Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Obenshain's War on Teachers

Senator Obenshain’s SB 737, to deny employees of certain organizations the ability to obtain paid leave for professional activities and to make the employers who grant such leave felons, is a declaration of war on Virginia’s teachers and on their primary advocacy group, the Virginia Education Association.  Although police, firefighters, governmental employees,  and social workers are also encompassed by this bill, teachers are somewhat unique.

The practical impact of the bill is that teachers will not be able to take paid leave to attend an activity of the Virginia Education Association.  Those activities include representing their colleagues at a compensation committee meeting, attending an instructional conference, serving as a VEA convention delegate, or even coming to the Capitol on Lobby Day.

And here is where the unique world of the teacher comes into play.  Teachers must have leave to leave the classroom.  Few teachers can afford leave without pay, and teachers do not get annual leave days as do almost all other professional employees.  The impact of this bill will be to silence the voice of the teacher on the local, state, and national levels.

Under this bill, who can still come to Richmond to lobby in support of their professions?  Obenshain starts by carving the constitutional officers out of the bill – local treasurers, sheriffs, Commonwealth attorneys, clerks, and commissioners of the revenue.

There are a whole host of public employees who regularly lobby in Richmond while they are on the clock, and on the payroll.  Superintendents, college presidents and faculty, state agency heads, registrars, and the list goes on and on.  These folks aren’t on leave, and they usually arrive in government cars. 

Teachers must get leave to represent their students and their profession at the capital.  The manner in which this leave is granted varies greatly.  We have 132 school divisions and the policies vary widely.  These policies are a matter of local control, as they should be.

If there are problems with these local policies they should be addressed at the local level.

Senator Obenshain references figures from the Center on National Labor Policy which claim that Fairfax County Schools spend $2 million a year on “release time.”  The actual figure he referenced was $5.8 million over the last three years.  It is interesting that 17 organizations in Fairfax are eligible for this “release time,” while only three of them appear to have a 501(c)(5) designation.  Should Senator Obenshain’s bill pass, for example, a member of the Fairfax County High School Principal’s Association could take “release time” to lobby in Richmond, but a member of the Fairfax Education Association could not.  Regardless, the total leave used last year by the VEA affiliate was 876 hours.  To date, this year they have used 366.5 hours.  

Teacher’s employers, which are school boards, are threatened with a felony conviction if they grant leave  to “work for or on behalf of a professional association, labor union, or labor organization.”  What does this include?

Neither the Virginia Education Association nor its affiliates are labor unions as we are prohibited from engaging in collective bargaining by Virginia law.  We do, however, represent highly competent and effective professionals who have given Virginia a level of educational attainment which has far exceeded Virginia’s investment in public education.

This bill wrongly takes the power to develop local leave policies from Virginia’s local school boards, and it is based on misinformation that tarnishes the reputation of Virginia’s teachers.

I ask you to call your Senator ASAP and leave a message urging opposition to SB 737.