Tuesday, February 26, 2013

What About That Salary Increase?

The budget that passed the GA, subject to amendment in the reconvened session on April 3, adds $11.6 million to the $58.5 million in FY14 included in the introduced budget for the state share of a 2 percent salary increase, effective Aug. 1, 2013, for funded SOQ instructional and support positions. A local match based on the composite index is required. School divisions will be allowed to give a 2.0 percent pay increase by Jan. 1, 2014 (equivalent to 6 months of local funding), and will still receive the state's share of a 2 percent increase based on Aug. 1, 2013 (equivalent to 11 months of state funding). The budget language prohibits use of the state funds to implement the "5 for 5" VRS swap approved last session. The state funding contingent on revenue forecast.  Item 139 #16c, Item 139 #10c

Monday, February 25, 2013

Two Bills Increase Teacher Licensure Requirements

Senator Petersen’s SB 1345 requires that “any individual licensed and endorsed to teach (i) middle school civics or economics, or (ii) high school government or history who is seeking renewal of such license to demonstrate knowledge of Virginia history or state and local government by completing a module or professional development course specifically related to Virginia history or state and local government that has a value of five professional development points.”

The story on this bill is amusing.  This requirement was put into effect some years ago.  The Governor’s Commission of Local Mandates recommended that it be eliminated, and it was.  This year’s bill reinstates the requirement.  Here is the link to this training:


I am told that the training and test take between two and three hours to complete.

The second bills relating to teacher licensure is Senator Stuart’s SB 986 and Delegate Dudenhefer’s companion HB2028.  This bill requires that,  Every person seeking initial licensure or renewal of a license shall provide evidence of completion of certification or training in emergency first aid, cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and the use of automated external defibrillators. The certification or training program shall be based on the current national evidence-based emergency cardiovascular care guidelines for cardiopulmonary resuscitation and the use of an automated external defibrillator, such as a program developed by the American Heart Association or the American Red Cross. The Board shall provide a waiver for this requirement for any person with a disability whose disability prohibits such person from completing the certification or training ….”

VEA unsuccessfully argued that this training should be in-service training rather than a licensure requirement.

To take a course, go to www.heart.org/cpr and click on "Find a Course" or call 1-877-AHA-4CPR (272-4277); you can also contact your local hospital or firehouse to see if they have a course.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Sine Die

Unfortunately the Governor's state takeover of underperforming schools program is funded in the budget.  Fortunately, the funding level is $150,000 rather than the $600,000 in the introduced budget.  The scope of the takeover is significantly narrowed by the language in the conference report.

New Language (Budget):

2. Any school that has been denied accreditation for the previous two school years shall be transferred to the Opportunity Educational Institution.

Old Language (SB 1324):

B. Supervision of any school that has been denied accreditation shall be transferred to the Opportunity Educational Institution.

Supervision of any school that has been accredited with warning for three consecutive years may be transferred to the Opportunity Educational Institution following a majority vote by the Board to transfer such school to the Institution.

I am told that only four schools will be taken over under the provisions of the budget language.  Provisions of the appropriations act trump code provisions, so the budget language prevails.

The following language in SB 1324 is particularly troublesome, and one of the reasons we fought so hard in our attempt to defeat both SB 1324 and HB 2096:

§ 22.1-27.4. Staffing.

A. The Institution may employ such staff members as it deems necessary. At the time that the supervision of a school is transferred to the Institution, any teacher who is employed in the school by the local school division of residence may be given consideration for employment in the same or a comparable position by the Institution or its designee. The Institution or its designee shall have ultimate authority to make hiring decisions.

B. Any person employed in a school under the supervision of the Institution may, at the time of transfer, choose to remain in the employ of the local school division of residence, and the school division shall retain, reassign or dismiss such person consistent with the requirements of Article 2 (§ 22.1-293 et seq.) of Chapter 15.

Many consider the state takeover to be unconstitutional, and the courts may well overrule what we were unable to defeat.

Other budget provisions of interest are as follows:

·         $31 million more for public education

·         A JLARC Study of School Restructuring Options for Underperforming Schools

·         A $708,000 restoration of funds for the Teacher Scholarship Load Program, which increases the grants from $3,720 to $10,000.

