Friday, May 3, 2019

School Counselor Legislation- Why Did Governor Northam Veto a Bill Today?

In case you have seen the press release, Governor Northam vetoed House Bill 2053 carried by Delegate Delores McQuinn. I want you to know that's good news and here's why...

If you have been following this blog, you know that the General Assembly put a lot of focus on increasing state funding for school counselors by making significant changes to the staffing ratios in the Standards of Quality. This all has been a long time coming.

In November of 2016, the Virginia Board of Education, recognizing the tremendous needs of our public school students, adopted improvements to the school counselor staffing standards. That recommendation of one school counselor for every 250 students, is the recommendation of the National School Counselors Association. It took until 2019 to take action. In December of 2018, Governor Northam included $36 million in his budget amendments to fund the first year of a three year phase in of the 1:250 ratio. The VEA was delighted to see this investment and we were prepared to fight to make sure the members of the General Assembly included this funding in the final budget and passed the legislation that was required to update the SOQ. Keep in mind, that the SOQs exist in law, so without legislation, they are just BOE recommendations.

Senator Roslyn Dance and Delegate Delores McQuinn carried this important legislation for the Governor. If you followed along on this blog, you know that the Senate bill (SB1406) ultimately passed the House and Senate pretty early after crossover. The Governor signed that bill and it will become law on July 1, 2019. That bill requires the full state investment of $36 million to cover the cost, and the General Assembly leadership realized they weren't ready to fully fund that amount. They were still in session, so they made significant changes to the House version of the bill (HB2053) so that it would fit the dollar amount they were willing to spend on school counselors. That amount was only about $12 million. So basically the General Assembly was only willing to fund 1/3 of the first year of a three-year phase in. To make sure they were safe from the ratios and expense of the Senate bill that passed, the leadership of the money committees included language in the budget that said,

"Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection H of § 22.1-253.13:2 of the Code of Virginia, as amended by the 2019 Session of the General Assembly, to the contrary, each school board shall employ the following full-time equivalent school counselor positions for any school that reports fall membership, according to the type of school and student enrollment: effective with the 2019-2020 school year, in elementary schools, one hour per day per 91 students, one full-time at 455 students, one hour per day additional time per 91 students or major fraction thereof; school counselors in middle schools, one period per 74 students, one full-time at 370 students, one additional period per 74 students or major fraction thereof; school counselors in high schools, one period per 65 students, one full-time at 325 students, one additional period per 65 students or major fraction thereof."

What this budget language does is override any laws that passed and, instead, sets the ratio of school counselors to students at what the General Assembly was willing to spend rather than what the law they passed required, or what our students need.

During the reconvened session on April 3, the Governor offered suggestions on the House version of the bill that would have fixed the mess created by two different bills and bad budget language. His very good recommendations were rejected by the General Assembly. That left the Governor with no option but to veto the House version of the bill that had been amended to require far fewer school counselors for our students.

So where are we now? July 1, 2019, there will be a new law in Virginia that improves the school counselor-to-student ratio and puts us on a real path to the recommendations of the BOE and the School Counselor Association. That is good news. The bad news is that the budget language trumps the good, new law and requires far fewer counselors than our students need. As of July 1, the General Assembly is no longer fully funding the SOQs. We must make sure that the General Assembly does not let this bad language remain in the budget. They must fully fund all of the SOQs, even the newest update. The Governor is committed to fully funding the improved ratios for school counselors, let's make sure before we vote for any member of the General Assembly this November, they are also committed to do the same.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Governor Takes Action on School Counselor Legislation and It's Complicated

So the Governor has taken action on the two school counselor SOQ bills that passed this session and WOW is it complicated. It's a brilliant political move and very savvy. The VEA is very supportive of the recommendations and the maneuver that will make sure that the General Assembly does not use budget language to set staffing standards and that there will actual structural changes in the law that will increase state support for more school counselors in all our schools.

This session the Governor's proposals that he announced in December became a Senate bill carried by Senator Dance, and an identical House bill carried by Delegate McQuinn. In the end, the General Assembly passed the Senate bill (without really realizing that action would require a $36 million investment they weren't prepared to spend). Once the Senate realized the issue, they made all sorts of changes to McQuinn's bill and also includesd budget language that attempted to invalidate Dance's bill. SO the Governor had two bill, enactment clauses that were added to McQuinn's bill, and budget language to consider to get to his goal of improving the staffing ratios for school counselors in the Code which forces the state to fund those new ratios.

