Friday, February 16, 2018

Final Push On Budget

The House and Senate will revel their budgets on Sunday. The VEA and our partners at The Commonwealth Institute both have action alerts on the At-Risk Add On. NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT!!

The VEA Cyberlobby Action Alert is a direct ask to leadership on the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees (the Money Committees) to include an increase to the At-Risk Add On to their budget. You can click here to send a message directly to the leaders of the Money Committees through this alert.

The Commonwealth Institute and the Alliance for Virginia's Students/Legal Aid Justice Center is asking folks to directly call or email their member of the House and Senate to demand action on the At-Risk Add On. You can click here to do that.

Take the time to DO BOTH now!! Every single school division in the Commonwealth would see an increase in state funding if we increase the at-risk add on. This funding is directed to the schools and students that need additional resources and support. They need us to speak up for them.

There will be a Daily Report from the Money Committee meetings on Sunday with breaking news on the budget. Folks at the General Assembly have been keeping their budget plans close to the vest, so we aren't getting many clues on what to expect. Normally we do. Keep the pressure on.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Day After Tragedy

Yesterday was yet another school shooting.

It was the 18th school shooting this year.

The 18th.

This year is only 46 days old.

Eighteen school shootings in 46 days.

We cannot accept this as normal. Something must be done.

Today VEA member and 25-year teaching veteran, Delegate Cheryl Turpin spoke eloquently on the floor of the House about the events in Florida and about the lives lost. Click below to watch. Thank you Delegate Turpin for summing up how we all feel.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

We Have Passed the Half-Way Mark

We have passed the half way point of the 2018 General Assembly session. It has been an interesting month to say the least. I am sad to report that that the VEA initiated bill on Tax Credits (HB624) and changes to the SOL Innovation Committee Voting (HB1501) both died before crossover. Sadly our House bill requiring a school climate survey (HB1119) died in the House Appropriations Committee unexpectedly on Friday. It was looking like it was going to pass and we were going to get the funding in the budget to make it happen, but the K-12 Appropriations Sub took it down. We do still have the Senate version of that bill (SB456) that passed 38-0, but it has been assigned to the Appropriations Committee in the House, so I fear it is being sent there to die. All is not lost, as there may still be an appropriation in the Senate budget for the survey and we can fight for that in budget conference.

The House and Senate will announce their budgets on Sunday, so we will know soon. We will also see what the House and Senate will do for teacher salaries. We expect something in the first year, but we will have to wait and see what they do and how they do it (I believe the House will look at using lottery revenues again, which is a terrible idea). We do have a cyber lobby alert out on increasing the At-Risk Add On Funding in the budget. You can click this link to take action.

There are 4 main bills we are watching closely. Two are the teacher licensure bills (HB1125/SB349). The VEA worked closely with the House patron (with Delegate Bulova doing our work) to make that a good bill. The Senate patron was not as willing to listen, but the bill isn’t terrible. Our main worry of allowing a local superintendent to waive license requirements if someone has “content knowledge” is no longer in either bill. That was our focus, frankly. Below you can see a side-by-side of the two bills so you can see the differences. The House bill puts a study component onto ABTEL (the BOE’s Advisory Board on Teacher Education and Licensure) which is great. In case you didn’t know, the VEA has about 8-10 members on ABTEL and I serve as the VA PTA representative, so we have ABTEL stacked!!! These two bills will go to conference and I believe the House version will be the vehicle, but I will keep you updated.

The next bill that has gotten a lot of action and attention is SB261, the librarian bill. There is a whole lot of confusion about this bill and, from my perspective, it is getting more attention than any other bill right now. In its original form, SB261 would add permissive language to the SOQ staffing standard for school librarians. The current staffing standard requires two librarians for each 1,000 students in a middle or high school. The original bill would allow a school divisions to employ one librarian and one media specialist, resource teacher, instructional coach, personalized learning, lab facilitator, or content coordinator to satisfy the 2 for every 1,000 staffing requirement. The VEA opposed this bill. The patron, Senator Sutterlein, didn’t have the votes to get the bill off of the Senate floor, so he amended it to move it along. The amended bill still offers permissive flexibility on the 2 librarian for each 1,000 students in middle and high schools, but only allows for one librarian and either one media specialist or one resource teacher. The VEA still opposes this bill. The VEA supports the staffing standards in the SOQs and we know that when we offer flexibility to those standards, inequities develop for our students. For some reason there is a rumor that the VEA supports this bill. Please help me by sharing that we OPPOSE the bill. I have written about it at length in the Daily Reports, but that doesn’t seem to be getting the message out. This bill is on the Governor’s radar. His office is getting bombarded with calls from folks who oppose this bill.

