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.