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!