Monday, February 17, 2020

House and Senate Release Budgets

February 17, 2020

Yesterday, the money committee in the House and Senate each revealed their budget proposals for the 2020-2022 biennial budget. The VEA staff is digging into all of the numbers and our analysis will be out very soon, but for someone who has seen this process play out for well over a decade, there are a few things I wanted to highlight.

Both the House and the Senate add additional money to the PK-12 budget that the Governor introduced. So, they increased his increases. The House and Senate both prioritized state support for salaries, and they also both supported raising the minimum wage in VA. I realize that there is a whole lot of attention on teacher salaries, but many of our support personnel are working for $7.25 an hour. If we only focus on teacher salary, we are failing to recognize the importance of our ESPs earning a living wage. We need to raise up the good work the new majority has done this session for our ESPs.

Let’s talk about salary for a minute. I realize there are many who are disappointed with the House and Senate salary increase proposals. We need to put this into perspective. Both the House and Senate have money for salary (or a bonus) in each year of the biennium. The House calls for 2%/2% and the Senate for 3%/4%. That is a good sign that there will be salary dollars in both years of the final budget that will come out of conference. If the 2020-2022 biennium does include salary in both years, it will be the first time in over two decades that the state has included state support for salary increases in four consecutive years. We are still digging into the data, but I will guess that the last time there were four years of salary incentives was during the late 80’s. I will confirm that once we pull all the data, but, at a minimum it’s been 20 years. We must acknowledge the state’s commitment to turning the tide.

The other important component is the fact that the incentives on salary are just that, they are incentives for local school divisions to implement salary improvements. Without local support, these incentives aren’t utilized. The state cannot raise salaries, only local school boards and local governments can do that. We know that many of our small and rural divisions will not be able to use the incentives because they can’t afford to pay for their local share or for the full share of all the positions that aren’t currently required by the state. Keep in mind, localities only receive incentives to raise salaries on positions required in the Standards of Quality. That’s why yesterday’s proposals to increase counselors and ELL teachers are so important. They mean there are more positions included in the SOQs and more positions for which the state will support incentives for salary increases. Again, we need to look at the proposals in whole.

Here’s what we know we need in Virginia. We need significant new revenues, earmarked for PK-12. The VA Board of Education recommended almost $1 billion in new spending for SOQ improvements. Without new revenues, that money isn’t there. When you listen to the full budget proposal, you hear all of the other important programs supported with state dollars. Don’t get me wrong, K-12 has been shortchanged, but so has higher ed, transportation, social services for Virginians most in need, mental health services and beds, community support programs, health care, and support for fair elections and a fair count in the census. There are many, many state priorities that Virginia cannot afford with current revenues. It is time to look at Virginia’s antiquated tax structures and systems. There are ways to bring an additional $1 billion in new revenues to our General Fund. We just need to put pressure on the General Assembly to take action. Of course, the Democrats are worried about losing the majority if they prove to be “tax and spend”, but without some type of significant change, we will continue to see incremental steps, not the systematic changes we need to state support for our public schools.

We cannot react to the budget using only a salary lens. Please don’t get me wrong, the VEA asked for 5% in each year of the biennium, so we will continue to press legislators to do more on salary incentives. However, we need to decide, do we want them to cut at-risk add on dollars to do that, do we want to cur school construction or enrollment loss funds to do that? There is a lot that legislators will need to work out, and there are decisions that we will need to make as we are asked what items we want in the final budget.

I encourage everyone to not be short-sighted. I also encourage everyone to get ready next session to push for revenue increases so that Virginia can actually fund the needs of the Commonwealth.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Small and Rural School Divisions Make Their Case

February 13, 2020

Today the Coalition of Small and Rural School Divisions held a press conference to highlight the needs of the small divisions in Virginia. As I have been telling our members, small and rural school divisions aren’t limited to the far Southwest. In fact, 76 of the 132 school divisions in Virginia belong to the coalition. We have small and rural school divisions up and down the Shenandoah Valley, in Southside VA, in Tidewater, and on the Northern Neck. Virginia must look at funding methodologies that support the unique needs of these divisions and address the issues these divisions face (as they have declining student population) while still working to offer a system of high-quality public education.