·         Partial restoration of the Cost of Competing Adjustment for support personnel in NOVA.  The is still a 70% cut from the 2012 funding level

·         $11.6 million to extend the 2% salary increase to support personnel - all raises are for 11months starting on 8/1/13.  A local match must be certified by 1/1/14. 

·         Funding for the feasibility study for statewide health insurance 

The most amusing budget provision reflects a squabble between the executive and judicial branches over parking places.  Check out the language for a laugh.

Click here to see the House Appropriation Committee's overview of the budget highlights.

Click here to see the Senate Finance Committee’s overview of the budget highlights.

The conference committee report on HB 1999/SB 1207, the grade-the-school (A-F), passed the Senate on 22-17 identical votes.  The House approved it 65-31 and 66-33 respectively.

Sine Die!  It’s over until the veto session.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Strong Offense, Look for Posting Tomorrow

This is the point of the session when there are no committee meetings, but the floor sessions last for hours and are interrupted by frequent recesses.  Conference committees meet in every corner to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of numerous bills.  Time move slowly, and staying awake can become a challenge.

The big news of the day was the House passage of the transportation plan – HB 2313.  The Senate wants strong assurances from the Governor that he will support Medicaid expansion prior to passing the transportation plan.  They adjourned early this evening when those assurances were not offered.  They go back into session at 10 am on Saturday.

The budget conferees have not finished their work, which makes it likely that the session will be extended.

I will post an update tomorrow.

The frequent breaks give time to reflect upon the session.  In this tough session, when so much of our effort was defensive in nature - VEA played some exceptional offense.  I can't remember a session when we successfully advanced as many bills.  In one area of note, we lost the bills, but won the battle in the budget.

I'll discuss defense another day, but let's talk offense.

Virginia's underfunding of public education is a continuing crisis for our next generation.  Senator Saslaw's SJ 328, a VEA initiated resolution calling on the Joint Legislative Audit  and Review Commission (JLARC), may turn the education funding debate in our favor, as was the case with the last JLARC study of the SOQ in 2002.  Gaining passage of this study resolution not only reflects years of work, but it reflects the dogged willingness and determination of VEA.  We fought for this measure when all other education advocates saw its passage as unachievable.

For many years, VEA has been working to gain a statewide health insurance option for Virginia's educators.  Both Delegate Yost's HB 1356 and Senator Barker's SB 1367  failed to pass, but funds to do the feasibility study needed to achieve this goal are in both the House and Senate budgets, assuring that this study will be done prior to the next session.  This progress on this issue is the result of years of VEA work.

The passage of Delegate Jennifer McClellan's HB 1871, the VEA initiated anti-bullying bill, will have a chilling effect on all forms of bullying in our schools.

We have seen the horrible effect of teacher evaluation information being provided to newspapers in other states.  We have all read of thesuicide of 5th grade Los Angeles teacher Rigoberto Ruelas following the publication of his professional growth indicator in the LA Times.  That won't happen in Virginia thanks to the passage of Delegate LeMunyon's HB 1889, a VEA initiated measure which shields teacher growth indicators from Freedom of Information Act requests.

Although we came into the session fighting for a 4% salary increase for school employees, gaining 2% and having the increase provided for all school employees, not just teachers, is significant.  This is the first salary funding provided by the state since 2007.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Today's Victory Meaningless? Perhaps not!

HB 2096, the state takeover of underperforming schools bill, was defeated on a 19-21 vote today.  All twenty Democrats and Republican Harry Blevins were with us.  As the Senate companion, SB 1324, is already on the Governor's desk, isn't the failure of HB 2096 meaningless?

Perhaps not!

SB 1324 was amended to add "the clause." 

"That the provisions of this act shall not become effective unless an appropriation of general funds effectuating the purposes of this act is included in a general appropriation act passed by the 2013 Session of the General Assembly, which becomes law."

Even some of the Republicans who voted for the bills have little stomach for an unconstitutional state takeover of public schools.  Might today's Senate defeat of the House bill embolden the Senate budget conferees to resist the desire of the House to provide the $600,000 needed to fund the Opportunity Educational Institution (OEI)?

Remember, the Senate budget bill includes a budget amendment directing the Joint Legislative an Review Commission to "study options for the restructuring of lowest performing schools and districts."  The Senate budget does not include funding for OEI: the House budget does.