The General Assembly will take up the Governor's recommendations next Wednesday during the Reconvened Session.

Since the primary goal is to make sure the SOQ was updated, the simplest way to do that is to just sign the Senate bill, as it passed with the ratios the Governor proposed. The Governor has signed that bill. So, with no action needed during the reconvened session, the Senate bill will become law. Legislators can't mess it up. It also forces them to do something on the House bill since the Senate bill costs $36 million and they only allocated $12. So that bill is the safety net bill.

The second bill to be signed "trumps" the first. So the House bill (McQuinn's) amendment allows the state to maintain the $12 million allocated in the budget but forces them to implement and fund the Governor's proposal in  2020-21.  If they do not agree to the Governor on these amendments, the Rs will be blamed for implementing SOQ ratios through budget language which is a terrible precedent. If they accept the McQuinn amendments, that bill becomes the law and there will be a requirement to fund those ratios in 2020-21. BUT, the Governor did not address the budget language that was added to fund the smaller ratio changes, so that will remain. If they accept the amendments on McQuinn's the budget language, along with the $12 million allocation will remain for the 2019-2020 school year. We would then expect the biennial budget to include the additional $24 million to cover the broader ratios in the bill.

It is a check mate basically since the Senate bill will become the law of the land on July 1 unless they pass McQuinn's bill to trump it. In order to pass McQuinn's bill, they need to accept the Governor's amendments or they put themselves in a really bad spot politically.

It is very, very complicated since there were 2 bill, enactment clauses, and budget language. But this is the cool maneuvering that make my job so much fun.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

We Have A Budget Report and They Will Adjourn Sine Die TODAY

Word got out late Friday night that the conferees had reached an agreement on the budget amendments. It was announced that the documents would be available at 10am today. After refreshing the site about 3,000 times, the documents became available at about 10:40am. We are still going through the details, but there is good news for K-12. Please keep in mind that these are AMENDMENTS to the already adopted 2018-2020 biennial budget. There are no cuts to K-12; everything in the amendments are increases to the adopted budget. There are reductions to the budget amendments proposed by the Governor in December, but, as I have written about in this blog, those reductions are based on the tax policy differences assumed in the Governor's proposal and what actually passed the General Assembly.

Here are some top lines from the budget amendments the House and Senate will adopt today before they adjourn:

  • Increase of $72.7 million to add state support for an additional 2% salary increase effective Sept. 1, two months shy of a full year. A compromise, but closer to the the July 1 date the House proposed than the December 1 date proposed by the Senate. 
  • Funds increase to the at-risk add on. This is a really big win from the pressure The Commonwealth Institute put on legislators.
  • Funds an additional $29.5 million per-pupil allocation from the lottery fund to school divisions as proposed by the Governor. Senate has stripped it, House proposed increasing even higher than Governor proposed, so the compromise was the Governor’s proposal. 
  • Comes up short on school counselors. The legislation from the Governor’s proposal has passed, but the budget amendment overrides the new code by establishing and funding different ratios. This is a terrible precedent. It also makes it true that the General Assembly is NOT fully funding the SOQs (assuming the Governor signs the legislation that passed, which he will as they were HIS bills.). Budget amendments only include an additional $12 million for counselors. The new SOQ needs $36 million. Here is the language included in the budget: That notwithstanding the provisions of § 22.1-253.13:2 of the Code of Virginia, as amended by this act, the ratio of the number of school counselors to the number of students as required by law shall be proportionate to the amount of funding for such school counselors as is included in a general appropriation act passed in 2019 by the General Assembly that becomes law.
  • There is $35 million for school construction. That put a squeeze on all the other spending. The House included $0 and the Senate had $70, so they split the difference, but that limited what they could do in the other areas (mainly counselors).


School Safety- good news

  • Increases funding for School resource officer (SROs) training.
  • Increases funding for training of school based threat assessment teams.
  • Funding for a threat assessment case management tool so that cases aren’t lost in transition between schools 
  • Funding for school safety training for all school personnel. 


