Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Details of Teacher Licensure Bill and Some Interesting Safety Votes

We had a marathon meeting of the House Education Committee this morning. That was followed by a short subcommittee meeting and ended with the Chair letting us know she will need to call another meeting either Friday or Saturday of this week. So the slow start in the House has caught up with them and the bills are jammed up waiting to be heard. So Saturday subcommittee meetings are the only answer.

Part of the reason the House went long today was that they had a confirmation hearing for Secretary of Education designee, classroom teacher, and VEA member Atif Qarni. During the campaign the VEA pushed hard on the idea that, then candidate, Northam name a classroom teacher as his Secretary of Education. And he did. For the first time in the history of the Commonwealth we have a classroom teacher as our Secretary of Education. Promises made and promises kept. Thank you Governor Northam.

As I have shared in this blog, there will be changes to how we license teachers in Virginia. The members of the General Assembly see this as one of the solutions to the teacher shortage. House Bill 1125 (HB1125) will be the bill in the House. I wanted to share some things VEA is willing to get behind and those things we can not get behind.

We support changes to some of the license requirements that the General Assembly has added over the years. The changes in this bill are good ones.

HB1125 includes the ability extend a provisional license for up to two additional years. Currently, provisional licenses are three years. If you don't complete the requirements for a full license in that time frame, you are out of the profession. We can support the extension of the provisional license so long as the licensee is effective and is making progress towards achieving full licensure. We believe that there needs to be evidence of good teaching and efforts to move to a full license for any extension. We are hopeful that language fill find its way into an final bill.

The bill also addresses teacher license reciprocity when you have a full license from another state. Currently teachers from out of state must pass the teacher assessments (including PRAXIS and VCLA) at our cut scores. Virginia has the highest cut scores in the country, so this is a big hurdle for some folks. This provision of the bill would remove this requirement for teachers with out-of-state licenses. If we adopt a policy of full reciprocity, I think we need to really take a good look at the testing requirements we place on VA’s teachers. We have the highest cuts scores in the country, we need to look at how well that serves us. Do these tests even measure a new teacher’s preparedness to enter the profession? I think this is an off-session topic we must address. There are cultural biases in these tests, too, which are even more problematic when they stop minority teacher candidates from entering the profession. 

The last section of the bill is an absolute RED LINE for us. The bill allows for locally issued waivers on teacher licenses- no license needed to be a contracted teacher. Content area knowledge does not make you an effective teacher. We must put “content area experts” on a path towards licensure. There are many paths, but we must make sure that anyone contracted by a local school division is a licensed teacher or is on a path to licensure. This is a teacher quality issue and a safety issue.  

Teaching is our profession, and, at the VEA, we are very protective of it, as we should be. We are very concerned by many of the proposed changes we are seeing. Teaching is not easy and not everyone can do it. You need a solid foundation in methods, child growth and development, assessments and measurements, and planning individualized instruction. The content isn’t what makes teaching hard, it’s all of the other aspects of effective teaching that make it hard. When we fill our classrooms with “content knowledge” but remove any requirement that have to learn the hard part of teaching, I promise, our students suffer. 

So that's the bill. Feel free to read it over at the General Assembly web site. There is a whole lot in the bill, and we are hopeful we can work with the patron and get to a good outcome. Stay tuned. 

On another topic, today, killing common-sense safety bills was the order in Senate Finance. They killed a bill that would have prohibited handguns at certain daycare centers and pre-schools and another bill that would increase the penalty for hitting a person if you pass a school bus that is stopped to discharge passengers. Bills that seem to just make sense, don't to some members of the General Assembly. With all the change this session, some things never change. 

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

VEA Bill Passes the Senate and We Have a Teacher Licensure Bill to Work With

Today, Senate Bill 456, carried by Senator Jennifer McClellan at the request of the VEA, passed the Senate 39-0! This is our school climate survey. There is a budget amendment on the bill that must be included in the final budget or the bill will not become law, but we feel pretty good about that. Now the bill goes to the House for a run on that side of the Assembly. We will know soon how that is likely to go since we have a House version (HB1119) carried by Delegate Schyler VanVaslkenburg. That one is going to start up in Appropriations, which is slightly worrisome, but it does have a fiscal impact, so it makes sense.

The VEA has fought for this type of state-wide survey to help inform state policy on teacher retention. The bill requires the survey to include questions regarding school leadership, teacher leadership, teacher autonomy, demands on teachers' time, student conduct management, professional development, instructional practices and support, new teacher support, community engagement and support, and facilities and other resources. There is substantial research that shows that a school is more likely to retain effective teachers if it is led by a principal who promotes professional development for teachers, is characterized by collaborative relationships among teachers, has a safe and orderly learning environment and sets high expectations for academic achievement among students. We know salary is a part of the issue with teacher retention, but there is more to it and VA needs data to make the very best policy decisions and to measure the effectiveness of those decisions. We are excited about the success in the Senate and am hopeful the House will be as receptive. 

Also yesterday we got our first look at Delegate Lande's teacher licensure omnibus bill. There is a whole lot in the bill and the VEA is working with the patron on the issues we can support and those that are red lines for us. You can read the whole bill here. Please reach out to your member of the House and let them know how you feel about the bill. The Senate version of an omnibus bill will be revealed tomorrow. We will keep you updated here. Tomorrow I will also post details on where VEA is on the specific changes in the bill. There is a lot to digest.

Tomorrow in House Finance our bill on Tax Credits for Non-Reimbursed Classroom supplies gets its hearing. Delegate Hala Ayala is carrying this for us (HB624). With a $25 million price tag, this is a tough one, but Virginia sets aside $25 million in tax credit vouchers for private schools, so seems to me, this is a better use of credits. We will update you tomorrow. 

Monday, January 29, 2018

Change Is Good

This is the year of change in the General Assembly. I've talked about it in this bog. Today's House Education Committees (both the 7am sub and the 8:30am full committee) really demonstrated how much this is true.

