Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Games Continue

SB 5003 passed the Senate today on a 22-15 vote, and was communicated to the House.  The House referred it to the Appropriations Committee, but did not schedule a meeting of the committee.
The House budget bill, HB 5002, lies dormant in the Senate Finance Committee.

Both chambers adjourned with no future sessions scheduled.  The Senate was told to be on 48 hour notice, and the House was told that they would next meet on the call of the Speaker.
The games continue, and there is no sign of progress on the budget.

What a mess!






Monday, April 7, 2014

No More Games

The Senate Finance Committee reported SB 5003, which includes a number of the amendments offered by Governor McAuliffe in his proposed budget.

If you remember, VEA sought state funding for a 6% salary increase this year, and Senator Puckett and Delegate Chafin carried our amendments.  Unfortunately, neither the Senate nor the House included any salary funding for public school employees in their respective budget bills.  The House offered a 1% increase beginning on July 1, 2015 in conference,  as the regular session ended, but the conferees could not agree on a budget.

When Governor McAuliffe introduced his budget bill, it included 2% for teachers and support personnel and the statewide health insurance option, but this bill was killed by the House Appropriations Committee.

Today the Senate Finance Committee reported its own budget bill (SB 5003).  The Senate included VEA’s top two priorities in their substitute, the 2% salary increase beginning on April 1, 2015, and the local school board option to participate in the state health plan.

The Senate bill includes Marketplace Virginia, which will close the health insurance coverage gap and provide health insurance coverage to hundreds of thousands of Virginian’s.
This bill reported on a strong bipartisan 11-3 vote.
The Senate will meet at 11 tomorrow, followed by a meeting of the House at 4.  One never knows for sure, but it is expected that the Senate will pass SB 5003, which will then be communicated to the House.

If the bill goes to conference, the difference between the ensuing conference and where things stood at the regular session’s end is that both chambers will have teacher and support salary funding on the table (1% House/2%Senate), and the Senate will have the statewide health insurance option on the table.  Thanks to your hard work, we are in a better position than we were when the regular session ended in a budget impasse.

Let’s hope the House will request a committee of conference tomorrow and end the games.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

President Gruber and Local Presidents Appear Before the Senate Finance Committee

On April 1, VEA President Meg Gruber was joined by Charlotte Hayer (Richmond), Kimberly Adams (Fairfax), and Don Wilm (Chesterfield) at the Senate Finance Committee to support Governor McAuliffe's budget proposal.  I think you will find Meg's testimony most informative:

Chairman Colgan, Chairman Stosch, committee members, ladies and gentlemen – I am Meg Gruber, President of the Virginia Education Association. I represent teachers and support personnel in all 132 school divisions across Virginia.

I speak in support of SB 5003 and the Governor’s accompanying  amendments, which will provide needed additional funds to public education. Our state per-pupil support for public education ranks 38th, our teacher salary ranks 37th, even though we are the 9th wealthiest state in the nation.

Virginians support better funding for our public schools. This year’s Commonwealth Education Poll revealed that “65% of Virginians say schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs,” and “75% say that the amount of funding affects quality a great deal.” The poll also found that “Virginians are willing to pay more in taxes to support school funding levels.”

As you know, your colleagues in the more numerous legislative body do not agree with Virginians in this regard—and that brings me to the issue at hand. As Joe Flores clearly revealed to you at your November retreat, Medicaid expansion offers a significant opportunity to take pressure off the General Fund by providing funding for indigent care, and the medical care of Department of Corrections inmates, for example. This use of federal funding, with the federal taxpayer dollars paid by Virginians, will free up General Fund dollars for our schools, and this is precisely what we see in Governor McAuliffe’s budget proposal.

As you fulfill your Constitutional obligation to “ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained” there is no more significant variable under your control than our Commonwealth’s ability to attract and retain teachers of high quality. Budget Amendment 78, Item 467 makes a step in the right direction in this regard, and it puts public school employees on equal footing with other employee groups.

For years, VEA has sought the option of participation in the state employee health plan for school divisions. JLARC has estimated that this will save between $44 and $64 million dollars annually. We thank this committee for securing funds for the feasibility study, which was done in preparation for the 2014 session. Senator Norment helped us with a study of this issue in 2007. Amendment 3, Item 81 jump starts this effort, and provides this option to school divisions beginning on July 1, 2015.

We share this committee’s commitment to addressing the needs of students in the underperforming schools in Virginia. Amendment 15, Item 135 increases funding for the extended school year grant program, a wise investment.

Investment in Pre-K Education and in Drop-Out Prevention, too, are wise investments of education funding.  Both will increase our students’ future prospects. Amendment 25, Item 136 provides hold harmless funding for the Virginia Preschool Initiative, and Amendment 16, Item 135 increases funding for one of Virginia’s most successful and accountable dropout prevention programs, Jobs for Virginia Graduates. 

I have highlighted just a few of Governor McAulliffe’s amendments, which are reflective of the leadership our Governor has shown in offering his plan to break the budget impasse that serves us so poorly. This budget invests $150 million dollars more in public education than did Senate Bill 30 in the regular session.

From my perspective, SB 5003, which substantially increases Virginia’s investment in public education, and which substantially elevates the quality of healthcare to our citizens most in need, is worthy of your support.