Thursday, February 25, 2016

One VEA Bill Passes, One Progresses + 2 Setbacks

Before we get to the lowdown on GA action today, I dedicate this posting to three champions of public education who have recently passed:  Gary Waldo (former UniServ Director in Roanoke, former Senator Madison Mayre, and former VRTA Lobbyist Charlie Todd.  May they rest in peace?

The docket was full in the Senate Education and Health Committee this morning.  Senator Steve Newman is the most efficient committee chairman I have ever seen.  He knows how to move an agenda, and he is fair to all.  He should train committee chairs.

First two pieces of good news –

VEA initiated SB564 gained final passage on the House floor on a 93-Y 3-N vote.  This bill shield teacher licensure applications from Freedom of Information Acts (FOIA) requests.  Thanks, Senator Norment!

VEA initiated HB524 reported unanimously and is headed to the Senate floor where it will be on the uncontested calendar.  This bill shields teacher performance data from FOIA requests. Thanks Delegate LeMunyon!

Now two pieces of bad news, HB389, Delegate LaRock’s parental choice savings account bill reported from the committee on a straight party-line vote.

Also, HB8, Delegate Dickie Bell’s virtual school bill was reported re-referred to SFC on a 10-Y 5-N vote.

And finally, here is an updated overview of HB389, which is heading to the Senate Finance Committee:

VEA Urges Opposition to HB389

VEA urges your opposition to House Bill 389.  This bill creates a new government entitlement at a time when the Commonwealth is unable to properly fund existing core services.  For example, when inflation is considered, funding for our public schools is 14 percent below 2009 levels.

The new entitlement involves siphoning off funds now received by public schools to create Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts that can be used to pay for education-related expenses.

Although this bill has been amended to include only students having a disability, from what we have seen in the states of Arizona and Florida, the ultimate aim of advocates of Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts will be to broaden eligibility.  Indeed, the introduced HB389 embraced all students.  In Arizona, one year after implementation, the scope was expanded to include students in low-performing schools, students with parents on active military duty, and students adopted or pending adoption from the state foster care system.
Beyond the fact that there is legal doubt as to whether the public school division can be relieved from the responsibility of implementing an Individualized Education Program (IEP), it is important to note that private schools are not bound by Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or by the terms of a child’s IEP.  They are not compelled to avail the child of the least restrictive environment.  Further, this bill requires no review of student progress, as is required by IDEA, and there are no due-process provisions for parents if progress is not being made, as is required by IDEA.  The Florida plan requires an annual review of student performance with termination provisions if progress is not being achieved.  There are no such provisions in this bill.  IDEA has provisions for impartial due process if discipline is not being administered in an appropriate manner – this bill contains no such provisions.  This should give pause to any of you who voted last year in favor of great regulation of seclusion and restraint in our public schools and to those cognizant of the Constitutional provisions requiring an “educational program of high quality.”

What if the parent and student are not satisfied with the educational options chosen?  The provisions of the bill (lines 56-57) bar them from returning to the public school:  “Not enroll the qualified student in a school division in the school year in which the parent receives the Savings Account or the immediately succeeding school year.”  The student is stranded and the local school division is left responsible the student’s education despite the absence of state funding.

The accounts are available without income limits, which raises the question, “Should this funding be available to those who can easily fund the education of their children?“  “Students whose family's annual household income is not in excess of 300 percent,” is a criterion used elsewhere in the code.  As written, funds from low-income Virginians could be handed over to the wealthy for their “Savings Accounts.”

The inclusion of sectarian schools (line 30) raises a serious constitutional question.  TAG grants are used to argue that the bill is constitutional, but the courts have drawn a line between higher education and elementary and secondary education in this regard.
In accordance with the passage of HB321 in 2012,”Virginia’s “Education Improvement Scholarships,” are now operational but under-utilized.  Shouldn’t we evaluate how well this option is serving Virginia’s students before adopting another “choice” option?

According to multiple studies analyzing assessment data from voucher programs, students offered vouchers do not perform better than their public school peers.   Indeed, public school students have actually been found to outperform private school students when test scores are weighted to reflect socioeconomic level, race, and disability.