Thursday, January 15, 2015

If I had five minutes with my Senator …

… I’d use my time to help advance VEA’s Legislative Agenda, and to advance the cause of public education.  I’d tell him that our schools are suffering from a lack of state funding, and that this year we need to stop the cuts, and to look for ways to enhance state funding in the next biennial budget.  For background, I’d hand him the recent PolitiFact showing that VEA is right when we say state funding has been cut by 16% since 2009.

Then, I would urge him to support Senator Chafin’s teacher salary amendment providing the state share of a 6% salary increase for school employees.  The Commonwealth must take action to attract and retain high-quality school personnel.  Virginia is the 9th wealthiest state, yet our teacher salary ranks 37th.  Our average teacher salary is $7,456 below the national average.  We must do better if our students are to continue to have highly qualified teachers.  State funding is critical to the ability of localities to make salaries of Virginia school employees more competitive.
I’d urge him to vote for Senator Chafin’s SB 866.  Moving to a statewide insurance option for local school divisions could save millions of dollars in the years ahead. These savings could be used to provide needed school funding. The Commonwealth would have much greater leverage in rate negotiations with insurance providers than any one of the 132 individual school divisions.  The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission estimates savings of $44 to $66 million annually.

I’d ask him to vote for Senator Tommy Norment’s SB 1117.  Currently some teaches who are wrongly accused of child abuse are out of the classroom for more than a year awaiting a finding from CPS.  This bill amends the Child Protective Services section of the Code of Virginia to make the CPS reporting deadlines mandatory.

Non-compliance to the limits now in Virginia law causes several problems:

o   Teacher are out of the classroom too long.

o   Local school divisions are paying both the teacher and the substitute.

o   The quality of instruction suffers when the teacher isn’t there.

I’d ask him to support Senator Janet Howell’s SB 905.  The tuition tax credit provisions in the Code of Virginia prescribe insufficient accountability requirements for the “eligible schools,” and don’t provide adequate information to facilitate an accurate comparison of these schools for interested parents.  Requiring these schools to compile the results of “any national norm referenced test” seems wholly inadequate if parents are to make informed choices of schools.  Passing SB 905 fixes this problem.
I’d ask my senator to support a transparent, bipartisan redistricting process.   Four bills are before the Senate to advance this cause, and each one addresses a part of the problem.

I’d ask them to oppose two bills having to do with Charter Schools. 
Senator Obenshain’s SB 1063 allows school divisions to refuse to offer VRS retirement benefits to charter school teachers.  This is not only unfair to these teachers, it will offer an disincentive to teachers who may wish to teach in a charter schools.  This is going to weaken the ability of Charter Schools to attract good teachers.

Senator Obenshain’s SJ 256, a constitutional amendment, transfers the decision of whether or not to have a charter school in your school division from your local school board to the Virginia Board of Education, a board appointed by the Governor.  Let’s leave the charter granting authority closest to the people with local school boards.   The local board best knows the needs of the children in their locality.