established an “optional” defined contribution retirement plan for our newest employees. VEA saw the writing on the wall that an optional plan this year could be non-optional next year. We were fighting an “optional” bill alone. None of our usual allies were with us as they didn’t see the need to fight an “optional” plan. Our champions were in the Senate where Hanger and Norment were assuring us that the bill wouldn’t pass. We still put a call out to our cyber-lobbyists urging legislators to vote NO on the bill. Ultimately the bill died on the very last day of session. We were heard!
So thank you to our cyber-lobbyists! Thank you to everyone who called, emailed, or wrote to your legislators. Thank you to our members who showed up on the rainiest Lobby Day in recent memory and carried our message. WE WERE HEARD!
So our hard work, our voices, and our stories made this session a successful one for us. We still have a long way to go, but we moved the mountain.