This will obviously be an issue taken up by the budget conferees, and Senators Stosch, Colgan, Howell, Norment, Hanger and Watkins and Delegates Putney, K. Cox, Sherwood, Landes, Jones and Joannou will, as George Bush used to say, be the deciders.  The Senate opposes the appropriation, and Delegates Jones and Landes opposed the bill.  I haven't heard note one from the fat lady. 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Busy Day Dominated By Transportation Compromise

The Senate rejected the House amendments to HB 1999, and requested a committee of conference.  This is the grade-the-school A-F bill.

 HB 2096, the takeover of underperforming schools bill, went by for the day in the Senate.

The big news of the day was the conference report on HB 2313, the transportation bill.  I am going to restrict coverage to the narrow issue of the impact of the conference report on the General Fund (GF).  Thirty percent of the General Fund now goes to public education, so any "take" from the GF for transportation is of great concern.

What is the impact on the GF?  The answer is complex, as the bill giveth, and the bill taketh away. 

The take from the GF over 5 years (2014 to 2018) is 699.1 million.  About $209.2 million of this would go to public education.

The bill dedicates an additional 1/8th of the existing general sales tax for education.  This equals $578.3 million over 5 years.

If the Marketplace Equity Act (MEA) passes on the Federal level, an additional $344.5 million is earmarked for public education.  My understanding is that this is a huge IF.

If the MEA does not pass shortly, public education loses out on $59.3 million in 2014 and $67.3 million in 2015.

If MEA does not pass by January 1, 2015, the gas tax will be raised and the GF diversion to transportation is reduced to $40 to $70 million.
It is going to be interesting to see if this bill, which does increase taxes, will pass the House.  I suspect that it will pass the Senate.  The bill will raise $880 million a year for transportation when fully implemented in 2018.

The Senate took of SB 1374, Senator Alexander's constitutional alternative to SB 1324, which addresses underperforming schools, passed the Senate on a 32-7 vote.

The House passed SB 1324, the state takeover bill, 64-34, but remember from yesterday’s post, the Senate put “the clause” on the bill.  If it is not funded in the final budget, it will not go into effect.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

OEI - It ain't over 'till it's over.

I hate to inform you that the Senate rejected Delegate Marshall’s HJR 590, which would have studied the feasibility of Virginia creating a monetary unit based on a metallic standard.  Metallic standard – no wooden nickels in the Commonwealth!  The Senate killed this measure on a voice vote, denying us knowledge of who the nuttiest of the nuts who would have voted for this are.

On a more serious note – the bathrooms in the GA Building are still not working.  Can you offer any colorful metaphors?

The budget and transportation conferees are having difficulty in reaching agreement (The plumbing is not the only problem.), so the deadline for the work of both conference committees has been extended from tonight until tomorrow night. 

House Education Committee action engendered a bit of press coverage in this morning’s Virginian-Pilot.  As was reported yesterday, the committee refused to set the goal of offering a nationally competitive salary to Virginia’s teachers.

The Roanoke Times ran an excellent piece on the Governor’s plan to takeover underperforming schools.  This is a must read!

The Senate accepted the House amendments to SB 1185, so the Strategic Compensation bill is on its way to the Governor's desk.  VEA supported this bill as an acceptable alternative to merit pay.

The Senate rejected the House amendments to SB 1207, the grade-the-schools bill, so that bill now heads to a committee of conference.  This House rejected the Senate amendments to HB 1999, the grade-the-school bill, so that bill, too, heads to conference.

The Senate accepted the House amendments to SJR 328, the study resolution calling for a Joint Legislative and Audit Review Commission study of the Standards of Quality, so that measure, which was initiated by VEA and sponsored by Senator Saslaw, now goes to the Governor's desk.  Should the Governor sign the resolution, we will have achieved a significant victory in this session.

Yet again, the Senate passed by Delegate Habeeb's HB 2096, the Governor's bill to takeover underperforming schools.  By our count, the bill would have failed had the vote been taken today.  The House passed the companion bill, SB 1324, to third reading, and the final vote in that chamber may be on tomorrow.  These bills seem to be developing a serious fever.  Rumor has it that a floor amendment is being developed to make it so that the local revenues taken by the state from the localities will be used in the locality of origin.  Rumor has it too, that the Auditor of Public Accounts has indicated that insufficient oversight of the Opportunity Educational Institution is prescribed in the bills.