The other troubling bill is SB969. This bill puts into law that every public school student must earn a verified credit in Social Studies to graduate. This verified credit is earned ONLY by passing an end-of-course SOL test. No division my use a performance based assessment (which is what the Board of Education established in their revised Standards of Accreditation on graduation requirements). The patron, Senator Steve Newman, did add some flexibility for students who can’t pass an SOL (special education and ELL) after he realized the issues with requiring the SOL as the only means to earn a verified credit and to graduate from high school for these student populations. What is very troubling in this bill is the overreach of the General Assembly to 1. Set graduation requirements and testing standards into law and 2. To undermine the Board of Education’s authority to set the Standards of Accreditation. Our concern isn’t about Social Studies, it is about the General Assembly using their authority to write laws to override the BOE. The bill passed the Senate overwhelmingly which really shows the power of Senator Newman in the K-12 world. We are hoping to kill it in the House. This one is going to take some work and some Republican friends to support our position. BTW all of the education groups oppose this bill. It is also on the Governor’s radar.

Teacher Licensure Comprehensive Bills - Comparison

HB 1125 (Landes)

SB 349 (Peake)
Regulations Governing Licensure:

·         Eliminates initial license technology proficiency requirement and for those seeking initial license or for any renewal eliminates PD in instructional methods to support SOL achievement

·         Local Superintendent may waive any applicable requirements in C or D new 2, 4, or 6 for person they seek to hire as a CTE teacher.

·         Increases the on-line teacher license from 5 years to 10 years
·         Provisional license grace period of one year to meet requirements in D new 1 (child abuse recognition), new 3 (CPR), new 6 (dyslexia)

Regulations Governing Licensure:

·         Eliminates initial license technology proficiency requirement and for those seeking initial license or for any renewal eliminates PD in instructional methods to support SOL achievement

·         Local Superintendent may waive any applicable requirements in C or D new 2, 4, or 6 for person they seek to hire as a CTE teacher.

·         Allows local superintendent to waive any requirements in C and D for a provisionally licensed teacher and they are eligible for renewable 5-year license so long as other requirements are met (no timeframes)


·         Full Reciprocity - individuals must establish a file at VA DOE; no testing requirements, no service requirements


·         Full Reciprocity - individuals must establish a file at VA DOE; no testing requirements, no service requirements

Alternative Routes to Licensure:

·         Board to establish alternative route for PK-6 and special ed general K-12. Must complete all assessments, and alternative program certification as established by the BOE

Alternative Routes to Licensure:

·         Board to establish alternative route for PK-6 and special ed general K-12. Must complete all assessments, and alternative program certification as established by the BOE

Licenses of teachers; provisional licenses; exceptions:

·         Provisional license extended for military deployed
·         Extension of provisional license by the BOE for at least one year, but up to two so long as certain requirements are met

Licenses of teachers; provisional licenses; exceptions:

·         Provisional license extended for military deployed
·         Extension of provisional license by the BOE for at least one year, but up to two so long as certain requirements are met

Waiver of Licensure CTE:

Waiver of Licensure CTE:

·         Increases local superintendent waiver from 1 to 3 years

Regulations governing education programs:

·         Establishes a 4-year Bachelor’s degree teacher education program

Regulations governing education programs:

Career and technical education; three-year licenses:

·         Issue 3-year license to those qualified to teach- increases from part-time to full-time
·         Mentor assigned increased from one year to two

Career and technical education; three-year licenses:

·         Moves hours of experience to a separate section, but maintains 4,000 hours of recent or relevant work experience, but lowers the years from 4 to 2
·         Virginia Communications and Literacy Assessment (VCLA) is optional

Renewable License Duration:

·         Increases current 5-year renewable license to 10 years with a requirement of 360 Professional Development (PD) points (which simply doubles the number to match the doubling of length of license).
Renewable License Duration:

ABTEL Study/Report:

·         Adds language tasking the Advisory Board on Teacher Education and Licensure (ABTEL) to study multiple components of the relationship between teacher licensure and teacher shortages and report to all by June 1, 2019.

