Thursday, April 6, 2017

2017 Reconvened Session- The Veto Session

Every year, on a Wednesday, six weeks after the close of session, the General Assembly reconvenes to take up the Governor's action on the bills passed by the legislature during the regular session. Yesterday was that day. Governor McAuliffe has vetoed 40 bills this session. Delegate Kirk Cox gave a floor speech announcing that the Governor has set a single-session record for vetoes. Beacuse all his vetoes held, Governor McAuliffe has vetoed 111 bills during his term. That is a term record as well. Governor Gilmore has the next highest number- 91 vetoes. Delegate Toscano did remind the House that many of the House bills the Governor vetoed this session are identical to bills he vetoed last session.

The VEA was following a group of bills. These bills are all bad for public education and we are thankful to our members who have called, emailed, and written the Governor asking for his veto. We are also grateful that WE WERE HEARD! Governor McAuliffe vetoed all of the bills we requested. We expect the vetoes to be upheld since you need a 2/3 vote to overturn a veto. The Senate sits at 21-19, so it is very difficult to get a 2/3 vote in that body. The House, on the other hand, sits at 66-34, just one vote away from a 2/3 vote possibility. We followed the House closely, but we felt good that we had locked up our votes. Thank you to the 34 members of the House of Delegates who stood with us on the vetoes!

Today we will watch the following veto votes:

House Bill 1400, Delegate Dickie Bell's Virtual School Bill (the Senate version, Senate Bill 1240, from Senator Dunnavant is identical to the House bill and was also vetoed). In his veto, the Governor questioned the constitutionality of these bills. He also commented that, even with off-session work to improve this legislation, it passed in a nearly identical form as House Bill 8 from the 2016 session that he also vetoed. These bills would establish a separate Virtual School Board independent of the Virginia Board of Education and would receive state funding on a per-pupil basis based, draining those resources from our traditional public schools. All school divisions in VA are already required to offer on-line courses, and the VA Department of Education already offers full-time, virtual high school. The VEA opposed these bills and we are grateful the veto was upheld. In the House, the 34 Democrats were joined by Republican Delegates Bloxom, Farrell, Habeeb, Helsel, Hugo, Miller, Ware and Yost in sustaining the Governor's veto.

House Bill 1605 (Delegate LaRock's Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts Bill) concerned us on many levels, including the Constitutionality of the legislation as drafted. The Constitutionality of the bill concerned the Governor as well, as he cited his concern in his veto. He also had concerns with the lack of accountability standards and the diversion of public funds from our public schools. The Governor vetoed nearly identical legislation last year. The VEA opposed this bill and we are grateful the patron realized he did not have support to overturn the veto and simply accepted the veto instead. When you bill barely squeaks out of the House (49-47) you should know it's a problematic bill. 

The Regional Charter School bill, Senator Obenshain's Senate Bill 1283, allows the Board of Education to establish regional charter school divisions that would have the authority to open a charter school without the request or consent of the local school division. There is an identical House version of the bill, House Bill 2342 from Delegate Landes. This legislation has Constitutional issues and, as the Governor said in his veto, we should, instead, consider innovation ways to provide a world class education to every student enrolled in our traditional public schools. The VEA opposed these bills and are grateful the veto was upheld.

If we did not have a champion as our Governor, one who is prepared to veto legislation that undermines our system of public schools, all of this bad legislation would become law. We must be Public Education Voters. We must not sit this election out. The future of public education may depend on it.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

We Were Heard! Governor McAuliffe's Vetoes Protect Our Public Schools!

Your voice matters because we were heard! Thank you Governor McAuliffe! 

I just got off the phone with our VEA state president, Jim Livingston, after sharing this news with him and I wanted to share it here as well. Governor McAuliffe vetoed all of the bills we asked him to veto! 