Delegate Rob Bell's bill, often referred to as the Tebow Bill, that would allow home schooled students to participate in public school VHSL sports, failed to report out of the full committee by a vote of 10-11 (the vote was to report). This bill, or a version of this bill, has passed out of the House Education Committee for years and has passed the full General Assembly the last three years only to be vetoed by Governor McAuliffe. The fact that this bill didn't make it out of committee is a sign of how different things are in the House of Delegates. There is no version of the Tebow Bill in the Senate, so for this session, this bill is dead.

Interestingly, the full committee heard another home school bill, HB1504 that would allow home schooled students to participate in Virtual Virginia which is the DOE's full-time virtual high school. This program is currently reserved for enrolled public school students and is supported by state funding. That bill also failed to report which lead the patron of that bill to threaten the members of the Education Committee who voted against it. He told those committee members he looked forward to explaining his bill they just killed when they bring their bills to HIS committee. That is a big threat in the world of legislators. He basically told them he took note of the "no" votes and will vote against their bills when given the chance. That is pretty unprecedented behavior from the podium of a committee meeting.

A few of the bills the VEA is supporting advanced today including Delegate Sullivan's HB199 that would require the Department of Education create a Digital Citizenship, Internet Safety, and Media Literacy Advisory Council. This council would be made up of librarians, teachers, parents, administrators and media/digital literacy specialists and they would develop model policies to support teachers and students adopt safe and responsible uses of media and the Internet. Other states are adopting policies to create these advisory councils and we think it is a good idea that can help support teachers in the classroom wade through the vast quantities of information on the Internet. Also advancing was Delegate Keam's HB399 which would require each school board to establish a plan to notify students and parents about the availability of internships, externships, apprenticeships, and other work-based learning experiences that are available to students. This is important as we begin to roll out the high school redesign next school year that adds requirements that students participate in these types of experiences while they are in high school. The high school redesign will roll out next school year (2018-19) but with almost no additional state resources, so this bill will at least be something. We are glad the bill seems to be progressing unscathed.

So change is good. Elections matter. There is a long way to go, but the path is at least being cleared.

Friday, January 26, 2018

Does This Really Solve the Teacher Shortage?

Virginia has very high standards for the issuance of a teaching license. In fact, we have some of the highest requirements in the country. High standards are important. High quality teachers, who have proven competence in not only subject matter but also of the science of teaching, lead to higher levels of student achievement. Teachers with a solid foundation of pedagogy (the science of teaching) stay in the profession far longer than those teachers lacking this foundation. So it should be the goal of the Commonwealth to maintain very high standards. But we have a shortage of teachers and we are no longer producing enough teachers through our traditional teacher education programs to fill the need. So what can we expect legislators to do?

Fixes to the teacher shortage aren't cheap and they aren't quick. We didn't get to this place overnight, and we need to create, and commit to, a long-term, resource-heavy approach to first, bring young people into the profession and second, keep them in the classroom once they get there. We need to look at programs like Delegate Krizek proposes in HB380 that would establish grants for school divisions with high rates of low income students, to implement a "Grow Your Own" program to build interest in the profession. We need big action on various scholarship programs like the Virginia Teaching Loan Scholarship Program. We need investments in Teachers in Residence programs. We need HUGE investments in teacher salaries. We need HUGE investments in increased resources for our public schools and our public school students. We need to protect teacher retirement, and we need to bring down the cost of health care for our school employees.

Some of these fixes are being addressed this session, but the main "fix" we see in legislation this year is to make it easier to earn a teaching license in Virginia, or worse, letting people be contracted to teach without having a license or working towards one. These "fixes" have no fiscal impact on the state's budget, but they have huge impacts on our students and their ability to succeed.

The VEA is following nine bills in the House and six in the Senate that propose changing how we license teachers. Ultimately we are hearing that all the bills will roll into one bill in each chamber. Delegate Landes' HB1125 will be the House vehicle, Senator Peake's SB349 will do the work in the Senate.

We will need to rally the troops on these bills as I expect some troubling things in both bills. The most troubling would be to allow a superintendent to waive a license requirement, in ANY teaching area, for someone with high levels of content knowledge. That's right- no license needed at all! No course work in pedagogy, no assessments of their teaching competency, nothing. To be clear, just having lots of knowledge in math won't make you a good math teacher. Knowing history backwards and forwards doesn't mean you have the skills to teach it. If you have lots of content knowledge of first grade material, do you get to teach first grade? No worry that you have no course work in the methodology of teaching reading and how to differentiate that instruction to meet the needs of all students... I gave birth, can I get my license to deliver a baby? Of course not, but some of our legislators seem think teaching is easy and anyone can do it. We will need to fight this line of thinking.

If you are interested in reading the bills on teacher licensure and see who is carrying them, visit Virginia's Legislative Information System to search bills. Click here to go to the web site. You can search for these  House Bills (HB): HB2, HB80, HB215, HB317, HB318, HB320, HB334, HB1125, and HB1156. Here are the Senate Bills (SB): SB257, SB349, SB409, SB558, SB723, and SB863.

We appreciate Senator Favola's SJ6 that would require the Department of Education to study how we license teachers and to assess the process for any inherent biases that prevent minority teacher candidates from entering the profession. This was a recommendation the VEA brought to Senator Favola's Subcommittee of the Joint Committee on the Future of Public Elementary and Secondary Education in response to VEA's Teachers of Color Summit last February. We are very hopeful that study moves forward.

As educators across the Commonwealth leave their "easy" jobs this Friday to enjoy a weekend "off" let's be ready to fight for our profession.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Big Issues This Session, Success on School Climate Survey

Good news to report today on VEA initiated SB456. This bill, carried by Senator Jennifer McClellan, would require the VA DOE to implement a state-wide climate survey of school personnel to evaluate issues that may be effecting teacher retention and student achievement. Other states have used this type of survey to make well informed state policy and funding decisions around teacher shortages. We are very hopeful we will win this one this session.