ABTEL Study/Report:

Monday, February 12, 2018

Crossover is Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the last day that each chamber may take up their own bills. Each chamber convened this morning at 10:30am in preparation of discussing and voting on many bills. As I reported earlier in the session, the House was very slow to get going on their bills and they are paying the price. As I write this at nearly 7pm, they are still on the floor debating bills. The Senate adjourned at 3:04pm, so clearly the House is behind and they have far more bills.

Overall we are fighting far fewer really bad bills this session. That is good news. No charter schools, no true vouchers, and no for-profit virtual school bills. There are still some worrisome bills that we will continue to watch and oppose. The first is SB261 that will add permissive language to the SOQ on middle and high school librarians. There is a whole lot of misinformation on this bill. So let's go thorough it.

As written, SB261 would allow school divisions that are required, as established in the SOQs, to employ two librarians at any middle or high school (because they have 1,000 or more students) to, instead, employ one librarian and any one of a series of other positions, both licensed or non-licensed. While this is a permissive bill, it is still a bad bill. Legislators don't always vote against a permissive bill, so we, and our friends at the VA Librarian Association, worked hard contacting our Senators to let them know the problems with the bill. The patron, Senator Seutterlein, ultimately amended his bill because it wasn't going to pass otherwise. The amended bill only allows for a school division to hire a media specialist or a resource teacher in place of the second librarian. It remains permissive. It passed the Senate and is on it's way to the House. The VEA still opposes this bill and it is on the Governor's radar. We need to keep the pressure on.

Another bill that we must watch is SB969 that would put into LAW that any public high school student must earn a verified credit in Social Studies to graduate. This verified credit must be earned by passing an SOL end-of-course test unless the student has an IEP or special circumstances. No performance-based assessments would be allowed. Don't get me wrong, we believe in the value of social studies, but putting graduation requirements into the LAW versus allowing the Board of Education to establish them in regulations is bad practice. Ultimately this practice would take away the Board's Constitutional authority to set graduation requirements in the Commonwealth. No other test, verified credit, or graduation requirement is included in law, and neither should this. We will work to defeat the bill in the House.

Focus will quickly move to budget. The House and Senate will reveal their budgets on Sunday and we do have a cyber lobby alert to the leadership of the money committees to increase the At-risk Add On. Please click here to take action.

Friday, February 9, 2018

ERA, Appropriations, and Librarians

The morning started in the Senate Rules Committee where there were (a ridiculously high) 76 bills on the docket. The VEA had positions on a few of the bills. We supported a couple of study bills including Senator Locke's that would have required a study of the teacher licensure process in Virginia with a focus on identifying any inherent biases that prevent minority teacher candidates from entering the profession. But the issue of the morning of the Equal Rights Amendment. The room was packed with ERA activists, many of whom had fought for years and many who are new to the fight. The VEA proudly supports the ERA amendment, and has for many years. The Chair of the Rules Committee tried to put the bill in a block vote with other bill he intended to kill. Senator Janet Howell moved that the ERA bill be removed from the block and taken up separately.

The Chair of Rules, Senator McDougal, took a voice vote to kill the ERA bill and the crowd would NOT have that. After a back and forth between the crowd and the chair,  he moved on to the next bill. Every activist in the room stood up and they began singing "We Shall Overcome". They sounded wonderful and, with about 100 of them singing along, the committee could not continue any business. Ultimately the Chair agreed to have the members of the Committee vote by raising their hands. The bill died with all of the Democrats and Republicans Jill Vogel and Richard Stuart voting against that motion, Senator Steve Newman not voting,  and all of the other white men, and Republicans, voting to kill the ERA. After some upset in the room, the ERA activists walked out while, once again, singing "We Will Overcome". For me, it was one of the best moments of this session. Women in the Commonwealth have organized and are voting. The election results in November prove that. In 2019 members of the VA Senate will face this powerful electorate and, I am certain, today will be remembered.

This afternoon will be all House Appropriations. All of these bills need to be heard so they can move to the floor before crossover on Tuesday. There are 6 subcommittee meetings back-to-back, and the bills that survive sub will be heard in the full committee after the completion of all the subs. VEA initiated and supported bills are in the 2nd sub and we are hopeful a couple of them will report out and be heard at the end of the marathon, in the full committee. It is going to be a long afternoon. I am hopeful my track record in Appropriations the other day doesn't continue.