Our goalie in the mansion stopped the expansion of Charter Schools (Senate Bill 1283), the establishment of an independent Virtual School Board (House Bill 1400), and the establishment of Parental Choice Education Scholarships, which we know are vouchers (House Bill 1605). All three pieces of legislation would drain public funding from our public schools with no real accountability or requirement of educational progress for the student. House Bill 1605 would also have diverted state funding to private and religious schools. 

Governor McAuliffe knows that we are all better served when we invest in our public schools that serve 94% of the eligible school-aged children in Virginia. 

The Governor also vetoed a bill the VEA opposed that would have defined “sexually explicit” material and would put strict requirements on school divisions and teachers who use those books (House Bill 2191). This bill would have put many classics, including Romeo and Juliet, on a list of books that would be flagged for restriction. 

We were heard! Jim, on behalf of our members, sent a letter to the Governor requesting the vetoes, our members sent over 800 emails to the Governor urging the vetoes, and our Government Relations staff was in continuous communication with the Governor’s staff on our position on these bad bills.

We will have a chance to acknowledge the vetoes at our Convention when Sam Eure presents the Legislative Report. Until then, be grateful for our Goalie in the Mansion, Governor Terry McAuliffe!

Click here to read the Governor's Press Release.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

A 2% Salary Increase, Our VEA Bill Passed 140-0, and We Protected VRS

As I have had some time to reflect on the 2017 General Assembly Session I am happy to report some real victories for the VEA and for our public schools. We were heard!

The Budget includes the state share for a 2% salary increase for all SOQ funded positions. Yes, it is only for 4.5 months this budget cycle, BUT it resets teacher salaries as we re-benchmark in 2018. That is important. When budget talks started, the House seemed to have little appetite for including the 2% language, but House members heard you. So how did we make them move our way? Hard work.

On Lobby Day, VEA members were sent out with marching orders to demand a 2% salary increase. Our Board of Directors hand delivered letters to the leadership of the House and Senate Money Committees asking for the same thing. The VEA Lobby Cadre kept meeting with House leadership and we kept the pressure on for a 2% increase. Governor McAuliffe pressed the General Assembly to include teachers in any salary increase they included in the budget. Senator Emmett Hanger and Senator Tommy Norment pushed hard for our 2%. Finally, our members emailed, called, and wrote to their legislators asking them to include the salary increase. It all worked. We were heard. Also interesting, all along we asked that the salary increase not be tied to revenue projections. They heard us on that one, too! Our voices mattered!

Also this session we were able to get HB2332, that added “it is the goal of the Commonwealth that VA teacher salaries be competitive with the National Average Teacher Salary” to state law. VEA has tried to get this legislation passed in seven, yes, seven, other sessions and we were not successful. This year not only did the bill pass without a single NO vote on the floor of the House or Senate, the House amended the bill to define “competitive” to mean “at OR ABOVE the national average”! Delegate Tyler was a wonderful patron, but our voices kept school employee salaries at the top of the discussions this session. We were heard!

Finally, our other big victory was protecting school employees from another attack on VRS. HB2151 would have established an “optional” defined contribution retirement plan for our newest employees. VEA saw the writing on the wall that an optional plan this year could be non-optional next year. We were fighting an “optional” bill alone. None of our usual allies were with us as they didn’t see the need to fight an “optional” plan. Our champions were in the Senate where Hanger and Norment were assuring us that the bill wouldn’t pass. We still put a call out to our cyber-lobbyists urging legislators to vote NO on the bill. Ultimately the bill died on the very last day of session. We were heard!

So thank you to our cyber-lobbyists! Thank you to everyone who called, emailed, or wrote to your legislators. Thank you to our members who showed up on the rainiest Lobby Day in recent memory and carried our message. WE WERE HEARD!

So our hard work, our voices, and our stories made this session a successful one for us. We still have a long way to go, but we moved the mountain.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Final Day?? Maybe.

Session is scheduled to finish up tomorrow, Saturday, February 25th, but legislators are talking about finishing up tonight. We will see.