The bill reported 15-0 out of the Senate Education and Health Committee. When a bill comes unanimously out of committee, it goes on the uncontested floor calendar. Those are considered noncontroversial bills that are usually passed in a block. This is good news for the bill. It will have its first read tomorrow. The House version of the bill (HB1119) carried by teacher and VEA member Delegate Schyler VanValkenburg, hasn't gotten out of the blocks, yet, but I expect the bill to be heard in subcommittee next week. Hopefully the House will treat our bill exactly as the Senate has. 

I wanted to go over some big issues we are following this year. Of course, the VEA Legislative Committee approves our positions on any bill. No staff member speaks or takes action on a bill without approval of the committee. We are also focused on issues adopted by our members through our Legislative Agenda. While there are many well-intended bills and issues in the pre-K through 12 lane, we focus on bills that would have the greatest impact on our members. Often times we are lock step with the other education groups. But, from time to time, we find ourselves on the other side of an issue from our friends and sometimes we don't take up issues that other groups think we should. 

The VEA  Legislative Committee decides whether to support, oppose, or watch a bill. Often bills are assigned to a watch list because we are working with the patron to make changes to the bill. Sometimes the Legislative Committee decides to take no position on a bill. Sometimes these bills are better taken on by other groups such as the school superintendents or school boards. Regardless every single bill of the nearly 3,000 that have been filed this session have been reviewed by VEA staff for committee review and any Legislative Committee member can bring a bill up for consideration. 

So what are some of the big issues this year? Number one for us is the teacher shortage. 

There are many bills trying to go at this issue through changes to teacher licensure. The VEA believes that this is a teacher quality issue. We need to make sure that we maintain high standards for anyone who would like to be licensed to teach in Virginia, but we also need to look at current practice and see where we can make improvements. By the way, changing licensure requirements have no cost to the state or to localities, so it's seen as an easy way to get more teachers in the door. The VEA is covering all of the teacher licensure bills. 

We are also working on improvements to salaries of the SOQ funded positions, which includes teachers. This work is focused on budget amendments and with members of the money committees in the House and Senate. The "money committees" are the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees. These two committees will each develop a biennial budget and then work together on the final budget for 2018-2020 that we will see in early March. 

Speaking of budget amendments, we are also supporting amendments to increase the at-risk add on (see my post from earlier in the week for more information on that) and to reverse the cap on support staff that Virginia implemented during the depths of the recession. Both of these changes would have tremendous positive impacts on every single school division in the Commonwealth. 

We are also following bills that update the current SOQ staffing standards and implement the 2016 SOQ revisions. We are tracking and supporting bills to reduce class size and to address the SOQ revisions adopted by the VA BOE in October 2016. These revisions include increases in staffing levels for school nurses, guidance counselors, and other support personnel. The VEA is supporting all of the class size and staffing bills and having good dialog with legislators about adopting the SOQ revisions. 

Another other big issue we are working on is shutting down the school to prison pipeline. There are bills addressing this issue from a couple of different directions, and the VEA is working closely to move the best of these bills forward. 

We feel hopeful that we will have really good outcomes this session for our pubic schools and our public school employees. We are grateful to all of our activists who are staying in touch with their legislators and telling their stories. Keep it up. The session is just getting going, we have a long way to go. There is no greater fight than to protect our public schools and the students they serve.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Things Have Picked Up

As promised, the House has now started pushing bills through subcommittee, but they are jammed up because they took so long to get schedules moving. Today the full House Education Committee met and took up a short list of bills that were heard on Monday in subcommittee, but the subcommittee that met immediately after the full committee struggled to get through just half of the bills on their docket. When subcommittees get backed up, there has to be a fix because they need to hear all of these bills. I know that the Chair of House Education, Delegate Steve Landes, is concerned about the progress of work in his lane, and I am pretty sure he spent part of today giving his advice to the subcommittee chairs on moving things along.

Of interest in the full committee, the school calendar bills will go to the floor of the House again this session. The House, over the last few years, has passed some version of a repeal of the post-Labor Day start requirement for our public schools. Two different bills will proceed to the floor, one a complete repeal, the other is not quite a full repeal, but close. It is identical to the bill the House passed last year. Tomorrow the school calendar bills will get their first hearings in the Senate when the Education and Health Committee take up their versions of the bills. The Senate does not pass these bills, so we will see what happens in the morning.

Also of note in the full committee was Delegate Landes' HB3 that would clean up the Dual Enrollment process in Virginia. Right now dual enrollment classes are offered in various ways and with different levels of quality around the Commonwealth. Because of the differences in these programs, often times the college credits earned by high school students who take these courses aren't accepted by either our Community Colleges or our four year institutions. The VEA supports Delegate Landes' efforts to fix this problem and we are hopeful his bill will continue it's track towards passage.

In the House Sub Committee, Delegate Keam brought legislation we have not yet seen in Virginia, but it is an important issue. HB1434 would require school divisions to make menstrual supplies available in secondary school bathrooms. This issue is growing across the country and I have learned a lot about it over the summer. What bills like this want us to accept is that these supplies should be treated the same as toilet paper and paper towel and should be made available in school bathrooms. Today the subcommittee heard testimony from girls who shared their stories of humiliation when they are unprepared. We also heard testimony from leaders in this movement about students who lose instructional time because they are unable to afford supplies on their own. Menstrual supplies can not be purchased with food stamps, they are expensive, and are taxed. I won't share all the details we heard today, but when girls are missing school because they can't afford these supplies or are humiliated by having to ask a male teacher to let them go to the school nurse, there must be a better way. Clearly there is a funding issue here, but if you are interested in learning more or becoming involved in solving this issue, click here to visit the BRAWS website. They are doing amazing work in this area.