Even if both of these takeover bills pass, the final work may well be with the budget conferees, as the Senate amended both bill by attaching "the clause, " which reads, "That the provisions of this act shall not become effective unless an appropriation effectuating the purposes of this act is included in a general appropriation act passed during the 2013 Regular or Special Session of the General Assembly that becomes law." So, if the money isn't in the budget to enact the bills, they will not go into effect. Action on this issue is far from over!



Monday, February 18, 2013

No Holiday at the GA

It was quite a day at the old GA.  I’ll take things in order.
SB 1156, Senator George Barker’s bill to establish as a goal compensating teachers “at a rate that is competitive with the national average teacher salary in order to attract and keep highly qualified teachers” was tabled on a voice vote by the House Education Committee.

HB 1871, the VEA initiated anti-bullying bill sponsored by Delegate Jennifer McClellan, gained final passage in the Senate and is heading to the Governor’s desk.
This is the third VEA initiated bill to gain final passage!

Delegate Greason’s grade the school bill, HB 1999, also gained final passage despite our best efforts to stop it.  Senator Stanley’s companion bill, SB 1207, sailed through the House on a vote 56-43.  The vote was interesting – opposition and support were bipartisan.  Does anyone appreciate the irony of the Governor and General assembly slapping grades on schools?  How would you grade them?
The Senate delayed the final vote on Delegate Habeeb’s HB2096, the state takeover of underperforming schools bill.

In a major victory for the education community, Habeeb’s HJR693, the constitutional amendment to allow the state takeover of over 100 schools was recommitted to the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, a committee not scheduled to meet again this session.  The recommitment, apparently, was a move to spare the Governor an embarrassing vote.
There is more to do on the state takeover issue – see tomorrow’s post for an update.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Bully Bill Advances/State Takeover Vote Delayed

Two things of note occurred on this busy day at the General Assembly.  First, Delegate McClellan’s anti- bullying bill, HB 1871, which was initiated by VEA, was on second reading today in the Senate, and will be on the third and final reading on Monday.

The second item is that the final Senate vote on HJR 693 was delayed.  Two constitutional amendments, right-to-work and secret-ballot, failed on 18-22 votes.  Twenty Democrats and two Republicans (Blevins and Watkins) voted NAY.  Much of the debate centered on how important it is not to junk up the constitution by amending it to reflect every political whim.

Then it was time to take up the state takeover of public schools constitutional amendment (HJR 693), and Senator McDougle asked that it go by for the day.  Presumably, the final vote will be on Monday.

The Senate amended the provisions of the amendment to include unaccredited schools and all schools accredited with warning.  Check this chart to see if your school would be subject to state takeover if this amendment became part of the Constitution of Virginia.

It should be noted that the number of schools will likely increase as the school pass rates (AMOs) increase subject to Virginia’s waiver to NCLB.
Please call your Senator this weekend urging opposition to HJR 693.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Government not the only Dysfunction at the General Assembly Building

It was quite a day at the General Assembly Building.  The legislative assistants always go all out to offer candy and decorate for Valentine’s Day each year.  But, despite all the holiday sweetness, the lasting impression of the day was inoperative bathrooms because of the backed-up sewer system in the old asbestos laden building that is our state’s center of power.  There were many comments attributing the problem to just what so many of our elected officials are full of.  How sweet it isn’t!

Delegate Jennifer McClellan’s HB 1871, VEA’s anti-bullying bill, reported from the Senate Education and Health Committee on a 12-3 vote.  This bill should be heard in full committee at a time to be determined. 

This has been a rough year for Tim Tebow.  Recent headlines read, “Tebow’s future in the NFL uncertain.”  One thing that is for certain is that his bill, HB 1442, failed to report on a 7-8 bipartisan vote. 

George Barker’s SB 1156, which makes offering a nationally competitive salary to Virginia’s teachers a goal of the Commonwealth, reported from the Teacher and Administrative Action subcommittee of the House Education Committee this evening on a 5-3 vote.  This bill will be considered by the full House Education Committee on Monday.