We all know that state funding for our public schools still lags the 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation. Local governments have picked up more and more of the costs to run our schools. Divisions that can do more, do just that. The small and rural divisions are far less able to fill these funding gaps, and their students pay the price. Every single local government in the Commonwealth is funding above what is required. They are doing more than their fair share, but the state continues to fund less, on a per-pupil basis, in our high-poverty districts. Today coalition representatives were here to highlight some very specific funding they would like to see the General Assembly include in the budget. Along with fully funding the Board of Education’s Equity Fund, as issued in their revised Standards of Quality, they would like to see two finding streams restored.

Since the great recession, both the enrollment loss funding and the school construction funding through the Literary Fund have been cut. Both funding streams are vital to our small and rural school divisions. We must work harder to restore this funding. The enrollment loss funding, which had provided $10 million a year prior to the recession, is vital to these small divisions as they work to maintain programs for their students. When state funding is allocated on a per-pupil basis, a loss of 50-60 students can have a significant impact on divisions. Today, the superintendent of Cumberland County Public Schools talked about her struggle to cut her budget after 40 students left the division. She had to look at cutting positions and increasing class sizes. If she did that, she would lose her K-3 class size reduction money the state provides, to she is in a lose-lose position. The General Assembly must include enrollment loss funding in the biennial budget.

Our small and rural school divisions also struggle to modernize and update their infrastructure and buildings. Just as with the enrollment loss funding, the General Assembly backed off supporting school construction costs during the recession. Virginia has a mechanism for supporting school construction, but the General Assembly has hijacked those dollars for other items. The Literary Fund was established in the VA Constitution to leverage very low-cost bonds for new schools across the Commonwealth. However, instead of building schools, the money is used to pay for school equipment and for deposit into the Virginia Retirement System for teacher retirement. School divisions no longer view the Literary Fund as a construction funding source. We need to restore the Literary Fund to its original purpose--to provide low-cost loans to school divisions to repair, modernize, and build new schools. Today the superintendent of Bristol City Public Schools talked about his schools not being accessible for students with physical disabilities. When students in Bristol break a leg, the school division must sometimes transfer the student to a different school so that they can actually go to school. It is 2020. We can do better.

This Sunday, the House and Senate money committees will announce their budgets for the 2020-2022 biennial. We must see significant funding for our most in-need divisions and students, no matter where they live. Our kids are counting on them.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Right to Work and Collective Bargaining

February 12, 2020

Contrary to popular misconception, collective-bargaining rights and right-to-work laws are not the same thing. Collective bargaining rights dictate whether employers must, may, or cannot recognize an employee organization as a union or bargaining agent. Teachers are always free to organize but if employees want to negotiate a binding contract (also called a collective-bargaining agreement, or CBA) with their employer, the employer must recognize them as a union and enter into a CBA. Fourteen states leave the decision up to the district, and five states prohibit collective bargaining in education. Virginia is currently one of those five that prohibit it totally.

The second part of collective bargaining are the laws that determine the scope of bargaining (the provisions that must, may, or cannot be a part of any binding contract). In some states, these laws stipulate that base wages, hours of employment, and terms and conditions of employment (things like teacher leave, class size, and extracurricular duties) must be bargained. But laws may also explicitly prohibit some items such as teacher evaluations, discipline procedures, dismissals, layoffs, performance pay, transfers and reassignments, and the length of the school year. Determining the scope of your bargaining power is important and something we will need to dig into if we are able to repeal the ban on collective bargaining in the Commonwealth.

Right-to-work laws stipulate that no union can require membership as a condition for employment. These laws also dictate that should employees choose not to be members, the union cannot charge them involuntary agency fees in lieu of membership dues.  A state that requires collective bargaining can also be right-to-work.

For public sector employees like school employees, the Janus decision in 2018 made Right to Work moot. The Janus ruling declared that, for public sector employees, compulsory union membership, or any agency fees paid to the recognized bargaining unit, were unconstitutional. Repealing Right to Work in Virginia would not change that. But repealing Right to Work would strengthen unions in Virginia, and that would be good for public sector unions even as we operate under the Janus ruling.