Finally, SB261, the bill that provides "flexibility" for school divisions in how they allocate school librarians in middle schools and high schools can't get off the floor of the Senate. They don't have the votes. The patron, Senator Suetterlein, has offered amendments that will only allow for a school divisions to substitute a media specialist or a resource teacher for the second librarian. It is a huge improvement, but still concerning. It is a permissive bill, so no school division must do this, but, if this bill passes, they could if they chose to. We will know soon what the outcome will be.

Monday will be all floor action as they subcommittees and full committees will have mainly wrapped up their work on their own bills. So there won't be much report, but, as I have learned, there is always something to report from the General Assembly. I have been capturing some really amazing quotes spoken by legislators during bill debates. I may share a few of those on Monday. You can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

So About Last Night

The House Appropriations K-12 Sub Committee had their last meeting before crossover and budget development. Bills will pass other committees on good policy, but have a fiscal impact or will have a budget implication that needs to be reviewed. The sub didn't get started until around 5:00pm, and the VEA supported 12 of the bills and was ready to speak to the value of each bill. We had no expectation that some of the big dollar bills would get out of the committee, but there were some smaller bills we felt good about. Everyone in the room had been at work since 7am, so we were punchy and the night started to fall apart for our bills.

The first three bills I spoke to on behalf of the VEA all died. Then came a bill we had no position on, and it reported out. I started to realize the pattern that was developing. When I went up to support our next bill, I introduced myself as the Kiss of Death. The subcommittee laughed, and then killed our bill. If I got up, the bill was dead. I knew it wasn't me, but it was obvious that our bills to reduce class size, add instructional positions, add programs to support our students the most in need, are expensive and the Commonwealth does not have the resources to support these important budget items.

It did become kind of a joke, and we were having some fun about it. In fact, at one point I had to leave the room to take a call. A bill was up that we had no position on, and as I was walking back into the room, the committee was voting to kill the bill. The chair said to me as I entered, "You just walk into the room and bill goes down." It was all in jest, I promise, but nothing was getting out of there.

The best part of the night was when Delegate LaRock leaned towards my ear when his bill was up and said jokingly, "Will you oppose my bill? I'd like it to pass." I didn't get up and his bill was actually carried over to 2019, so it lived. The funny thing is, VEA actually supported that bill, but I didn't want to do it to fail.

Below you have the list of bills that were in the committee. The VEA supported HB13, 121, 168, 199, 305, 687, 791, 1111, 1508, and 1118. Take a look to see what the Kiss of Death did on those bills. HB1278 is the bill that we supported but the patron asked me to sit it out... it lived. I don't take it personally, these bills are much-needed, but very heavy lifts. I won't lie, though, the committee was rough although the committee members were great about it all and it started to become entertaining. I learned Chairman Chris Peace and Delegate Steve Landes can take a joke, because I didn't let them off easily.

HB670Subcommittee recommends reporting with substitute (8-Y 0-N)
HB692Subcommittee recommends reporting with substitute (8-Y 0-N)
HB13Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB121Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB168Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (7-Y 1-N)
HB176Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (8-Y 0-N)
HB199Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB255Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (7-Y 0-N)
HB305Subcommittee recommends striking from docket (9-Y 0-N)
HB336Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (8-Y 0-N)
HB687Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB688Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB791Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (6-Y 2-N)
HB1111Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB1118Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (8-Y 0-N)
HB1278Subcommittee recommends continuing to 2019
HB1380Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB1508Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (8-Y 0-N)
HB1576Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (7-Y 1-N)

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

House Education Committee Completes Work on House Bill, Senate Ed Will Finish Up Tomorrow

We are approaching crossover here at the General Assembly. That is the day where each chamber must complete work on all of their bills so that they can "cross over" bills to the other chamber. The only bills to which this rule doesn't apply are the Budget Bills in each chamber. So with only 4 more floor sessions after today, and with each bill needing three reads on the floor, they are running our of time to get bills through subcommittees, to full committee, and to the floor. The floor sessions always get very long leading into crossover, and I anticipate many hours of floor action over the next few days.