Some good news for bills VEA opposed. HB2251, Delegate Jones’ Optional Defined Contribution VRS plan bill, was sent to Conference. The House and Senate could not agree on the amendments that Senator Tommy Norment added to the bill earlier this week, so that forced the Conference action. Conference only moves forward when legislators are assigned to the conference committee to come up with a compromise bill. The Senate did not assign conference members, so the bill died. We owe a huge thank you to Senators Tommy Norment and Emmett Hanger for their continuing opposition to this bill. VEA was basically alone in this fight. It isn’t easy to fight an “optional” plan that was championed by the Speaker of the House in his last session before retirement, but we did. Thank you to our cyber lobbyists who contacted legislators asking for opposition to the bill. Thank you, as well, to the Senate Democratic Caucus who voted in a block in opposition to this bill. The VEA appreciates your support!

As you may have heard, the school discipline bills that addressed long-term suspensions have died. The patrons had diminishing support in the House and Senate, so they decided to wait for next year. VEA is committed to working with legislators during the off session to determine the best way to implement programs in every public school in Virginia that address and diminish long term suspensions. We must do better for all of our students, and with the right resources and programs, all of our schools can be better equipped. President Livingston is committed to visiting programs that are working around the state, and we will invite legislators to go with us. We will make a case for implementing best-practices in every school in Virginia.  VEA and teachers really took a beating over these bills, but, regardless, we are focused on solutions. We will move on and, because we are educators, we will learn from this session and be ready for next.

In the next few days, we will firm up the list of bills we will ask Governor McAuliffe to veto. Public education is very fortunate to have a Governor who recognizes that legislation that strips state funding from our public schools and hands it over to parents, charters, or virtual schools with no real accountability or assurance that state education money is helping students reach measurable educational outcomes, is bad legislation. Our Governor will also not allow legislation that violates the Virginia Constitution to become law. While we will have to wait and see what Governor McAuliffe’s does, I think we see language referencing the Constitutional issues of bills when he explains his veto action.

Be on the lookout for a cyber lobbyist action on vetoes soon.

I want to take a minute to thank the VEA’s tremendous Lobby Cadre who made this session easier. There is no other association that has representation in every single full and subcommittee during session. The days of session are very long, and emotionally draining. They stayed sharp and strong even on the toughest days. Thank you President Jim Livingston, Vice-President James Fedderman, Gail Pittman, Jay Deck, Pat Wood, Lisa Staib, Cindy Kirby, and Alicia Smith for everything you did for our members, our schools, and our communities! You ROCK!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

We Have A Budget

The House and Senate reached a deal on the budget for the remainder of the 2016-18 biennium. The budgets from each body were very close going into Conference, so we didn’t anticipate huge changes. What is most interesting change is that the Conference Budget actually spends more on K-12 than all other budgets we have seen this session (Governor, House, or Senate) although the amount is very small.

As we expected, the Conference Budget did include language and funding for a 2% salary increase, but they lowered the appropriation amount by making it effective February 15, 2018. Also, as mentioned in this blog, school divisions can pull the money down if they have already given a raise. So limited funding, and school divisions can use it to back-fill. The budget does substantially beef up the supplemental lottery funding that will go to the school divisions with maximum flexibility, so school scan use that to fund pay raises as well. Of course to do that, they will need to make some tough decisions given the fiscal stress on the localities including the state-mandated VRS acceleration payment. 

The silver lining in this budget is that this is only the 3rd time in 10 years the state has funded any portion of their share of a salary increase for SOQ positions. It is also not tied to a revenue trigger, so the funding will not be rescinded. We must thank our legislators for that. They listened to us. But, it is a very small (state funding for 4.5 months for their share of SOQ funded positions) step. It doesn’t get us where we need be, but I am hopeful we are on the right path. Members of the House and Senate certainly seem focused on trying to do the right thing for public school funding, but we have dug quite a hole since 2008. But, with the passage of HB2332 on teacher salaries and the inclusion of a salary increase, I am hopeful we are carving out a path towards the newly adopted state goal of making teacher salaries in VA at or above the National Average.