So good news given that these are all increases to the K-12 2018-2020 budget. Had there been different tax policy decisions made by the General Assembly, there could be far broader investments. This as a HUGE lost opportunity in my opinion. I am hopeful that the increases in K-12 we saw in the 2018-2020 budget and these new increases represent a change in course that will repair the damage still facing our public school budgets after the recession. There is a very long way to go and there must be a commitment to a sustained, long-term plan to return state investments to pre-recession levels. That will simply fill the hole from the cuts.

From there we need to fund the SOQs to the levels adopted by the Board of Education. Next, there must be a state study of the classroom staffing standards and they need to be revised and fully funded to reflect prevailing practice and student need. There must be an increase to the state funding standard on salaries. That will not come with small buckets of state support given 2-3% at a time over 10 years. It comes through yearly increases, offsets to local spending with state investments, and a change in the mathematical calculation the state uses to determine the cost of salary prevailing practice. The state needs to fund their share of the true cost of teacher salaries. These changes will only come about when pressure is applied and we elect members of the House and Senate who are committed to fixing all of the problems with K-12 funding in Virginia. That needs to be the number one issue of the 2019 elections in VA.

While this short session has felt very long, we did good work for our pubic schools and had really, really good policy outcomes. We were able to kill some really bad bills by building a coalition of legislators from both parties who supported our positions. We have substantial increases to the adopted K-12 budget. We lobbied, marched, and rallied to put pressure on our legislators. We have a long way to go, but this session showed how you make it happen. We cannot watch from the sidelines. We must engage and fight for what our schools and our students need.

Let's get ready for November!





Thursday, February 21, 2019

Long Day on the Floor, ERA, Where Are the Budget Amendments?

Today the Speaker warned House members that they would have along day. He warned that they would be in and out all day as he considered many of the bills where there are differences between the versions passed by the House and the Senate. He wasn't kidding.

Also facing the House this morning was the Resolution submitted by Delegate Hala Ayala to force the House to vote on the Equal Rights Amendment. As you may know, the Senate passed the ERA back on January 15. For most of the session the House Committee that needed to hear the legislation before it could go to the floor, refused to put the bill on the docket. Finally the committee caved to the tremendous public pressure and heard the bill only to kill it on a 4-2 party line vote.

The Democratic House Caucus decided to force the vote by introducing a Resolution to change the rules of House and bring the ERA to the floor for a vote. If you have been following along, the rules change resolution needed to be read five times over five days. That happened and today the vote to change the rules and hear the ERA came to the floor for a vote. The Resolution to hear the ERA failed 50-50, in the House there is no tie break, motions fail. All of the Democrats and Delegate Yancey (who only won his last election when his name was pulled from a bowl) voted to take the ERA to the floor. All of the other Republicans voted to kill the resolution and end the ERA fight this session. The VEA supports the ERA as do 81% of Virginians. The advocates this session did an outstanding job, but the House is still the roadblock. Elections are in November.

We are still waiting to see the final budget amendments. We expect to see them 48 hours before legislators vote, so we expect them at some point tonight as the General Assembly is expected to adjourn on Saturday. As soon as we see them, we will get information out.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Do Your Part- take Action on the Budget

All committee work is complete for this session so we turn all of our attention to the budget. There is no time to waste. Make your voice heard and take action on the VEA requests for the budget amendments and the VEA has an email action alert that makes it easy. Click here to send an email to all 14 budget conferees.

The VEA is asking for the following to be included in the final budget:

1. $87.6 million to increase state support for salaries to a total of 5%. There must be funding for a full year, not for half a year as proposed in the House budget.
2. $35.9 million to increase the number of school counselors funded by the state. This change would structurally change the funding formulas for school counselors and send more state dollars to every locality in Virginia.
3. $35.6 million to increase the At-Risk Add On funding that is directed to those students most in need and to school divisions with high concentrations of poverty.