The House Education Committee wrapped up their work today with final reports from all three subcommittees. There was some lengthy testimony on one bill and the chair reminded the committee members that they needs to stay on task as any bills not heard in the full committee today would be dead since they wouldn't be reported to the floor. And that is exactly what happens. Bills that are still sitting in subcommittees as of today, will have a tough road to passage. It is interesting to see some of the "tricks" used to kill bills before crossover. This is usually done by referring a bill to a subcommittee with no time to go through sub and full, or by referring bills to committees that have no additional meetings scheduled.

The House passed HB1125 from Delegate Landes. That is the omnibus teacher licensure bill. I am glad to report that ALL of our recommendations on that bill were heard. The House bill does not include the most concerning section from the original bill that would allow a school division to annually waive a teaching license for those they wish to hire with significant "content knowledge". Our concerns on this are explained in another post. We are very grateful to the work of Delegate Steve Landes, Delegate David Bulova, and Delegate Jeoin Ward on this bill.

The VEA initiated HB1119 also passed the full committee today and is headed to the floor. This is the bill that would require a state-wide school climate survey. We are feeling very hopeful that this bill will pass  the House and head to the Senate where their version of the bill already passed 38-0.

In the Senate, SB261 that would make the SOQ staffing ratio for High School Librarians permissive and flexible, went by for the day again. That is usually a sign the patron doesn't have the votes needed to pass the bill. We will continue to follow.

Tomorrow the Senate Education and Health Committee will met for the last time. They will take up SB349 which is Senator Peake's teacher licensure omnibus bill. It's not as good as the House version, but better than it was this time last week. We will see what happens when it gets into committee tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

A Sub Committee Surprise and Librarian Bill Update

Elections matter and so do Republican friends who understand the need to support out traditional public schools. The House Education Subcommittee #1 met for a 4 hour marathon session yesterday afternoon into the evening. It was worth the wait when Delegate LaRock's annual Parental Education Savings Account bill came up. This voucher bill has passed the General Assembly the last three sessions. Typically there are both a House and and a Senate version of the bill. This year, only Delegate LaRock's bill was filed, so we already had a Senate victory, as no one in that body filed the bill.

HB1286 is a pure voucher bill- remove your child from public schools and use the state dollars for a private sectarian or non-sectarian school. The beauty of this bill is that you can also use the state money for "other educational expenses" including internet access or transportation. There is no accountability requirement that parents must show that the student, using state funds, has any educational gains. Governor McAuliffe vetoed this bill the last three sessions, and we know Governor Northam would do the same, but, ultimately in this sub committee Delegate Gordon Helsel (R-91) once again voted with the Democrats and in support of our public schools. Delegate LaRock's voucher bill went down in subcommittee 4-4. Delegate Helsel has been a champion for our public schools. He has never served on the House Education Committee before and he is committed to supporting his school board, his superintendents, and the VEA. Each meeting I email the Delegate our positions on bills. He prints out he emails and votes our way every time. So, with a more favorable committee, and Delegate Helsel on our side, it has been good in House Education.

Also today, SB261 that would offer flexibility on the SOQ requirements for high school librarians hit a snag. The bill would give flexibility to school divisions on the SOQ requirement that for each 1,000 high school students there must be two librarians. The VEA opposes this bill and the librarians have done a great job advocating against this bill. This is a permissive bill meaning school divisions "may" change the staffing requirement as needed, but they are not required to do so. The School Boards Association and the state superintendents association like this bill and, generally, like flexibility in staffing requirements. What we know is that flexibility often leads to inequities between school divisions. We create a system of "haves" (those who can afford the staffing requirement and so they keep it) and the "have nots" (those who can't afford the staffing requirements, so they use he flexibility to lower access for our students).

The bill was up for a final vote today in the Senate (there is no House version) and was on the road to passage. The librarians worked hard and the VEA notified the Senate Democratic Caucus our position. The VEA was also asked by the LG's office what our position was on the bill, another indication the vote might tie and LG Justin Fairfax would be able to cast the tie-breaking vote. When the bill came up, the patron asked the bill to pass by for the day. A signal he didn't have the votes to pass the bill. We need to keep on the pressure to our members of the Senate to vote NO on SB261.

Tomorrow morning is the last House Education Committee meeting before crossover. Lots of bills up including Delegate Bell's HB296 that would prohibit suspensions and expulsions in PK-3.I will update you tomorrow how that meeting goes. For now, we are grateful for good election results and for Republican friends of public education!

