Monday, December 17, 2012

McDonnell Budget Amendments

First things first - I don’t think enough can be said regarding the heroism of our fallen colleagues at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown CT.  They brought honor to our profession.  I, for one, am not surprised by their devotion to the children.  Those with like hearts serve all across America.  I mourn for all who died in Newtown.

The Governor presented his budget amendments today. 

Before we get into the details, let me say that we may argue that a 2% raise is far too little for teachers, many of whom have not seen a raise in years.  VEA supports a 4% increase.  We live in the 8th wealthiest state but our teacher salary lags 12.5% behind the national average.  Questioning the amount of the raise is fair.  But, I do not think we should criticize the Governor for the method he employs to give the raise.  He provides the state share of the 2% raise, requiring localities to put up their share in a local match to access the state funding.

This approach has a long history.  Governor Robb discovered that the state is prohibited by the Constitution of Virginia from mandating teacher salary increases.  He sent the money, asking localities to give raises, and localities spent the funds on everything but teacher raises.  Governor Baliles first employed the required local match to raise teacher salaries, and this approach worked.  Using this approach, the locality must certify that they have given the desired raise to qualify for the state funds.  VEA has encouraged this approach since the Baliles era.  When the state supports teacher salary increases this is how it should be done.

Now to the details:

The Governor proposes diverting ½ cent of the 5 cents sales tax from the General Fund to transportation funding.  The General Fund is used to fund core services, such as education, while transportation has traditionally been funded with non-General Fund revenue.  The Governor said that this will amount to $500 million per year by 2018.  Education now receives about 30% of General Fund revenue, so this would be a $150 million annual loss to our schools by 2018.

The Governor alluded to the fact that the last time the state provided funding for a teacher salary increase was the state share of 3% in 2007.  He provides $58.7 million for the state share of a 2% salary increase in the 2014 for all SOQ funded instructional positions.  He provides $15 million of competitive incentive grants for Strategic Compensation (This is not merit pay.).

$277,000 is provided to fund expand utilization of  the effective schoolwide discipline system.

The Governor provides $708,000 for STEM recruitment incentive grants.  Qualifying teachers would get $5000 the first year and $1,000 in each successive year.

He provides $220,000 for a Governor’s Center for Excellence in teaching, residential summer professional development academies for exemplary teachers.

$4.9 million is provided to fund staffing standards for the blind and visually impaired.

$1.14 million is provided for a Reading Specialist in each elementary school scoring below 75% on the 3rd grade reading SOL reading test.

$210,000 is provided for a summer program on entrepreneurship for middle school students

The Governor cut $12,157,638 in funding for cost of competing adjustments for support positions in Northern Virginia.

$178,806 in additional funds is provided to support implementation of the Tuition Tax Credit/Voucher program which passed in the last session.

There is a change for the future funding methodology for school nurses.  This does not look like a good thing, but I am going to have to dig to get the details.

That is a quick-and-dirty overview of the budget actions proposed by the Governor.  I’ve tried to list what looks significant.  Stay tuned, for as the late, great Senator Hunter Andrews used to say, “The Governor proposes, but the General Assembly disposes.”


Friday, December 14, 2012

McDonnell Legislative Agenda: Where We Stand

The Governor held a press event yesterday to announce Part 1 of his “All Students K-12 Legislative Agenda.”  Before the conference, he and members of his staff briefed President Gruber and some VEA staff members on the legislative package.  We were handed the bill and offered a quick overview, but we were not allowed to keep copies.

With a strong cautionary note that “the Devil is in the details,” here is what I was able to ascertain before the bill was retrieved from my gaze.

The bill extends the probationary period for new teachers from 3 to 5 years.

The bill provides $59 million for the state’s share of a 2% salary increase for school employees. 
Localities will have to match with the local share to get the state money.  (The $59 million figure raises questions in my mind, as at the Senate Finance Committee retreat the staff indicated that a 2% increase would cost $75 million.)  The salary increase is contingent upon the passage of the bill.

We were told that direct aid to public education would not be subject to the across the board 4% reductions to state agency budgets.  We were warned that there would be some formula driven cuts (cuts caused by program enrollment/participation reductions).  We were told that there will be a net increase for PreK-12 funding.

References were made to a “Center for Excellence“ for professional development of teachers across the state.  We had suggested that the Governor take a look at what North Carolina is doing in this regard.  It was not clear what funds were being made available for this program.

References were made to funding for STEM and to continuing to examine the idea of the state-wide health insurance plan.

The Governor wants to proclaim 2013 as the “Year of the Teacher.”

The part of the bill that caught my attention addressed teacher dismissal.  The bill changes the definition of incompetence to include individuals who have received one or more unsatisfactory evaluations.  The current grievance procedure is drastically changed.   A hearing officer replaces the current three member panel (one chosen by the administration, one chosen by the grievant, and one neutral). 

The good news, in this regard, is that the Governor recognizes the need for due process in the dismissal procedure.  Our challenge is that the section of the bill which addresses due process will need substantive amendment.  We are now working with the Governor’s office in hopes of improving the bill before it is officially introduced.

Where do we stand?  First, we need to see the bill.  Second, we need to work with the Governor’s office to improve the draft before the session begins.  Finally, once we have an introduced bill in hand, the VEA Legislative Committee will direct our course of action.