As I already said, the budget also includes additional supplemental lottery funding that will be dispersed to the school divisions on a per pupil basis without a local match required. School divisions can use this funding for anything they choose including supplementing teacher salary increases. The conference budget increases the amount of the per pupil allotment which should help school divisions that have struggled to fund many K-12 expenses with mostly local funding.

Also in the compromise is an additional $7.3M for school divisions that have lost state funding through student population loss. School divisions that have lost 5% or more if their student population from 2011-2016 will receive this funding. This will be very helpful for some of our far southwest divisions and other divisions that have struggled to deal with lost state funding.

Later in the afternoon we received a detailed budget presentation that you can see by clicking on the link below. You can open the full presentation and scroll to K-12. You will also see a link to the school division distributions as calculated by the House Appropriations Staff. 

Thank you to our Cyber Lobbyists for all your work. Keep telling your stories, keep talking to your legislators, build a relationship with him or her during the off session, invite them to your schools, invite them to a meeting, make sure they are engaged all year long. They work for you.

Conference Budget Presentations

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Charters, Vouchers, and Budget

Today the House and Senate took up Charter School legislation. HB2342 (Delegate Landes) and SB1283 (Senator Obenshain) are identical bills that would allow the VA Board of Education to establish Regional Charter “School Divisions”. The VA Constitution grants the BOE the authority to establish school divisions, to these bills use this language to skirt around the Constitutional issues bills like this usually have here in VA. Our cyber lobbyists did a wonderful job contacting members of the House and Senate urging them to vote NO on these bills. 

In the Senate, the bill passed 21-19 which was not a party line vote as Senator Emmett Hanger broke from his Republican caucus and voted NO on the bill, and Senator Chap Petersen broke from his Democratic Caucus and votes YES on the bill. Interestingly, Senator Petersen, an attorney, has represented Charter School applicants when they go before the Fairfax School Board. The vote tally sheet is below. A NAY vote was a right vote. 

In the House, the bill passed 54-43. The vote count is below. Again, a NAY vote was the right vote. The VEA will ask Governor McAuliffe to veto this bill. The administration has opposed this legislation this year, so we are hopeful but also grateful for our goalie in the Governor’s Mansion.

HB 2342 Public schools; Board of Education shall only establish regional charter school divisions. Senate: Passed Senate (21-Y 19-N)

YEAS--Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Petersen, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel, Wagner--21.
NAYS--Barker, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hanger, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Wexton--19.
SB 1283 Public schools; Board of Education shall only establish regional charter school divisions. VOTE: PASSAGE (54-Y 43-N)

YEAS--Adams, Anderson, Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Byron, Campbell, Cline, Cole, Collins, Cox, Davis, Dudenhefer, Edmunds, Fariss, Farrell, Fowler, Freitas, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Hodges, Holcomb, Ingram, Jones, Knight, Landes, LaRock, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Massie, Minchew, Miyares, Morris, O'Bannon, Orrock, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Stolle, Villanueva, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yancey, Mr. Speaker--54.
NAYS--Aird, Albo, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bloxom, Bourne, Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Filler-Corn, Hayes, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hester, Hope, Hugo, James, Keam, Kilgore, Krizek, Leftwich, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, Marshall, R.G., McQuinn, Miller, Mullin, Murphy, O'Quinn, Pillion, Plum, Price, Rasoul, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Watts, Yost--43.
NOT VOTING--Kory, Morefield, Ward--3.
Delegate Edmunds was recorded as yea. Intended to vote nay.
Delegate Kory was recorded as not voting. Intended to vote nay.

The Senate also took up Delegate LaRock’s very broad Parental Educational Savings Accounts, a voucher bill. The more narrowly drawn Senate version of this bill was defeated 20-20 with Lt. Governor breaking the tie and killing the bill. If you keep up with the Daily Reports, you know why that vote happened. As expected, this very broad and very concerning bill passed on a party line vote 21-19. Like the Charter School bills, the VEA will ask the Governor to veto this bill.