The post demonstrates the broad scope of the bills that affect public education. It is part of what makes this work really exciting. Every day is different and every issue has value. There are hundreds of well intended bills that are often eye-opening and there continues to be a lack of resources to make sure our system of public education really is equitable no matter your zip code, or circumstance. Days like today, when you hear bills that range from high school students taking college level course for credit but not getting the "credits" when they succeed to girls who are missing instructional time because they don't have or can't afford basic hygiene supplies makes you realize the important role our system of public schools play in our society. Our schools should be the great equalizer and the VEA continues to fight every day for that end goal.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

LCI and SOLs

Tuesdays are slow for education bills, but the House Appropriations Sub Committee on K-12 did take up a bill that would change how the Commonwealth computes the Local Composite Index (LCI). The LCI is the knife the Commonwealth uses to cut the pie of K-12 funding. Using one formula, Virginia determines each locality's "ability to pay" their share for the operation of the public schools in their division. In theory, this formula determines if any local government has a lesser or greater ability to raise local resources to cover the cost of funding their public schools. The formula is flawed without question. Legislators have talked about how flawed the formula is for years, but to fix the formula, you have to change how you use the knife to cut the pie. There will be winners and losers. That is, in my opinion, why we haven't switched knives.

This morning the LCI debate was kicked down the road again as Delegate Gooditis, a new member of the House struck her bill that would have made changes to the formula that would have, likely, helped the school divisions in her district. That is an admirable goal, but it comes at the expense of other divisions, which is why these individual bills are problematic. Instead Virginia needs to do a deep-dive study into how we fund our public schools. We need to look at the knife we use to equitably cut the pie, but unless the pie is bigger, there will always be those whose piece is just too small. Let's change the knife, but lets get a bigger pie that more accurately reflects the needs of our schools.

For now, the best vehicle Virginia has for increasing the size of the pie is by increasing the at-risk add on funding. This funding is directed to the students the most in need and every single school division in the Commonwealth would receive some additional state funding. Those school divisions with high rates of students who meet the Federal definition of poverty would receive the most through the at-risk add on. It is time to direct state funding to these students and divisions. Our current pie doesn't cover it, and our knife fails to take into account students who live in poverty.

Contact your legislator and ask them to support increasing the at-risk add on.

Yesterday I told you about the SOL reduction bills and the outstanding testimony Tracey Mercier gave to the subcommittee in support of the bills to reduce VA's standardized testing requirements down to the Federal level. She did a wonderful job telling her story, and the story of all of us who are dealing with our culture of testing. I will leave you with her words.

"Good evening Delegate Bell, other distinguished members of the committee, and guests. My name is Tracey Mercier, I am a constituent of Delegate Pillion, a parent, and an elementary special education teacher in Bristol. With your permission, I would like to speak in support of HB1162.

In 2015, when just five SOL assessments were no longer required, the difference in the expenditures going to Pearson Incorporated, according to Commonwealth Data Point, from the previous year was around $13.7 million. If that amount had been reallocated to Direct Aid, and divided equally among Virginia’s school divisions, each one would have received more than $104,000, for a total of more than $312,000 since then.  That may not seem like a lot of money for some, but you’d be surprised what cash-strapped school divisions could do with it. 

As a teacher, it has been very disheartening seeing tens of millions of dollars going annually to assessments, while school divisions delay repairing buildings, or cut personnel, classes, and budgets because they don’t have enough funding, but the money for testing is always there. Many of our students are taught in crumbling, poorly insulated buildings, without hot water or reliable Internet access which hinders learning. Or I see students who would benefit from small group instruction and intervention, but the personnel isn’t there to provide it. Adding this money to direct aid would enable our public schools to provide more for those students who need more.

Please know that I am not against standards or appropriate assessments, but I am highly concerned that the high stakes associated with these tests, have turned our children into test takers, instead of creative, critical, and collaborative thinkers. These tests do not prepare our children for the real world, for the depth, breadth, and diversity of our global economy, so why are we giving more than are required?

SOL testing has caused our students to view high school as an ending, not a beginning to a life full of potential. With fewer SOL tests, more time and money could be invested in project based learning, authentic assessments, or actually completing science experiments instead of just reading about them, or going on field trips to see how math and science are used in advanced manufacturing plants instead of just solving word problems.

Another casualty of administering more tests is, children are afraid of making mistakes, instead of seeing them as opportunities to grow, improve, and learn they see themselves as failures. More and more students are experiencing anxiety when they don’t grasp a concept immediately, and beat themselves up over it because they’re afraid of failing these tests. Tests that no college, university, military institution, or post-secondary vocational/technical school requires from their applicants. What truly makes people successful, can never be assessed by a standardized test…honesty, kindness, flexibility, empathy, humor, tenacity, motivation, and so many other characteristics that we value as civilized society. Why are we giving more tests than are required?
While some think increasing testing has increased learning, because of the extra time devoted to pre-benchmark tests, benchmark tests, post-benchmark tests, reviewing for SOL tests, completing released SOL tests to practice test taking strategies, and then taking SOL tests…students actually have less time to learn. On average, I’d estimate that eight to ten weeks of instruction and learning are lost. It rips out a teacher’s heart when a student gets excited about a classroom discussion, and wants to dig deeper, but we have to cut them off, because we have to keep up with the pacing guide to cover all the standards before the tests…making the curriculum shallow instead of deep. Why are we giving more tests than are required and losing more invaluable instructional time?

In closing, since the inception of the SOL assessments, Virginia has given testing giant, Pearson almost half a billion dollars…but we’ve lost more than that…our children have lost the love of learning for the sake of learning, they’ve lost some of the happiest memories of their school years that we were fortunate enough to have, some have lost music, art, time to play, and peace of mind. Again, I ask, why are we giving more tests than are required?

Our Commonwealth’s most cherished resource, our children, deserve the additional instructional time, additional resources, additional opportunities, and reduced pressure.