Monday, February 5, 2018

Closing the School to Prison Pipeline

For the last two sessions there have been solid efforts to reduce the school to prison pipeline in Virginia. The VEA has been a strong supporter of these efforts and we are grateful for some of the positive steps we have taken.

The VEA has been steadfast in our position that our public schools need more resources to address some of these student behaviors. The support staff cap still keeps over $350 million from our school divisions each year. This lost revenue keeps schools from hiring additional guidance counselors, social workers, instructional assistants, and special education aides. All of these positions are important to supporting our students and our classroom teachers. The VEA has also asked for increased funding for programs that are working in the Commonwealth, like the Virginia Tiered System of Supports (VTSS). VTSS targets resources and training to specific schools to help them bring down their suspension rates. High quality professional development in restorative justice and positive behavior interventions would also help, but these resources aren't coming. More state funding for alternative education programs is also important, but there has been no movement on this funding. In fact, the state provides no funding for alternative education programs in the elementary grades.

The other thing we need to to change is how we treat discipline in our schools. The VEA supports reversing the current code to eliminate the requirement that school principals report some offenses to law enforcement. Sadly, bills that would do just that are killed in the Courts Committee. I do not understand how legislators can claim they want to fix the problem, but want to continue to require principals to contact law enforcement for many discipline issues that come up at school. That must change.

This session there seems to be a real collaborative effort to make some real changes on the ground in our schools. House Bill 1600 (HB1600) will change the definition of long-term suspension to no more than 45 days. Currently a long-tern suspension is up to 364 days. The patron of this bill, Delegate Jeff Bourne, did put some flexibility into the bill at the request of the education groups including the VEA. It allows, that in cases with extenuating circumstances, a suspension can go beyond the 45 day maximum instead of going directly to expulsion. That was an important fix. That bill has passed out of the House Education Committee and had its second read on the House floor today. It will pass the House tomorrow and head to the Senate.

Senator Stanley has another bill (SB170) that will prohibit suspension of more than 3 days or expulsion for students in PK-3rd grade. Again the patron put some flexibility in the bill to allow for extenuating circumstances so that we can, in the most extreme situation, keep our schools and our classrooms safe. The patron of the House version of the bill (HB296), at first, seemed to want to work with the education community to put some flexibility into his bill. He also seemed to agree we need resources and committed to submitting at least one budget amendment to address this need. He did neither, and so we were not able to get behind his bill. We are grateful to Senator Stanley for seeing both sides of this very difficult issue.

The VEA is hopeful that SB170 and HB1600 will pass as amended.

We will continue to fight for resources. Stopping the door of suspension and expulsion is vitally important, but we also need to make sure our classrooms and our schools have the people and programs they need to help support all of our students (those facing discipline and the other children in the classroom and school). No teacher wants to put a student out of his or her classroom. We want to teach them all and have the tools we need to be successful.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Delegate Hurst's Outstanding Job on HB1501

Yesterday the House Rules Committee met. If you have been following the news, you know that the Speaker is using his Rules Committee this session in a way that has never happened before. The Rules Committee is stacked with Republicans even though the body of the House is evenly split. There are 11 Republicans and only 6 Democrats on this committee. The Speaker has referred all sorts of bills, mostly patroned by Democrats, that are more controversial or part of the broader progressive agenda to his committee to kill them. VEA-initiated House Bill (HB) 1501 was one of those bills.

Delegate Chris Hurst carried HB1501 for us. All HB1501 would do is restore the voting procedures of the SOL Innovation Committee back to the original form. The original procedure was that a simple majority of the whole committee would move any recommendation to either the VA Board of Education or the VA General Assembly for consideration. Two years ago the legislature voted to give themselves veto power on any recommendation. If you want to know why that is a problem, you can see the video we produced on the issue by clicking here.

What isn't mentioned in the video is that the four legislators that vetoed the votes of the 28 citizen members and the 3 Democrats, were all Republicans. Delegate Hurst knew patroning this bill would put a target on his back. He knew that the Republican leadership would see this as an attack against their power. To understand how powerful that threat is, NO ONE in the Senate was willing to parton the bill and the Chair of the Senate Education and Health said the bill would be dead if it even got close to the Senate.