The votes on these two bills should reinforce the importance of the 2017 election in Virginia. The entire House of Delegates is up as are all three state-wide offices- Governor, Lt. Governor, and Attorney General. It is imperative that education voters recognize everything this election could mean to public education. Do not sit this one out. We must engage every single Virginian who supports us and our public schools. We must get them registered to vote if they are not, and we must make sure they vote on November 7. Too much is riding on this.

The Senate has been sitting on HB2251, the Optional Defined Contribution VRS plan. The House passed the bill and included $1.5M to fund the start-up of the plan in their budget. The Senate did not fund the new plan in their budget. Today the Senate added a second amendment to the bill. Aside from passing next year before taking effect, the Senate added language requiring that before any DC plan rolls out, all other VRS plans must be funded at 100%. That won’t happen. So the bill needs to go to the House before passage and they may not like the amendment. That would kill the bill or send it to conference if there is still time for that.

We have heard the budget is finished and will be in members’ hands at 7pm tonight. Usually the General Assembly completes their work 48 hours after the budget is available. That is 7pm Friday. That is one day early. The Conference Budget will be available on-line as soon as members get it. We will be taking a good look at it this evening and give you an update here. 

Rumors are we will see state funding for a 2% salary increase for all SOQ funded positions, but with the flexibility that I described in another post. If a school division gave a raise at any time during the biennium, they can pull down the state money to back fill that cost. So, unless your school division didn’t give a raise this school year, it would be surprising to see one for 2017-18. We will see.

We will be working late tonight analyzing the numbers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tough Discipline Bills and Alternate Facts

If you have been following our Daily Reports, you know that there have been some really tough discipline bills in both the House and Senate this session. The House (HB1543 and HB1536) and the Senate bills (SB995 and SB997) started out as identical. However, the Senate patron, Senator Stanley, has worked with the education communities to include some flexibility so that no school division has tied hands in the most egregious cases. Delegate Dickie Bell has not been as willing to listen to school boards, superintendents, principals, or teachers when we have asked for some flexibility. The bills have been messy, the debate has been contentious, and, frankly, the Virginia Education Association has really taken it on the chin over our efforts.

Throughout this session, VEA has stood firm on our position that we must maintain safe schools for all students and staff. We have stood firm that school divisions need to have flexibility in the most serious cases. We have also stood firm that our schools, and school staffs, need the resources to support the behaviors that, often times, lead to long-term suspensions. Our testimony to these bills has always included messaging about the need for resources. An excerpt of what we have been communicating all session:

“We need social workers, psychologists, Assistant Principals, In School Suspension monitors, additional instructional aides, more counselors, and more funding for alternative education programs and family support programs. Without the proper resources in the buildings and in the community, we do not serve all of our students well. The state should have an obligation to support our schools in this important work. Ignoring the lack of resources limits the fixes that should be available to change course on suspension rates in Virginia.”

An important consideration in all of this is a real look at actual numbers. Reports from patrons and other legislators often include all suspensions, not just long-term. The most recent data from the VA DOE on long-term suspension numbers show that in 2014-15, a total of 4,156 students received a long-term suspension. There are over 1.2 million public school students in VA, so that number reflects less than two-tenths of one percent of all students. So 99.8% of students do not receive a long-term suspension. Does that mean the VEA is fine with that number? Absolutely not, but we need to keep in mind what is actually happening in our schools and how infrequently school divisions are resorting to this type of discipline action. Without question African-American students and students with disabilities are disproportionately represented in this number and we must take steps to support these students. VEA supports a laser focus on workable interventions to change that fact. There are tremendous programs that have shown they work. Virginia should fund these types of programs state-wide and make available training and support services for our professional staff to implement these programs.

Blaming long-term suspensions on poor classroom management skills, bad teaching, or “not wanting to teach those kids” as some legislators have done this session, is an unnecessary assault on the teaching profession. We should, instead, all be focused on real solutions, and school resources to make real change happen.