Shaw, Dara Zeehandelaar, Ph.D. “A Primer on Right-to-Work and Collective Bargaining in Education.” The Fordham Institute, 12/12/2012.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Cross Over Looming with So Many Bills Still Left

February 10, 2020

Today the House and Senate have each spent the entire day on the floor working their way through hundreds of bills that have made it through the committee process and proceeded to the floor for consideration. In each body, the bills must be considered three times, so with just about 30 hours until each body must complete action on the bills that originated in that body, the floor session is a marathon. As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are nearly 40 percent more bills this session than in the last long session of 2018. Legislators are being very careful to move the bills along, but to not go too quickly as every bill that is on the floor will have an impact in Virginia. This long process will continue tomorrow, when the House and Senate have until midnight to finish work.

On Wednesday, we start the second half of session. All the bills that passed their body of origin will move to the other body to go through the whole process again. Luckily, most of the bills that the VEA either initiated or represent our top legislative priorities have a House and a Senate version. That allows us to know what happened in the other body and prepare for that. Three of our top bills passed each body with identical language. That’s really good, as those bills should be considered early after crossover, and legislators who already passed their version of the bill will be informed that the version before them is identical to the one they already passed. The three bills we have that are in this posture are: restoring teacher probation to three years, removal of one unsatisfactory evaluation as a definition of incompetency, and removing the mandatory reporting to law enforcement by principals of some disciplinary violations. Those bills should move quickly through the second half.

We only have a Senate version of bill that would restore the option of a three-person panel, so the House will hear that for the first time soon. The House has been very favorable to our bills to reverse the due process harm done in 2013, so I feel good about this bill passing the House.

Two of our bills did not fare well in the first half of session. Our efforts to reduce the SOL tests to the Federal minimum have been carried over to next year. Legislators are concerned that there is not a state-wide assessment to replace the SOLs. We have work to do to educate members of the General Assembly that our goal is NOT to replace the SOL tests with other state-wide standardized tests, but instead to build meaningful, locally developed performance assessments that will meet all of the criteria established by the Board of Education. Our test culture has swallowed up many members of the House and Senate. If you are passionate about the need to reduce the number of SOL tests, I urge you to work closely with your elected officials to get them to understand what we are trying to do. There is a lot of teaching that needs to happen for these bills to move forward anytime soon.

Our bills to allow school employees to participate in the state employee health insurance plans fared the worst of the bills we initiated. Both passed unanimously out of the committees that reviewed the policy. (If you don’t know what I mean by that, read Friday’s daily report.) Both bills were referred to the money committees, although there was no established fiscal impact. We worked with the administration and the DHRM to add all the language they wanted so that these bills could pass. At least the Senate Finance Committee heard the bill, kind of. They put it in a block of bills to carry over to next year. They took no testimony on the bill, but at least it made it to the docket and there was a vote on it. The House version of the bill reported 20-0 out of Commerce and Labor with a referral to House Appropriations. The Appropriations Committee Chair never put the bill on a docket, so it was never heard. We call that “pocketing” a bill. It is the Chair’s prerogative to hear a bill or not, but this is the first VEA bill I have worked that was pocketed. I was very disappointed so put it very mildly.

Of course, our other big bills are the Collective Bargaining bills. The House version will cross over since it already passed, and the Senate version should (fingers crossed) pass tomorrow. Thank you to all our members who are keeping the pressure on with phone calls and emails to our Senators. The word on the street is that pressure from educators is what is keeping the Senate in line on this bill.

Tomorrow, I hope to summarize some of the legislation that is part of our 2020 Legislative Agenda that is moving on after crossover. There has been lots of good work by the General Assembly this session, so I am trying to get over having a bill pocketed. Check with me when session is over to see if I have let it go.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Where We Stand

**UPDATE: Our collective bargaining bill in the House, HB582, passed in the House today. Thanks to Delegate Guzman and all who supported this historic legislation! More details coming...

We are inching closer to crossover, as both the House and Senate must complete work on all their bills by Tuesday night. Since all bills need to go to the floor of the body of origin for three reads, one on each consecutive day (although that rule can be waived), bills really need to be completed by Friday. Days leading to crossover are very, very long. Today we started with the 8 a.m. Senate Education and Health Committee, where there was a docket of bills that lasted 3 hours. The legislators head to the floor for debate on bills that are on the daily calendar. The floor sessions are lasting 3-4 hours, followed by afternoon committee meetings. Today, the Senate Finance Committee is having a special meeting at 4:30 with nearly 70 bills on the docket, each of which needs a full hearing. The bills that make it out of that committee should all go directly to the floor tomorrow.