All eyes will be on the Senate floor tomorrow when they consider HJ 693, a constitutional amendment creating a statewide school division to take over under performing schools.  If you have not written your Senator urging opposition to this amendment, which is described on yesterday’s post, please click here to do so.

Happy Valentine’s Day!!!! 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Jefferson is Rolling Over in His Grave

There are a number of measures before the General Assembly this session to allow state takeover of underperforming schools.  In earlier posts, you have seen reference to HB 2096 and SB 1324.  VEA has joined other opponents of these bills is saying that they violate Article VIII, Section 7 of the Constitution of Virginia:

The supervision of schools in each school division shall be vested in a school board, to be composed of members selected in the manner, for the term, possessing the qualifications, and to the number provided by law.

What is most interesting is that the same individuals who tell us that the takeover bills are constitutional, have a constitutional amendment allowing for state takeover of public schools before the General Assembly.  Trust me when I say that this is an effort to bring in for-profit charter school corporations to run our schools.  That is precisely what has happened in Louisiana and other states which have taken this approach.

The most recent charter school research reveals that, “Up to this point, the majority of high-quality research studies on charter effects in the U.S. have tended to show no meaningful impact—positive or negative—on student achievement.”   - National Education Policy Center

Virginia’s schools continue to perform at a very high level, 4th in the nation in the recent Quality Counts report.

Despite all this, the current administration is hell-bent on taking over Virginia’s public schools and turning them into charter schools, as was done in post-Katrina Louisiana.  The current efforts want to duplicate Louisiana’s Recovery Schools District (RSD), calling Virginia’s equivalent the Opportunity Educational Institution (OEI).

What is the track record of the RSD?  This entity was created in 2003 for the purpose of turning around underperforming schools.  There are currently 60 schools in the RSD.  They give letter grades to schools in Louisiana.  The turnaround effort was a total failure in seven of the schools, so they are putting them under new governance.  Twenty-nine of the schools are still failing.  Sixteen of them were graded D, four C, four B and none received an A.  Not so hot!

So now we are going to not only adopt this plan in Virginia, HJ 693 would have us put this plan in the Constitution of Virginia.  Jefferson, a strong believer in public education, is turning over in his grave.  This Constitutional Amendment will be before the full Senate tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

3 VEA Bills Advance, One Stinker Killed!

Our partners at the Alliance for Virginia’s Children have prepared a message asking budget conferees not to divert General Fund revenues from schools and other core services to transportation.  Please click here to send this message.

Christina Nuchols wrote an excellent piece on school funding, a real must read.  Click here to read it.  This is one you should pass around.

Monday was a great day for VEA!  HB 1889, the bill to shield teacher professional growth indicators carried by Delegate Jim LeMunyon gained final passage in the Senate and is on the way to the Governor’s desk.  If you are unsure of why this is important, read this.

Delegate Jennifer McClellan’s HB 1871 reported from the Public Education Subcommittee of the Senate Education and Health Committee on a 4-2 vote.

Yays:  Blevins, Newman, Howell and Locke

Nays: Carrico and Black

This bill will be in full committee on Thursday.

Thanks to you, SB 934, the bill to allow unlicensed teachers to teach in charter schools and to deny charter school teachers VRS retirement, was tabled in the House Appropriations Committee Subcommittee on Compensation and Retirement.

This afternoon in House Rules, Senator Saslaw’s, SJR 328, in amended form, reported from House Rules.  This measure calls for a study of school fungind in Virginia.  Another item on VEA’s agenda advances!
This study resolution now goes to the full House.



Monday, February 11, 2013

No Panacea in Louisiana Model; Take Action Now

The plot thickens in regard to Delegate Habeeb’s HB 2096 and Senator McDougle’s SB 1324. These are the two bills that adopt Louisiana’s post-Katrina strategy for state takeover of underperforming schools. We have been told by former Secretary of Education Jim Dyke, and others, that they went to New Orleans to find out how to fix Virginia’s schools. That would be funny if these guys weren’t serious. Virginia’s schools are the 4th best in the nation. It would make sense to go to Maryland, Massachusetts or New York, states that rank above Virginia. Instead, they went to New Orleans, which is the education trouble-spot in 15th ranked Louisiana. AND did I mention that Mr. Dyke lobbies for Edison, a corporation that stands to profit if these bills pass?

