Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Voucher Alert! Retirement Boost for Some!

The Education Reform Subcommittee of the House Education Committee met this snowy morning at 7:30 am.  First, they took up local alternative paths to standard or verified units of credit.  Krupicka’s HB1592, Habeeb’s HB1491, and Surovell’s HB1684 were all tabled, leaving Subcommittee Chairman Greason’s HB1675 as the vehicle for addressing the issue.  This bill “Requires the Board of Education, in establishing course and credit requirements for a high school diploma, to permit local school divisions to waive (i) the requirement for students to receive 140 clock hours of instruction to earn a standard unit of credit or (ii) the requirement for students to achieve a satisfactory score on a Standards of Learning assessment or Board-approved substitute test to earn a verified unit of credit upon providing the Board with satisfactory proof, based on Board guidelines, that the students for whom such requirements are waived has learned the content and skills included in the relevant Standards of Learning.”

See if you see a pattern here.  Then they took up the issue of A-F grading of schools.  Delegate Davis’s HB1313 and Delegate Orrock’s HB1566 were tabled and Subcommittee Chairman Greason’s HB1672 became the vehicle for addressing the issue.   Although Greason was the sponsor of the A-F bill in 2013, this bill abolishes A-F (a VEA agenda item) and calls on “the Board of Education in consultation with the Standards of Learning Innovation Committee and no later than July 1, 2016, to redesign the School Performance Report Card so that it is more effective in communicating to parents and the public the status and achievements of the public schools and local school divisions in the Commonwealth and submit such design to the Chairmen of the House Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Education and Health for final approval.”

The worst moment of the day was when the committee reported Delegate LaRock’s HB2238, a voucher bill.  This bill sends public dollars to “Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts” which parents can then use to pay private, sectarian or nonsectarian, school tuitions, tutoring, “educational therapies,” online learning programs,  and other educational related expenses.  The disabled (160,000), foster children (5,000), and children of active duty military (75,403) are eligible to participate.  The amount of funding would vary widely – it is “90 percent of the per pupil state funds appropriated for public school purposes and apportioned to the school divisions in which the qualified student resides.”  The bill was brought to Virginia by the Heritage Foundation, based on legislation in FL and AZ, and I am not sure that it anticipates how school funding works in Virginia.  A student in Highland County would have $7,477 deposited in his account, while a student in Goochland would have $2,397 deposited.

In part, I testified that we do not need to be creating a new entitlement in Virginia when we cannot afford to fund existing obligations such as public education.  I also urged the subcommittee to suggest that the bill go the House Appropriations Committee so that the fiscal impact of the bill could be considered.

No motion was made when Delegate LaRock finished his presentation.  I was hoping it would die.  Chairman Greason noted that there was no montion, Delegate LeMunyon moved that the bill be reported, Delegate Dickie Bell seconded the motion and the vote was 3-2 to report.

YEAS--Greason, Bell, Richard P., LeMunyon--3.
NAYS--Leftwich, Bulova--2.

NOT VOTING--Yancey, Tyler--2.
The best legislative action of the day was the reporting of Senator Colgan’s SB1022 by the Senate Finance Committee.  This bill provides for an increase, beginning July 1, 2015, of the monthly retirement allowance payable to any person who retired with at least 15 years of creditable service before January 1, 1990, under the Virginia Retirement System or the State Police Officers' Retirement System.  The increase would be $4 times the number of years of service.  Both VEA and VRTA supported the bill.