I thank you for your time and for your service to our great Commonwealth."

Monday, January 22, 2018

VEA Lobby Day and Action in the House- FINALLY!

Today more than 300 VEA advocates descended on the Virginia Capitol to meet with their legislators. I love walking around the legislative office building and seeing so many offices filled with educators. I know that the members of the General Assembly look forward to our lobby day every year, and they listen to us. A huge thank you to everyone who traveled to the Capitol today!

Very early this morning the first House Education Committee subcommittee met and there is finally progress on bills. The bills that come up early during session tend to be less controversial and this morning was no exception to that rule. There was one exception. Today Delegate Robert Bell brought his bill that would open up dual enrollment courses offered through our public high school students to all home schooled students in the Commonwealth. The VEA opposes legislation that allows home schooled students to participate in public school dual enrollment classes when no state funding follows them. Aside from public school students possibly being bumped from dual enrollment classes offered in their schools, this is an unfunded mandate. The VEA was joined by the School Boards Association, and school Superintendents opposing this bill. When the vote was recorded, the vote was 4-4. In the House, ties die. The Chair of the Subcommittee, Delegate Leftwich, was stunned and confused for just a moment since this committee is made of up 5 Republicans and 3 Democrats, so this was not the expected outcome. Someone from the side of the dais told the Chairman that the bill failed to report because of the tie, and that outcome was recorded. The patron of the bill was not pleased.

Here's what's interesting and confirms that ELECTIONS MATTER! Delegate Helsel, one of the Republicans in the subcommittee, is brand new to the Education Committee. He voted against his caucus and killed the bill. After the committee adjourned, I thanked Delegate Helsel for his vote. He said to me, "Why would anyone vote for a bill like that? If the teachers, school boards, and superintendents oppose a bill, I think I should, too." The VEA is grateful that Delegate Helsel is on the Education Committee and that he sees value in the opinions of educators.

In the late afternoon, a different House Education Committee met to take up a series of bills the VEA supports. There were multiple bills that dealt with the post-Labor Day start. The subcommittee ultimately moved two bills forward to the full committee. HB372 is a not a full repeal of the King's Dominion Law, but gives school divisions the authority to set their own calendars so long as if they start before Labor Day they include at least a 5 day weekend over the holiday. HB1020 also passed the subcommittee. That bill is a full repeal of the King's Dominion law. Last year the House passed a bill identical to HB372, but it failed in the Senate. We will see what happens this session. The post-Labor Day start has been the law of the land since 1986, it is time to make a change.

The subcommittee also took up a pile of bills on SOL testing reform. Most of the bills would reduce the number of standardized tests to the Federal requirement. Ultimately the subcommittee decided to send all of the bills to the Committee on the Future of Public Education and they will all be addresses off session.

In case you are wondering if the general sense is that SOL assessments need reform, the subcommittee heard another bill to allow "super scoring" of the SOLs. This would mirror scoring on the SAT where a student score can be built on the best scores he or she achieved on each section. HB808 would allow, for students who take an SOL more than once because they did not pass the first time, the highest score in each section of the SOL test to count towards the final score. The current design of the SOL assessments do not allow for that type of scoring model. The subcommittee has asked the patron work with the Department of Education and bring the bill back to the subcommittee next week.

Super proud of VEA members Bruce Smith and Tracey Mercier who spoke in favor of reducing the number of SOL tests. They came and told their stories! Well done!

Friday, January 19, 2018

We Have An SOL Innovation Committee Bill- HB1501

As I have been promising, Delegate Chris Hurst is patroning HB1501 that would restore the voting rules of the SOL Innovation Committee as they were originally created- with fairness and equity. Click here to watch a video that describes the issue perfectly.

Please make sure you sign the petition to stand against out-of-control testing. You can click here to sign. Make sure you share it with everyone you know who cares about real reform in Virginia's culture of testing.

If you would like to read the full report from the SOL Innovation Committee and see the recommendations that were vetoed by four legislators, click here.

In other news, budget amendments were made available today and we want to thank Senator Sturtevant for his amendment for a 4% salary increase for all SOQ supported positions for the ENTIRE FIRST YEAR of the biennium. Our members appreciate Senator Sturtevant's efforts to bring Virginia's teacher salaries closer to the National Average. We are hopeful we will see a significant investment in our public schools and our public school employees in the final budget.

Monday is VEA Lobby Day! We look forward to seeing you at one of our briefings and look forward to seeing many of you walking around the Pocahontas building as you find your legislators new offices. The weather looks good, but make sure you bring your patience. It is also Women's Lobby Day and between our two groups, we expect about 500 activists descending on the General Assembly.

Have a great weekend and get ready- next week's pace will pick up dramatically!

Thursday, January 18, 2018

VEA Bills Start Their Journey

Today one of the VEA bills has started its journey through the legislative process.

SB456, carried by Senator Jennifer McClellan, would require the Superintendent of Public Instruction to develop and make available annually to each public elementary and secondary school teacher in the Commonwealth a voluntary and anonymous school climate survey to evaluate school-level teaching conditions and the impact such conditions have on teacher retention and student achievement. The bill requires such survey to include questions regarding school leadership, teacher leadership, teacher autonomy, demands on teachers' time, student conduct management, professional development, instructional practices and support, new teacher support, community engagement and support, and facilities and other resources.

The NEA and the VEA have supported to implementation of school climate surveys for years and we, in fact, encouraged the VA DOE to include a climate survey in their Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) state plan. State-wide school climate surveys have been used by 20 other states and by 5 school divisions in Virginia. These states and divisions are using the data generated by these surveys to inform state and local policies on teacher retention and student achievement. We believe that as Virginia addresses the teacher shortage, we need to take action on the long list of issues that are driving teachers from the classroom.