It seems that the Virginia delegation to New Orleans was snowed. Should the bills pass in Virginia, we’ll have Opportunity Education Institutions (OEI). In Louisiana they are called Recovery School Districts (RSD). Well guess what: Despite buckets full of post-Katrina dollars—dollars we won’t have in Virginia—the Recovery School District is failing. Check out this chart.

As Mary Jo Fields of the Virginia Municipal League points out, “This district has been under operation since 2003 and was designed to take over failing schools, but 45 of 60 are still failing. No A's and only 8 B's & C's.”

What’s the impact of RSD on real people? Read this article to see.

I'll close by paraphrasing Dr. David L. Kirp, of the University of California, who has just written an excellent op-ed published in the New York Times about the hard work of turning schools around. Officials flock to New Orleans, eager for a quick fix. But they’re on a fool’s errand. If you really care about turning the underperforming schools in Virginia around, these bills are not the answer. But, if you care about corporate balance sheets, this is the ticket.

Take Action Now!

  • Please click here to send a message to your Delegate urging him/her to vote against SB 934 and SB 1324.
  • Please click here to send a message to your Senator urging him/her to vote against HB 2096.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Please Send a Message to Your Delegate and Senator Now!

In yesterday's posting, I said, "Tomorrow, I'll ask you to join a last ditch effort to fight this agenda."  If you don't know what I am writing about, please read yesterday's report.

Please click here to send a message to your Delgate urging him/her to vote against SB 934 and SB 1324.

Please click here to send a message to your Senator urging him/her to vote against HB 2096.

The best news from the Session this week was the Senate's approval of Medicaid expansion.  If the Senate prevails 30,000 high paying health care jobs will be created, 300,000 uninsured Virginians will be covered, and your federal tax dollars will come back to Virginia.  If we don't take Virginia's $9.2 billion it goes to other states.  The increased Virginia payroll will generate more dollars for our schools. 

Thursday, February 7, 2013

One Victory/Dots Connected

The Senate Education and Health Committee reported Delegate LeMunyon's HB 1889 on a 14-1 vote.

YEAS--Martin, Saslaw, Lucas, Howell, Newman, Blevins, Locke, Barker, Northam, Miller, Smith, McWaters, Black, Carrico--14.


This is a VEA initiated bill to shield teacher Professional Growth Indicators from Freedom of Information Act requests.  This bill now heads to the full Senate.  Thanks Delegate LeMunyon!

I'm not sure who first said, "Just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you," but the sentiment certainly applies to how teachers should feel as they connect the dots this session.

First, we see the strong headwind behind Senator Obenshain's SB 934.  This bill allows charter schools teachers to be denied membership in the Virginia Retirement System, and for charter school teachers to be unlicensed.

Second, we see Delegate Habeeb's HB 2096 and Senator McDougle's SB 1324.  These bills allow for the state takeover of underperforming schools.  Currently, the number of schools involved is small, but as the state continues to make the SOL tests more rigorous, and as the scores required for accreditation continue to rise, one can reasonably assume that this number will grow.  The board that governs the newly created "Opportunity Educational Institution" will be appointed by the governor.  This institution will presumably contract with corporate entities such as Edison to convert these underperforming schools to charters.

The teachers in the schools which are taken over can seek a transfer or apply to teach in the charter school.  No transfer is guaranteed, and charter employment may not offer VRS and other benefits associated with public school employment.  An unintended consequence of this policy will be the reluctance of prospective teachers to take jobs in struggling schools - there would be no job security.

HB 2096 passed the House on a 66-34 vote.  The two Senate bills passed on 21-20 votes, with all Democrats voting against, all Republicans voting for, and Lt. Gov. Bolling breaking the tie.

Time will tell, but it appears to me what we are seeing may well be the beginning of a long-term degradation of one of the best public school systems in the nation.  Virginia's schools will resemble the schools in Louisiana, where these ideas came from, as these programs are implemented.

Tomorrow, I'll ask you to join a last ditch effort to fight this agenda.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Thank You Mr. Speaker

Today was a day of history at the General Assembly.  Those of you who have been carefully following the session know that after the House passed HB 259, which made technical adjustments to House district boundaries, the Senate amended the bill by adding a full-blown Senate redistricting.  Senator John Watkins offered the Senate amendments on the day of the Presidential Inauguration, when civil rights hero Senator Henry Marsh was attending the inauguration.  Marsh’s absence reduced the number of Democratic Senator by 1, and the Republican plan passed on a 20-19 vote.