Yesterday on the floor of the House, Delegate Bell spoke an alternate fact. I will be 100% consistent in calling out any legislators that use alternate facts against our members. Delegate Bell spent time reprimanding legislators for listening to the Education Association on this bill. In an effort that seemed to be aimed at convincing these legislators that we had falsely represented our position, he said that the VEA “testified in committee that long-term suspensions were over used.” That is absolutely not true. We talked about disproportionate suspensions and we talked about not enough resources, but we have always used the same number- fewer than 0.2% of Virginia’s public school students received long-term suspensions in the last year we have data. Our position on this bill has been about keeping students safe, supporting local school divisions having some flexibility, and the need for resources to support student behaviors.

The VEA has communicated with legislators all session asking them to oppose any discipline bill that lacks some level of flexibility for the local school board. Yesterday Delegate Bell tried to make us seem as if we were talking out of both sides of our mouth. That is simply not the case.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Last Week of Session and Confirmation That Speaker Howell is Retiring

As we start the last week of the 2017 General Assembly session, it’s time to evaluate where we are, what bills are left, and what action we will ask Governor McAuliffe to take on some really bad bills.

The House and Senate Charter School bills are still making their way through the GA. Our cyber lobbyists have done a great job contacting legislators urging them to vote NO on HB2342 and SB1283. Each bill will be on the floor of the opposite body today. We anticipate Senator Hanger voting NO on the House version of the bill just as he did on the Senate bill. We have talked endlessly with Senator Petersen on the bill, but he will still cast a bad vote, and vote YES on the bill.

The Senate also has HB1605, Delegate LaRock’s Educational Savings Account bill, on their floor calendar. This bill already passed the House and we anticipate it passing the Senate. It is a bill we will ask Governor McAuliffe to veto. It is a bad bill for public education and a terrible bill for state expenses.

Also in the Senate is HB2251, Delegate Jones’ VRS Defined Contribution (DC) plan bill. Again, our cyber lobbyists did a fine job contacting members to oppose this bill. We have been hearing that the Senate did not want to kill the bill this session since a DC plan is Speaker Howell’s baby and, the rumors are, this is his last session. Today there are media reports confirming Howell will not seek reelection to the House in 2017, and the Speaker gave a wonderful speech during the House session today announcing his retirement.  So the rumors are true, and that is why the Senate added a reenactment clause to the bill- it keeps them from killing it while Mr. Speaker is still the Speaker. The reenactment clause requires the bill to pass next session if it passes this session. They passed it by on Friday, so we will see what happens today. We know the Senate doesn’t like the bill, but will they kill it as the Speaker’s time here wanes, or will they wait until next session? That is the big question. Personally, I’d rather see it die now, sorry Mr. Speaker.

However, we must acknowledge the historic nature or Delegate Bill Howell’s tenure as Speaker of the House. He has served since 2003 and is the second longest serving Speaker in Virginia’s history. We may not always agree on policy and legislation, but the VEA admires his service to the Commonwealth. His retirement clears a likely path for Delegate Kirk Cox to become the next Speaker, but we will see.

I did want to update you all on a bill the VEA opposed and spoke against throughout session, HB1829 from Delegate Dudenhefer. This bill would add another requirement to teacher licensure and renewal. The bill requires the completion of hands-on CPR and first aid training for all new teacher licenses and each time a license is renewed. Currently teachers must complete the on-line training to satisfy the requirement. This bill is an unfunded mandate on teachers and school divisions. The VEA recognizes the good intentions of this bill, but we are opposed to another mandate on the teacher licensing requirements. This bill passed unanimously from the House and will likely pass the Senate. We need to be prepared for its passage.

I am hearing from the Budget Conferees that negotiations are going well and we may see the budget early. If that happens, session could end early. The rumor is that how to appropriate a teacher salary increase is currently a point of debate. The good news is teacher salaries will be addressed, we will need to see the details.