Monday and Tuesday will mainly be full days on the floor for the House and Senate. I’ll be following the votes there, doing a deep dive into what bills survive to crossover, and organizing our bills in preparation for the second half of session.

This is a good time to give you an update on the VEA bills.

HB582/SB939 (SB1022) Collective Bargaining
I gave a full update yesterday, so not much new to report other than the House bill is on the floor calendar today (Thursday) for third read and a final vote. Anything can happen. When the bill is called, the summary of the bill is read and the Speaker will simply say, “Shall the bill pass?” Then the vote board opens and we can see the votes. We expect no Republicans to vote with us, and we’re hopeful the Democrats are all with us. One member of the Republican caucus is out with the flu (Delegate Glen Davis), so we expect the bill to be 55-44. If that isn’t the vote total, it means the Speaker may have assigned a “vulnerable” Democrat a vote to help them in 2021, while not killing our bill. This happens all the time and is good floor strategy. The Labor Coalition is pushing the Speaker to hold the whole caucus so we can send a powerful message to the Senate. We need 51 votes to win. The Senate bill (SB939) is in the Senate Finance meeting today.

SB98/HB365 Restore the 3 Year Probationary Period for Teachers
We have identical bills in each body and each bill has passed the body of origin with bipartisan support, and each will cross over. This is a big deal because bills that are identical to ones that have already passed one body are “fast-tracked” in the other. These bills will (should) pass!

SB167/HB570 Remove One Unsatisfactory Evaluation in Definition of Incompetency
These bills are in the same posture as the probation bills, although they have less bipartisan support. That will make no difference as they cross over because as each bill was amended, we worked with the patrons to make sure they were identical. These bills will (should) pass!

SB377 Restore 3 Person Panel
We do not have a House version of this bill, but it did pass the Senate with bipartisan support. The House has been very favorable to our due process bills, so while this bill will not be fast-tracked, it should be in good shape.

SB234/HB107 Allow School Employees to Participate in the State Employee Health Insurance Program
These bills have each passed the policy committees, but there is concern that they will have a budget impact, so both were referred to the money committees for hearings. The Senate bill is up in the 4:30 Finance marathon and the House version will be up tomorrow in House Appropriations. I have real concerns about these bills.

HB1277/SB847 (SB390) Reduce SOL Assessments to the Federal Minimum
Our Senate version of this bill was rolled into SB390 since they were similar. Both the House and Senate versions have been carried over to the 2021 session. Legislators are concerned there isn’t enough state oversight of any locally developed performance assessments and don’t think local school divisions will actually teach the content. We will work with DOE during the off-session on this issue. The debate on the VEA Convention floor was very similar to the debate at the General Assembly. Unlike the debate we had, legislators aren’t educators, so they don’t realize all the accountability school divisions face, SOL test or not. We will keep working this issue.

SB729/HB257 Remove the Mandatory Principal Reporting to Law Enforcement
We joined the VA School Boards Association in supporting these bills this year. This is a school-to-prison pipeline issue. Police and the courts have lots of discretion on how to deal with students who face non-felony charges. The only people who don’t are principals. They must refer the student to law enforcement every time. These bills give principals discretion. Both bills are crossing over with bipartisan support and will (should) pass!

HB1344 Clean Up Bill to Our Teacher Reprimand Bill from 2019
This is a technical clean up bill to make sure that the Board of Education can use a reprimand in all license cases. Our bill last session passed, but that section of the Code is messy and the way our bill was drafted, the BOE can only give a reprimand in test violation cases. This bill passed the House unanimously, so we expect a favorable outcome in the Senate.

As you can see, this has been a very busy session so far. Monday and Tuesday will be welcome days to regroup for the second half of session where all eyes turn to budget. Lots of work left to do.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Collective Bargaining Update

I am sure you are wondering why there wasn’t a report yesterday. The reason is simple--things at the General Assembly started to blow up and all focus had to be on taking care of the Collective Bargaining bill. You have probably seen all the alerts and requests for you to call your member of the House of Delegates. It’s because the Senate made some pretty dramatic (not great) moves on their version of the bill, and it shook House members.