The move on Watkin’s part was viewed as a “nuclear option,” and it raised partisan tensions from red to white hot.  The Senate substitute for HB 259 was placed on the House Calendar on January 22, and until today, House Consideration was repeatedly delayed.

The bill was widely viewed as unconstitutional.  The Constitution of Virginia says, “The General Assembly shall reapportion the Commonwealth into electoral districts in accordance with this section in the year 2011 and every ten years thereafter.”  Had the bill passed, precious state resources would have been wasted defending the state in court.

The bill was viewed as the dawn of a wickedly political era in Virginia politics, when redistricting would become routine and would follow every change in power in the General Assembly.

Some speculated that the Speaker of the House, Delegate William J. Howell of Stafford and Fredericksburg, may rule the measure out of order based on the single purpose rule, our Constitution says, “No law shall embrace more than one object, which shall be expressed in its title.”  Others speculated that he would rule on the germaneness of the amendment.  The latter proved true.

Speaker Howell ruled that the Senate amendment to HB 259 was not germane.  A narrow bill was amended to make it much broader.  The House bill made relatively minor technical amendments, but the Senate amendments were much broader.

Speaker Howell said, “for eleven years I have ruled how germaneness should be interpreted.  In keeping with the integrity of the House and the institution of the office of the Speaker, I rule the Senate amendments not germane.”

With his ruling, Speaker Howell put the integrity of the General Assembly before political gain, and in doing so proved himself a statesman.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Crossover Deadline Made for Busy Day

SB 1207, the grade-the-school bill, passed the Senate on a 21-20 vote, with Lt. Governor Bolling breaking the tie.  As was related yesterday, the Senate bill was amended and no longer conforms with the House bill - these bills will go to a committee of conference.

On a 21-18 vote the Senate passed SB 934, Senator Obenshain's bill to allow charter schools the options of (1) employing unlicensed teachers and (2) not providing VRS retirement benefits.

Three measures advancing the Governor's Opportunity Educational Institution (OEI) were considered by the House and Senate today - HB 2096 (passed 66-34), SB 1324 (passed 21-20 with a tie breaking vote from Lt. Gov. Bolling) and  SJR 327 (by for the day).

The concept comes to us from Louisiana, where, with the assistance of post-Katrina federal funding, the state took over underperforming schools.  In Louisiana they call the program Recovery School Districts.

In summary, the way the program works is that schools identified as "Priority Schools" based on state and federal accountability data are taken over by the state and run by a board appointed by the governor. These schools become part of a new statewide school division.  The governor also appoints the executive director of the OEI.  This board contracts with corporations to run the schools.  Federal, state and local funding is provided to the board.  The localities have only nonvoting ex-officio representation on the board, despite the fact that they not only must provide local funding, they must also provide needed maintenance and repair of the school.    

Teachers in the school at the time of the take-over can apply to work for the OEI as a new employee or attempt transfer to another school.

One of the arguments against OEI is that the measures are unconstitutional.  Proponents of HB 2051 and SB 1324 vehemently deny the constitutional problem.  Ironically, the proponents support SJR 328, a constitutional amendment which would allow OEI. 

The final fate of this legislation may be determined by the Senate Finance Committee and the budget conference committee.  The Senate amended SB1234 by adding "the clause”:   "That the provisions of this act shall not become effective unless an appropriation of general funds effectuating the purposes of this act is included in a general appropriation act passed by the 2013 Session of the General Assembly, which becomes law."  The budget language in the Senate asks JLARC to study the issue and make recommendations prior to the next session.

Senator Saslaw's SJR 328, a VEA initiated resolution calling on JLARC to determine "if adequate state support is being provided to the Commonwealth's public schools and if not, how state support may be increased and used more efficiently" gained final passage in the Senate on voice vote.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Bully Bill Passes House/Grade the School Amended in the Senate

As we approach tomorrow's crossover deadline the calendars in each chamber are thick.  Many bills are up for consideration.

In the House, VEA's anti-bullying bill, sponsored by Delegate McClellan, gained final passage on a strong 93-6 vote.