It is another glorious day here in Richmond and we have been fortunate that most of this session, the weather has been unseasonable warm. The rest of this week temps are expected to be in the 60s, so I have hung up my winter coat until next session.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Fast Paced Day: VEA Bill Passes, Read Across America Commended, Many Bills Still

The VEA initiated bill, HB2332, carried and championed by Delegate Roslyn Tyler passed the Senate today 40-0, and was engrossed and sent to the Governor’s desk to sign! The bill passed the House 100-0 earlier in session. In case you think this was a no-brainer bill, the VEA has tried many sessions, and in many ways, to get this type of bill through the General Assembly, and we have not been successful. Here is the language in the bill:

It is a goal of the Commonwealth that its public school teachers be compensated at a rate that is competitive with the national average teacher salary in order to attract and keep highly qualified teachers. As used in this section, "competitive" means, at a minimum, at or above the national average teacher salary. The Director of Human Resource Management shall conduct a biennial review of the compensation of teachers and other occupations requiring similar education and training and shall consider the Commonwealth's compensation for teachers relative to member states in the Southern Regional Education Board. The results of these reviews shall be reported to the Governor, the General Assembly, and the Board of Education by June 1 of each odd-numbered year.

This is big news for us and a big victory to our organizing efforts on salary. This bill doesn’t fix anything, but it gives us leverage. It also forces Virginia to take a hard look at where we stand as they review their efforts on compensation.

Today the Senate also passed a Resolution commending VEA and NEA on the 20th Anniversary of Read Across America. And in more good news, the Senate passed by HB2251, the Defined Contribution VRS plan, today. Our cyber lobbyists have put the pressure on the Senate to kill that bad bill. Here’s hoping they just keep passing it by until session ends. That kills the bill. So, overall, a good day.

Please don’t think, though, that public education is sailing through this session. The Senate and House will each take up Charter School bills on Monday. Delegate Landes’ HB2342 will be on the Senate floor Monday and SB1283 from Senator Obenshain, will be on the House floor. We have an active cyber lobbyist alert on those bills. Urge you legislators to vote NO. Click on the link below to send an email to your member of the House and Senate.

HB1605, Delegate LaRock’s voucher bill will also be on the Senate floor on Monday.

Next week is the last week of this short session. Budget conferees are working well together and, all reports indicate that Teacher Salary will be included. The devil will be in the details. Next week we will know what happens with some really big bills including the optional defined contribution retirement plan, vouchers, charters, and long-term suspension bills. As is usually the case, big public school bills wait until the last week, and there is always nail biting and heartburn involved.  

No to Charter School Bills

Thursday, February 16, 2017

An Interesting Day

This morning in Senate Education and Health, they took action on HB1400, the Virtual School Bill, and HB1605, the Parental Choice Education Savings Plan bill. They had already passed Senate versions of these bills, so they took no comments and simply conformed the bills and sent them to Senate Finance. The House has a $380,000 line in their budget for the cost to the state to implement the Savings Accounts, so they are expecting it to pass. The Senate version of the bill died on the Senate floor in a 20-20 vote, but we are hearing that Senator DeSteph will vote in favor of the bill this time around. The administration is opposed to both bills, so we will urge Governor McAuliffe to take veto action on them if they pass. 

Today on the House floor debate continued on the school discipline bills (HB1534 and 1536/SB995 and 997). I don’t understand why some legislators believe that teachers want kids out of their classrooms. Some comments on these bills this session have been really offensive to educators. Comments like, “This is a classroom management issue. Teachers should use every tool in their toolbox but instead they suspend kids” and today Delegate Albo kept up that argument. He said, “some teachers just don’t want to deal with these kids.” These arguments are 100% not the case. Today we were grateful to Delegates Ware and Orrock who defended teachers and school administrators. These bills will go to conference and we are hopeful we will end up with a bill that will address the real issue of long-term suspensions in VA while allowing school boards the flexibility to keep the 99.8% of our public school students who are not long-term suspended and the school staffs safe.