So to Rules HB1501 went, insuring the bill would not get close to the Senate. Delegate Hurst did a masterful job presenting and defending the bill even when attacked by the House Education Republican leadership. It was something to watch! Delegate Hurst is a reporter by training, so he was not deterred and he remained clam and collected throughout. We appreciate Delegate Ken Plum and Delegate David Toscano questions about how valuable this bill was. In the end, the 11 Republicans voted to kill the bill and the 6 Democrats voted against that motion. So in the SOL Innovation Committee, 4 Republicans killed really good recommendations to trade our system of high stakes testing for one focused on teaching critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity, and then 11 Republicans voted to keep the veto power alive. Our system of high-stakes testing will continue until something gives. I am hopeful that in 2019, when the House and Senate in VA are up for elections, will be the day. Until that time, nothing will change.

A HUGE thank you to the 1,300 people who signed our petition to stand with Delegate Hurst. We will, one day, change how we teach and test our students. Keep the faith!!

So after that disappointing meeting, early this morning, the House Finance Sub voted on party lines to expand our back-door voucher system. These Educational Improvement Tax Credits are marketed as a lifeline to children in poverty to have access to funds to pay for private and religious schools. The bill gives enormous tax credits for those who make donations to support the scholarships for these students. So that lost state revenue (up to $25 million each year) goes to private and religious schools. The system is set up to skirt the Constitutional issues that exist. As if all that wasn't bad enough, today's bill includes some "quality" standards for these private schools so that legislators can be assured the state has some accountability measurements. What these schools don't have to have is any non-discrimination policies. So state dollars to schools that discriminate on race, ethnicity, religion, sex... unreal. And these students in "poverty", the bill defines poverty as up to 300% of the Federal Poverty line. That is $75,000 for a family of four.

Keep in mind, just the other day the House Finance Committee killed a bill that would give tax credits to educators who spend their own money on classroom supplies. So back-door, voucher system, tax credits are fine. Giving some tax relief to teachers who spend hundreds of dollars from their salaries (that are well below the poverty standard established in the voucher bill, by the way) not fine. It's been a tough two days to be a public education supporter at the General Assembly.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Teacher Tax Credit Bill Goes Down, But Budget Amendments Take the Day

VEA members have long asked for state tax relief from the millions of dollars worth of classroom supplies they purchase each year out of their own pockets. The National School Supplies Association reports that, on average, educators spend just under $500 each year on non-reimbursed classroom supplies. No surprise to many, the top items purchased were Pepperidge Farms Goldfish snacks, hand sanitizer, and tissues. In Virginia we have nearly 100,000 educators, so that is fifty million dollars of supplies purchased even on our limited incomes. While there is a Federal tax deduction, it is only for $250, and for a while during the debate in Washington over the tax plan, that deduction was on the chopping block. With a huge advocacy effort by the NEA and all of our state affiliates, the deduction was included in the final bill.

Regardless of the Federal deduction, our members have asked for state tax relief for their expenses. This year Delegate Hala Ayala carried House Bill (HB) 624 on our behalf. This bill would have established a $250 Virginia tax credit for educators for non-reimbursed classroom expenses that were not claimed on any Federal tax return. We were so glad that Delegate Ayala carried this bill for us and it had a fair hearing in House Finance. There were lot of complimentary words and thanks, and, for a quick moment it looked like the bill might actually get out and get a hearing in House Appropriations. We appreciate Delegate Watts for making that motion. Sadly, the Finance Committee went back to their rules to kill bills with huge price tags. This bill could result in a loss of over $23 million in state revenue, so it was passed by indefinitely. A good hearing but a bad outcome.

Late yesterday afternoon the House Appropriations Committee Public Ed Sub held hearings on all 60 of the budget amendments proposed by members of the House. There are many budget amendments we support and there seems to be a sense that some really good movement will be made in programs that really benefit the students the most in need. There are a pile of amendments to increase the at-risk add on funding and to increase funding for programs to reduce suspensions and expulsions. The VEA has asked for these types of resources for years, and the at-risk add on is the best method we have in Virginia to target additional state funding to the students who need the support the most. Hopefully the House Appropriators will do the right thing and include these important funding streams when they develop their budget.

We will know soon enough what the House does when we see their budget in a couple of weeks. I am very hopeful this will be a good year for our school employees, our public schools, and our students.