On Monday, the Senate rolled the big collective bargaining bill (SB1022) into Chairman Saslaw’s SB939. His bill simply allows local school employees to collectively bargain with their employers if there is a passage of a local ordinance that describes how the bargaining arrangement will work. It is a very permissive bill but does remove the ban on bargaining for local employees, including school employees. It is not what we want, but it is what we always knew we might get as a first step. That move by the Senate rattled House Democrats, who were prepared to vote on their version of SB1022 because they realized the Senate was not going to take the same vote.

There has been enormous pressure on all the Democrats to oppose the bill. Who would oppose, you ask? Management, that is who. Virginia School Boards Association, Superintendents Association, Association of Counties, Virginia Municipal League, First Cities, The Chamber of Commerce, Leadership from ALL of our public colleges and universities; basically, anyone who would have to recognize an employee association (UNION). The pressure has been very, very strong. We knew the “bad guys” would oppose us, and we knew that they would say exactly what hey are saying: taxes will go up, Unions are bad, Virginia doesn’t need this, this is bad for business. They have been on message and have been able to rattle our votes.

The VEA has been working as part of the Labor Coalition since the election and we know we are on the right side of this issue. In really good news, the House bill was debated today and advanced to its third and final read. The vote should be tomorrow, but we need to keep the pressure on our friends on this one.

The opponents to this bill will not let up for the next 24 hours. We MUST put the pressure on. Keep calling! Here’s a page with the info you need for the calls..

Monday, February 3, 2020

Things Are Moving Fast! Cross-Over Is Just Eight Days Away

February 3, 2020
We are eight days from crossover and things are starting to move very quickly. Sub and full committees are wrapping up their work so that all bills can be on the floor for debate. For the next few days, legislators will spend hours and hours on the floor taking up all the bills that have passed through the committee process and have moved to the floor.

A few of the VEA-initiated bills have hit roadblocks, but overall, we seem to be on path to have a good legislative session. The roadblocks are on our bills to reduce the SOL test to the Federal minimum as established in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and our bills to allow local school employees to participate in the state employee health insurance plan.

Our House SOL bill (HB1277 O’Quinn) was carried over to next session. It wasn’t killed, but members of the House Education Committee want to get more information about the impacts to the local school divisions on how they would implement a locally run assessment program. The Senate bill (SB390 McPike/Pillion) will go to the Senate Education and Health committee on Thursday after passing the subcommittee last week. Even if we can get the bill out of the Senate, we know what fate the bill will face in the House.

Our health insurance bills ran up against concerns from the administration and the Department of Human Resource Management. They have asked that we amend our bills to allow all local employees of any political subdivision to participate if the governing body (Board of Supervisors or City Council) decide that is what they want to do. Limiting it only to school employees becomes complicated for our local governments. The other amendment was requiring that any local government who decided to join the state employee plan commit to remaining in the plan for three years. This is not ideal, but without the amendments, the bills were dead on arrival to committee. Both the House bill (HB107/Kilgore) and the Senate bill (SB234/Chafin) are in the money committees this week.

Today all eyes are on the House floor debate on HB582 which is Delegate Guzman’s collective bargaining bill. The members of the House will debate the merits of the legislation ahead of their vote tomorrow. We have a solid floor strategy in place and have worked with the patron on the right members of the House to speak in favor of the bill. We actually have two other big bills up for debate today that are, in some ways, related to collective bargaining. They are the House version of the two due process bills that have already passed the Senate. These bills will be debated before the debate on collective bargaining. HB365 from Jennifer Carroll Foy restores the probationary term of service for teachers back to three years. Republican William Wampler has signed onto that bill, so I am hopeful for bipartisan support. HB570 from Elizabeth Guzman removes the ability of a school division to use one unsatisfactory performance evaluation as a reason to declare a teacher incompetent and fire them. These bills, along with the collective bargaining bill, will be up for passage tomorrow.

UPDATE: The House Collective Bargaining bill went by for the day when there was an unexpected floor amendment proposed by a Republican. That delays the final vote for passage to Wednesday.