Without question, salaries are part of the equation, and the VEA continues to fight for teacher salaries that are at or above the national average. But teachers don't get into the profession to get rich, they do it because they have a calling to teach. However, they do deserve to live and retire with dignity, to be able to pay their student loans, to own a home, and to support a family. What they also deserve is to work in an environment that is conducive to good teaching and good learning. We know there are serious issues in our schools that we need to fix to help our teachers teach. Data from a school climate survey will help inform good policy to address these issues.

We are grateful to the Senate Education and Health Sub Committee on Public Education for unanimously reporting SB456 to the full committee and we are hopeful the bill goes to the Senate floor soon. The Senators who voted in sub to move our bill forward are: Senators Carrico (Chairman), Dunnavant, Howell, Locke, Peake.

We have the identical bill on the House (HB1119) side and we look forward to that bill coming to the House Sub Committee soon.

In other VEA bill news, today Delegate Chris Hurst filed his bill that will restore the voting rules of the SOL Innovation Committee back to the original intent, and take away legislators' ability to veto really good, common sense reforms. Delegate Hurst is very brave to take on this bill as any legislation that takes away a legislators authority (that they gave themselves through legislation) is a tough one. But, like us,  Delegate Hurst sees the current voting practice as an overreach of legislative authority and as undermining to the good work of the SOL Innovation Committee. The VEA is issuing a press release on this bill that I will post once it is available. We are also launching a petition. This is where we need your help. Please sign the petition and share it every way you know how. We'd like Delegate Hurst to have thousands of petitions with him when he brings his bill to the House Education Committee. Click here  to sign the survey.

Budget amendments will be public later today, so we will fill you in tomorrow on the good, the bad, and the ugly on those. The outgoing Governor's budget and these budget amendments will form the basis for the final 2018-2020 budget we will have before session adjourns on March 10, so these amendments are very important.

This week has been slow, so get ready to roll next week. All of the House Sub Committees will FINALLY meet and take up bills, so things will start moving very quickly. As a reminder, Monday, January 22 is VEA Lobby Day. It is also Women's Lobby Day so we are expecting very large crowds all day. The new building will really be tested as will your patience. Right now the weather looks good, so that will help. Tomorrow I will post details on some of the events for Women's Lobby Day as I know many of you will be in Richmond for VEA Lobby Day and may want to also participate in those events.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Snow, Good Data, and Still Slow

The General Assembly has only had a "snow day" twice in the last 40 years. So although it was  very cold, snowy day, we proceeded with committee work.

The House Education Committee met this morning to hear reports from three groups: The Virginia High School League, VCU Wilder School of Public Policy, and The Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Still no bills on the docket, but there was really good information presented and good questions from the new members of the Committee.

VCU presented their data from their annual survey of Virginians on their feeling and perceptions on public education. The data show that most Virginians support a strong system of public education and believe there should be more funding to meet the increasing needs of our students. It is always a morning that validates what we, who work in public education, know; the families we work with believe we need additional resources. The breakdown this year showed that Virginians in the Southwest lead the way in demanding more resources for their public schools, with Central Virginia very close behind. You can read a summary of the report here.

Next week the work of House Education should begin to pick up. Let's hope it does as the legislation is stacking up and the Committee has yet to hear a single bill. The solution to this problem, you ask? Sub Committee meetings at 7am starting next week.

We were hopeful that the House Finance Sub Committee would take up a few Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship bills that are problematic to the VEA, but the committee was cancelled at the last minute. So finance bills are stacking up, too.

So with slow action, I was able to spend time today prepping our bill sponsors. Our Senate bill requiring the DOE to implement a state-wide school climate survey that would inform state and local policy to address the teacher shortage and student achievement will be up in a Senate sub tomorrow afternoon. Our good friend, Senator Jennifer McClellan, is carrying that bill (SB456) for us and Delegate Schyler VanValkenburg has an identical bill (HB1119) in the House.

I also caught up with Delegate Hala Ayala who is carrying our Tax Credits for Educators bill (HB624). This bill would allow educators (as defined in the bill) to receive a tax credit of up to $250 for  non-reimbursed classroom supplies. Delegate Ayala let me know that Delegate Mark Cole signed on to this bill. We are excited about the bipartisanship, but this is going to be a tough bill to get out of House Finance. We will see.

Finally, I touched base with Delegate Chris Hurst who is carrying a bill that would repair the SOL Innovation Committee voting rules that currently allow 4 legislators to veto the vote of 28 citizen-members appointed to the committee. These citizen-members act as subject matter experts on revising our system of standards and assessments here in VA. The bill doesn't have a number, yet, as we purposefully delayed its filing to that it would still be alive on VEA's Lobby Day on Monday, but as soon as I have one, I will share. Tomorrow the VEA will launch an on-line petition to let Delegate Hurst know we are with him and to ask the General Assembly to support this bill. It has a tough fight and the Senate is looking to kill it quickly. I have some confidence in the House, but, regardless, we are so appreciative of Delegate Hurst for seeing the real issue at play when legislators give themselves the power to override appointed citizen-committee members. He wanted this bill as soon as I talked to him back in November. I think the reporter in him is happy to shine a light on this.

So hopeful tomorrow I will be able to report that bills were heard and our bill advanced in the Senate! Also tomorrow I will make sure to include a link to our petition so you can sign it and share it- grassroots style!

One last update, send some healthy vibes to your Lobby Cadre. The flu has struck and we are down about 1/2 of our Cadre. There are so many people in such close quarters during session, it is a breeding ground for germs. So healing thoughts and grassroots efforts are the ask for today.

Stay warm!

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Very Little Action Today

It is another day of limited action. The House is struggling to get organized with so many new members and limited meeting space in the new building. The bills are stacking up as the House is slowly starting to assign bills to subcommittees.

The Senate, where there are always fewer bills, is following the House's lead and is slowly getting to work. While it's nice to have a few days to learn our way around the new building and meet all the new House members, we are going to be facing a TON of bills everyday once they get rolling. These days will be VERY, VERY long.