The Governor's grade-the-schools bill passed the House (55-40), but was amended to a form more to our liking in the Senate.  Significantly, the amendments offered by Senator Barker postponed implementation of the bill "until student growth factors are included in determination of grades."  Prior to amendment, the bill would have assigned grades next year based on current state and federal accountability measures and then switched to the student growth factors in the next year.  Reasonable legislators questioned the wisdom of grading one way and then switching - correctly assessing that this would cause confusion.  As the House and Senate bills will vary, it appears that these bills will be heading to a committee of conference.  Please look for more on this later.

Bills to require CPR training of all teachers for licensure and re-licensure passed in both chambers.  VEA had asked that this training be offered as in-service and not associated with licensure.

Tomorrow, each chamber must complete work on its own bills prior to midnight.  Then bills cross to the other chamber.

It is appearing that this session may well last beyond the scheduled date of February 23, as there is a standoff in the Senate over the issues of Medicare expansion and the diversion of General Fund dollars to pay for transportation.  The Democrats want the expansion as it will insure as many as 420,000 Virginians who are currently uninsured including 33,000 veterans, it will create 30,000 jobs, and if Virginia doesn’t take the $2 billion in federal revenue it will be shared by the other states.  If the budget does not include Medicare expansion it appears that all 20 Democrats will vote against the bill, and it won’t pass.

The other contentious budget issue is the diversion of General Fund revenues, 30% of which goes to schools, to pay for transportation.  This, too, appears to be a deal breaker for Senate Democrats.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Bleeding is Over/Very Modest Increases

The bleeding is over.  For the first time since the recession we are seeing very modest gains for elementary and secondary education.

In both the House and Senate, for the first time since 2007, incentive funds are proposed to raise teacher salaries by 2%.  It is very good news that funds are also proposed to raise the salaries for support personnel in our schools.  The underlying good news is the recognition that funding our schools is a state/local partnership.

While it is good that there are funds for the state share of a 2% match for school employees, one wonders why they got 1% less than everyone else.

We are thrilled to see the commitment from both House and Senate to an actuarial study of the state-wide health insurance option for local school divisions and local governments.  Funds for this have been included in past Senate budgets, but this is the first time we have seen a commitment from the House to move forward on this important policy decision, which promises to reduce the cost of health insurance for employees, localities, and the state.

The incentive grant funding ($30.5 million over 5 years) for school security is a meaningful reaction on the part of the House for the shared concerns we all have following the Sandy Hook tragedy.

We welcome the partial restoration, 9.65% in the Senate ($12.6 million) and 4.9% in the House ($6.1 million), of the Cost of Competing Adjustment for support personnel, and hope that the Senate position on this issue will prevail in conference.

We regret that both budgets divert General Fund revenue to transportation, and share the minority view in the Senate that Virginia should participate in Medicare expansion.

This is a broad-stroke, first-blush reaction.  Anticipate detailed analysis in the near future.

Friday, February 1, 2013

JLARC SOQ Study Reported from Senate Rules!

In an action which may have great significance for the future of education in Virginia, the Senate Rules Committee unanimously reported SJ 328 which directs the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to "determine if adequate state support is being provided to the Commonwealth's public schools and if not, how state support may be increased and used more efficiently."  Senator Dick Saslaw sponsored this measure, which Senator John Watkins called "The most critical study called for this session."

In another VEA victory, Delegate Lingamfelter's HJ 684, a pro charter school Constitutional amendment which would have allowed the Board of Education to establish charter schools within local school divisions without the approval of the local school board,  failed to report on a tie vote in the House Committee on Privileges and Elections.

YEAS--Cole, Putney, Ingram, Jones, Cosgrove, O'Bannon, Landes, Hugo, Cox, J.A., Ramadan, Ransone--11.

NAYS--Albo, Miller, O'Quinn, Yost, Scott, J.M., Brink, Joannou, Sickles, Howell, A.T., Krupicka, Hester--11.

Delegate McClellan's HB 1871, the anti-bullying bill, passed the house on second reading.  The final house vote may be Monday.

Both the grade-the-school bill, HB 1999, and the CPR bill, HB2028, passed to third reading.  Final House vote should be on Monday.

Please look for a Sunday posting following the release of the House and Senate budget bills.