If you are ready to call the conferees  please ask for exactly what we list above. Here are there numbers in Richmond:

Senate Budget Conferees
· Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (804) 698-7503
·  Emmett W. Hanger, Jr.,  (804) 698-7524
·  Janet D. Howell  (804) 698-7532
·  Dick L. Saslaw  (804) 698-7535
·  Steve D. Newman  (804) 698-7523
·  Frank M. Ruff, Jr.  (804) 698-7515
·  Frank W. Wagner  (804) 698-7507

House Budget Conferees
· Chris Jones (804) 698- 1076
· Steve Landes (804) 698-1025
· Chris Peace (804) 698-1097
· Barry D. Knight (804) 698-1081
· Scott Garrett  (804) 698-1023
· Luke E. Torian (804) 698-1052


· Mark D.Sickles (804) 698-1043

Monday, February 18, 2019

VEA Initiated Teacher Reprimand Bill Passes! It's Headed to the Governor's Desk

This afternoon, House Bill 2325, patroned by Delegate Bob Thomas, crossed the final hurdle to passage. It passed the Senate 40-0 and will go to the Governor's desk for his signature. This is the bill that originated on the floor of VEA Convention last session from the Stafford Education Association. The bill will broaden the authority of the VA Board of Education when they are dealing with a licensed educator who is facing disciplinary procedures. Right now, the Board only has the authority to revoke or suspend a license regardless of the severity of the offense. Last year, the Board asked if they had something less punitive when they were dealing with one specific case. They didn't, so the local education association in Stafford started the process to change the law.

The New Business Item from Convention went to the VEA Legislative Committee where they directed the GR Director to find a patron and work to submit a bill. The SEA had already talked with Delegate Bob Thomas about the bill, and he was ready to go. A bill was drafted and the VEA worked closely with the patron all session to amend the bill to address some legislator's concerns and to keep all of the key voting members up to date with the contents of the bill and to answer any questions. We wanted to be sure we had the votes in every subcommittee and full committee meeting where the bill was headed. We made sure there were no surprises and no voting member of the committees had any questions. That was key to this bill's success. The biggest hurdle was in the House Education Subcommittee meeting back on January 25 where we had to take the bill by for a while to clean it up and amend it to get it through the sub. It was a tense afternoon. In the end, that single "no" vote we had in sub was the only "no" vote the bill received in the House or Senate. Delegate Thomas worked hard on this bill and the VEA  spoke with the key leadership in the Senate to make sure they were good with the bill. So while the vote looked easy, there was nothing easy about this bill. It took lots of work, many conversations, some amending, and then sitting down so it could quickly go through its final full committee last week. Sometimes when a bill is on a roll, it is important to recognize when you don't need to get up again and speak to it. Just let it go on its own merits and on all of the background work we had done.

This is a good bill. Congratulations to Delegate Thomas and to the Stafford Education Association for this one! Well done!

Conferees Start Work on Budget and Final Bills in Committee

The is the last week of session. All bills must be through the committee process by midnight tonight. The final bills the VEA is following were up in committee meeting today, and, since most of them were legislation tied to the budget, they passed out of the money committees. We will have to wait for the conference budget to see what is funded.

The conferees started their work this weekend on the budget. the VEA has an active call to action on the budget. Click here to send an email to all 14 budget conferees. The VEA is asking for the following to be included in the final budget:

1. $87.6 million to increase state support for salaries to a total of 5%. There must be funding for a full year, not for half a year as proposed in the House budget.
2. $35.9 million to increase the number of school counselors funded by the state. This change would structurally change the funding formulas for school counselors and send more state dollars to every locality in Virginia.
3. $35.6 million to increase the At-Risk Add On funding that is directed to those students most in need and to school divisions with high concentrations of poverty.

If you are ready to call the conferees  please ask for exactly what we list above. Here are there numbers in Richmond:

Senate Budget Conferees
· Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (804) 698-7503
·  Emmett W. Hanger, Jr.,  (804) 698-7524
·  Janet D. Howell  (804) 698-7532
·  Dick L. Saslaw  (804) 698-7535
·  Steve D. Newman  (804) 698-7523
·  Frank M. Ruff, Jr.  (804) 698-7515
·  Frank W. Wagner  (804) 698-7507

House Budget Conferees
·         Chris Jones (804) 698- 1076
·         Steve Landes (804) 698-1025
·         Chris Peace (804) 698-1097
·         Barry D. Knight (804) 698-1081
·         Scott Garrett  (804) 698-1023
·         Luke E. Torian (804) 698-1052
·         Mark D.Sickles (804) 698-1043