So a short post... and prepping for very long days.

Monday, January 15, 2018

A New Governor and President of the Senate

It was a beautiful, although cold, day on Saturday for the Inauguration of Governor Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring. 

Today the new Lieutenant Governor begins presiding over the Virginia Senate. It is good to know we have a friend of pubic education, once again, lading the Senate and breaking any tie votes. 

Today's action has been light, although the full House Education Committee met and it was exciting to see teachers, and VEA members, Delegate Cheryl Turpin and Delegate Schyler VanValkenburg, seated on the committee. It is good to have teachers in the legislature. The committee did not take up any bills although Chariman Steve Landes did alert the committee that they will take up over 200 pieces of legislation this session, and he encouraged the sub-committees to stay focused on moving legislation along. Session always has a slow start, but goes from 0 to 100 overnight. We will be ready.

In the House, there are some concerns with Speaker Cox referring quite a few of the more controversial bills to the House Rules Committee. That is not typical and there is some thought that this action might be a way to kill bills in Rules where the Republicans have a large majority. Today I received a great review of all of this from Virginia FREE, and I am quoting them here, 

"The REALLY interesting test will be in the House where Speaker Kirk Cox has sent at least one minimum wage bill to the Rules Committee. Cox chairs that committee. Many observers expect that to be a sign that the Rules Committee will be used to defeat this and other controversial pieces of legislation. Then again, many observers could be wrong. 

There is one option that is contained within the Rules of the House that allows the Rules Committee to send legislation to the Floor of the House WITHOUT a recommendation from the Committee. 

This could be used to put every member of the House on record as having voted for or against specific policies and legislation. 

It is also important to note that any bill that opens a section of the Code can be amended as long as it is pertinent to the intent of the bill. 

Example, a bill on minimum wage goes to the Floor and it states an increase of the current $7.25 an hour to $9.00 an hour. It can be amended to say $1,000 an hour but it cannot include a tax increase. Virginia's Speaker would rule the tax increase "not germane" to the intent of the bill and a vote would not be taken. 

Virginia's General Assembly operates under Jefferson's Manual which states in Sec. XXVI (b) "for he that would totally destroy it will not amend it." This means that the no member can offer amendments to legislation unless the member intends to support the bill if the amendment is adopted. If the member does, then the member is duty bound to support the bill unless the amendment is defeated along the way. This means Virginia legislators cannot offer "poison pill" amendments and then NOT vote for the bill. 

Further in section (b) 'It is therefore a constant rule 'that no man is to be employed in any matter who has declared himself against it.' "

Tonight Governor Northam will deliver an address to a Joint meeting of the VA House and Senate. We are hearing word that he will talk specifically about the teacher shortage and about increasing salaries as a means to improve retention rates. We will report more tomorrow, but we are hopeful that the Governor will propose a salary increase in both years of the biennial budget. 

Friday, January 12, 2018

Thank you Delegate Lee Ware

Action today was very limited. With so many inaugural events this week and all weekend, both bodies moved very quickly through a couple of bills, but mainly took up memorial resolutions. You VEA team spent the morning talking with legislators about some bills that need some work, finalizing budget amendments, and talking with other education groups to coordinate our work on legislation. It was typical work for the first Friday of session except there is something different. There is a sense that it is time to work together, and it is time to show the rest of the country what it means to be Virginians.

No matter your political beliefs, I think we are all hopeful that the rhetoric in Washington will not cross the Potomac and travel to the General Assembly. Today Delegate Lee Ware did something we would all like to see happen in D.C. He stood and addressed the newly organized House of Delegates. Delegate Ware is a long-serving Republican who reminded all of us how our government should work. He reminded us all today how we should all treat each other. He reminded us today about the humanity that exists in all of us. Thank you Delegate Lee Ware. You are a good man and a good legislator.

Here is how this all played out on the floor today:

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Action on Bills in the Senate and the House Sets Committee Membership

Today things kicked off with the first meeting of the Senate Education and Health Committee. Wasting no time addressing the teacher shortage crisis in the Commonwealth, they took up two bills the VEA is watching.

The first bill would restore an undergraduate education degree. This bill came from recommendations out of Governor McAuliffe's Teacher Shortage Work Group, from the Joint Committee on the Future of Elementary and Secondary Education, and from VEA's Teachers of Color Summit. The VEA supports this effort.

The next bill is one of about 30 bills on teacher licensure routes in an effort to "fix" the teacher shortage. We knew these bills would be coming as they are considered a cheap way to open the doors to teaching. I will say most of the bills deal with slight alterations to the licensing process, and there aren't too many really disturbing bills, but there are some bad ones out there. Delegate Steve Landes, Chair of the House Education Committee, has introduced an omnibus bill to bring all of the licensure bills into one. This will be the vehicle to make any changes to how we license teachers in VA and the VEA is working with Delegate Landes on this bill. Keep watching the Daily Reports as we learn more. We know this  is a teacher quality issue and opening our classroom doors to anyone who thinks they can teach leads to a drop in quality. Our students deserve better, and the VEA will work hard to make sure all of our legislators know that the science of teaching is as valuable as content knowledge. In fact, without a firm grasp of the science, failure is almost always certain. We can't allow a quick "fix" to make our problems worse.

Speaking of the House, Speaker Cox announced the committee assignments today, and we are so happy to have both teachers, Delegate Cheryl Turpin and Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, named to the House Education Committee. Other great additions include Delegate Jennifer Boysko and Delegate Debra Rodman. You can read the Speaker's press release here.

