Monday, April 11, 2016

2016 Session Summary

This was a session of substantial success in advancing the VEA agenda.
Let me first address advancing the critical issue of funding our public schools which serve 94% of Virginia’s students.  They are Virginia’s future. 

Governor McAuliffe’s introduced budget invested $864 million in additional funds for our schools, setting a high bar for the General Assembly.  The conference report which passed both chambers on March 11, includes a $892.3 million dollar increase in direct aid for public education.

This is significant progress, and as you can see from the chart on the screen, progress was made on recouping funds lost during the Great Recession.

 However, when inflation is considered the chart shows a different picture.
On the school funding front we can celebrate success with the realization that we have far to go.  And reaching the goal of making up for lost ground will still leave Virginia with a low ranking in state support for public education.
In 2012 the General Assembly passed legislation including a stair-step approach to full funding of the VRS Board’s certified contribution rate.  This is extremely important, as full funding will reduce the unfunded liability and reduce the perceived need to reduce pension benefits.

The General Assembly is not only keeping its promise in this regard, the teacher fund will be fully funded in July 2017, one year ahead of schedule.  This will be the first time the Board Certified Rate has been funded since 2001.
VEA commends the General Assembly for achieving the full funding goal in this biennium.

The introduced budget provided no state incentive funds to provide salary increases for next school year.  We made gaining first year funding a top priority.  Delegate Yost and Senators Chafin and Sturtevant proposed amendments to provide first year funding, and with the help of Senators Howell and Newman, the Senate included first year funding in their budget.  You went to work with messages to the budget conferees, and while we fell short of our initial salary goal, for only the third time since 2008, we did gain some funding for the state share of a salary increase for teachers and support personnel.  Something is better than nothing, but this meager increase will not put Virginia in a position to attract and retain the high quality instructional personnel in this time of teacher shortages.

In VEA’s continued efforts to protect the confidentiality of teacher performance indicators, we have repeatedly sought the help and advice of  Delegate Jim LeMunyon.
Some of you will remember his HB1889 in the 2013 session.  This year he sponsored HB524. which preserves the confidentiality of teacher performance data.

Under Jim’s able patronage, HB524 passed the House 98 to 0, and passed the Senate 38 to 0.

We deeply appreciate Senator Norment’s patronage of SB564, which preserves the confidentiality of teacher licensure and re-licensure applications. 
Those who know Senator Norment know him to be fiercely combative, but that is balanced by his thoughtfulness and eloquence.  He is a Senator’s Senator, and is deeply respected by all members of the General Assembly.  He also possesses a deep sense of fairness, and that is why he was the perfect sponsor for this bill.

SB564 sailed through the Senate, 40-0, and passed the House 93-3.  Sometimes it pays to have the right sponsor.

In 2007 the late Senator Yvonne B. Miller and Senator Norment, at VEA’s request, successfully sponsored resolution (SJ372) to study the feasibility of a state-wide health insurance experience pool for educators and local government employees.”  AND we’ve been fighting for it ever since.

This year Senators Chafin, Vogel, and Delegate Kilgore led the charge for us on this issue.  It was Senator Chafin’s SB364 which proved to be the vehicle for final passage of a bill establishing the framework for a state-wide pool.

For VEA this is a major legislative accomplishment, and a lesson in the value of persistence – we worked it for a decade!

As the 2016 Legislative Session began, it was assumed that the charter school constitutional amendmet would pass.  Perhaps, they underestimated VEA and our partners in this battle, VSBA and VASS.

No battle was harder fought in the 2016 session than our successful efforts to defeat the charter school constitutional amendment.  We owe deep thanks to the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, who were with us every step of the way in this battle.

We thank Governor McAuliffe for vetoing two measures, which passed despite our best efforts.

HB8 was a problematic virtual school bill which will open Virginia to corporate virtual providers. In other states such schools have resulted in low graduation rates, poor academic performance, and high dropout rates.  

HB389 was a special education voucher bill which 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 bill contains no accountability for the quality of instruction provided and the use of the funds is wide open.

The inclusion of sectarian schools also raises a serious constitutional question.

According to multiple studies analyzing 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.

We thank Governor McAuliffe for vetoing both of these bills.

The 2016 Session established a commission and two committees which will require our participation.

It is worth noting that VEA is the only teacher group recognized by the Speaker to serve on the Pension Commission, and the only teacher group named by the Chairman of the House Education Committee to participate in the study of the future of public elementary and secondary education in the Commonwealth.  Our voice is a critical one as policy is developed.

The battle continues, but as the dust clears on the 2016 General Assembly it is clear that VEA had a most successful session.