Today was also Governor-Elect Ralph Northam's last day presiding over the Senate. President Pro Tempore Steve Newman took over after Northam addressed the body and said farewell. We are all gearing up her in Richmond for the Inauguration. Tomorrow's session will be short as legislators and lobbyists have a very long weekend as we all celebrate the peaceful transition of power here in our great Commonwealth.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

The House and Senate Are Organized and Ready (kind of)

Such a great day at the General Assembly! It was so exciting to see all of the candidates the VEA Fund recommended be sworn in today! Most exciting of all- our two classroom teachers AND VEA members, Delegate Cheryl Turpin (HD85) and Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg (HD72). We know good things happen when you put teachers in the legislature! Take a look at the picture below to see our new #teachersinthelegislature

Governor-Elect Ralph Northam continues to preside over the VA Senate until Saturday when Lieutenant Governor-Elect Justin Fairfax is sworn in. As Gov.-Elect Northam said, "he's keeping the seat warm." The Senate is ready to roll with the first meeting of the Senate Education and Health Committee at 8:30am tomorrow. The 30 bills they take up will all be assigned to sub-committees and the work will begin.

The real action was on the House side where, after the retirement of long-time Speaker Bill Howell, the House unanimously elected Delegate Kirk Cox as the new Speaker. From there the House needed to adopt rules for how they would work together. There was much anticipation on this, but, both sides quickly agreed to the rules without much fanfare, but there are two important features in the rules of the House as they were adopted.

The main worry in some circles was whether or not the House Rs would change the rules on proportional representation on committees. By that I mean, the number of Republicans and Democrats on each committee would be proportionately the same as the make up of the body (which is 51-49). In the end, the House did the right thing and will maintain proportional representation on all of the Committees. Assignments haven't been made, yet, we expect those later today, but the committees will be balanced. That is really good news for public education bills!

In the biggest news of the day, the House adopted a rule that all sub-committee votes will be recorded. The days of bills dying quick deaths in small sub-committees with no member accountability (because there was no record of the vote) are gone. The VEA has been pushing for this rule for years, and we are so happy that there will be transparency and accountability in the House Sub-Committees!

So day one is over, 59 more to go. If you are wondering how lost you can get in the new legislator office building, I walked almost 12,000 steps today in there. Most of those were retracing my own steps because I turned left instead of right. Let's hope I get a better sense of direction before too long... wait, if I walk that many steps every day I think I can have ice cream every night!! Never mind.

So here's to our new Speaker, here's to our new members of the House, here's to the new office building. Change is good!

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

T'was the Night Before Session and What Do We Know

The gavel will go down at noon tomorrow on the 2018 General Assembly session here in Virginia. This is an even numbered year, so this is a long, budget session. Even a long session is only 60 days, so frantic chaos is something we always expect. This year will be even more chaotic given the big changes here in Richmond.

Let's start with the biggest changes. All of those came to us as a result of the 2017 elections. The VEA Fund-endorsed statewide candidates were all victorious, and Ralph Northam won with an unexpected 9 point margin. With Governor Northam we will have so much more than a goalie in the mansion; we will have a friend and partner. We have already seen evidence of that with his selection of classroom teacher and VEA member, Atif Qarni, as Secretary of Education. The VEA applied sustained pressure on Northam to name someone with real (and recent) classroom experience to that position, and he did just that. We look forward to working with Governor Northam and Secretary Qarni!

Justin Fairfax was also victorious and we, once again, will have a friendly Lieutenant Governor presiding over the VA Senate. In our 40 member Senate, if a vote ties 20-20, Lt. Governor Fairfax will break the tie, and we know where he stands on public education. With the Republicans holding a 21-19 majority, it only takes one vote to force a tie, so it's good to have a friendly Lt. Governor presiding.

Mark Herring was reelected our Attorney General and we know he will continue to fight the good fight on behalf of our public schools and the children and families of the Commonwealth. We are looking forward to working with him for another 4 years!

And, of course, you may have heard about the election results in the VA House of Delegates. Going into the election, the Republicans held 66 seats, the Democrats held 34. As of today, the Democrats picked up 15 seats (there are two races that have been certified, but may still end up in court). It looks like we will start session with the Republicans having a razor thin margin of 51-49, but there is a slight chance it may be a 50-50 split. That is looking less likely as we move towards session, but we will see.

So BIG changes in the make up of the body, and, likely, on all the House Committees. We are still waiting to find out committee assignments in the House and we may not know until tomorrow night. Because change is the theme this session, we will have a new Speaker of the House, with the retirement of long-serving Speaker Bill Howell. Kirk Cox will take the reins and make the committee assignments, and we are looking forward to seeing where everyone lands. As you hopefully know, we elected two teachers and VEA members to the House! Schyluer Van Valkenburg is the new Delegate in HD72, and Cheryl Turpin is in HD85 (and former VEA Vice-President Dom Melito is her Legislative Aide). We are certainly hopeful one (or both) of them will be assigned to the House Education Committee. We will see.

And in case all those changes aren't enough, all of the legislative offices have moved out of the General Assembly Building and into the smaller Pocahontas building down the hill. We are all lost and wandering in circles trying to find committee rooms and legislator offices. The hallways are narrow, the elevators small, and the seating is limited. Just a new challenge we will all face together. Be prepared if you head to Richmond to meet with your legislator, as you will face a whole lot of challenges maneuvering the building, so make sure you pack your patience when you come.

One last, but big, change is on the VEA Lobby Cadre. Long-serving members Gail Pittman and Pat Woods retired last year, and Alicia Smith has moved on to another chapter in her career. We will miss them all, but are thrilled that UniServ Directors Danielle Wilkerson and Fred Glover will join the team. We are grateful for their willingness to do "double duty" during session. Returning this session are  Lisa Staib, Travis Blankenship, and (for a 25th year) Jay Deck! Of course, VEA President Jim Livingston and VEA Vice-President, James Fedderman will be the faces and voices of our members again this session. We can always count on their leadership!

Lots to look forward to, lots of unknowns, lots of changes, but the VEA will hold firm on protecting our public schools and fighting the good fight for all of our members.

So tomorrow we begin the adventure.