If you are a cyber lobbyist you should have received an action alert today asking you to email your Senator and ask they to vote NO on HB2251, Delegate Chris Jones’ VRS Optional Defined Contribution Plan. This plan is bad for school employees. There is not a lot of appitite for this bill in the Senate, but Speaker Howell loves this bill, so rather than just kill the bill, Senate Finance added a reenactment clause to the bill that requires that, if it passes this year, it must also past next year in order to go to the Governor’s desk. Read the action alert to learn more and please take action today.

Urge your Senator to Please vote NO on HB2251

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

"Optional" Changes to VRS- A Bad Idea

Today the Senate Finance committee reported HB2251 which would establish an “optional” VRS defined contribution (DC) plan for employees hired after July 1, 2018. The recommendation for this plan came from the Commission on Retirement and Pension Reform that was established last session by Speaker Bill Howell. This is a plan he likes, but the Commission didn’t love. In fact, when the commission heard a report on an optional DC plan this summer Senator Hanger, Senator Norment, Delegate Jones, and VEA GR Director all voted against the recommendation to bring the DC plan up as legislation this session. 

Regardless, the Speaker wants Virginia to have a DC plan, so the bill is here. Interestingly, Delegate Jones voted against the recommendation as a member of the Commission, but is carrying the bill for the Speaker. We knew the bill would pass the House, but we have talked with senators on both sides of the aisle and they are all saying it won’t pass in the Senate. Unfortunately, it reported out of committee today and will go to the floor of the Senate.

While this plan is “optional”, don’t be fooled. It is optional for now. DC plans are bad ideas for teachers. DC plans are sometimes good ideas for people who change jobs often or have career mobility within one department. They are also good for jobs where you have a fair amount of income growth over time. It is not good for teachers. Keep in mind, teachers are the largest group participating in VRS. What is good for us should matter.

To learn more about DC plans, please read this case study the National Institute on Retirement Security.

We will send out an action alert tomorrow urging your Senator to vote NO on HB2251. 

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Love, Love, Love and Three Really Bad Votes in House P&E

Today is Valentine’s Day at the General Assembly, and folks here take the holiday very seriously. I have included some photos at the end of today’s blog for you to see. 

Legislators showed some love to the VEA teacher salary bill today in Senate Finance. HB2332 unanimously reported from Senate Finance today. The bill passed the House unanimously, Senate Education unanimously, and Senate Finance unanimously, so the last stop is the Senate floor. It looks like this may be the year that we finally get language that sets a state policy that teacher salaries should be competitive with the National Average! The bill will appear on the Senate floor calendar for first read tomorrow.

Interestingly, the ONLY nay vote the teacher salary bill has received was in the House Education Committee from Delegate Mark Cole. He voted in favor of the bill when it came to the floor of the House, but he has the honor of being the only no vote, so far, on our bill. I mention that because Delegate Cole is on the House Privileges and Elections (P&E) Subcommittee on Elections. This committee seems to have a mission to kill any and all redistricting bills. Today they took out the Senate versions of these good bills. This is the committee that killed the House versions of the bills earlier in session, and, today, they didn't let a packed room of Virginians who supported the bills deter them. All week legislators have been bombarded with phone calls urging support of a fair redistricting process in Virginia, that didn't matter to this committee. The other interesting point is that there was not a single word of opposition to any of these bills today. That didn’t matter to this committee, either. What seems to matter to this subcommittee is keeping a system in place where legislators draw their own districts. Each of these bills had already passed the Virginia Senate and each passed out of the Senate P&E Committee 12-2. The House is unwilling to move on this bipartisan effort. The committee moved to pass the bills by indefinitely (kill them). A NAY vote was the right vote.

SB 846 Virginia Interim Redistricting Commission; criteria for remedial redistricting plans.
02/14/17  House: Subcommittee recommends passing by indefinitely (5-Y 2-N)

YEAS--Ransone, Jones, Fowler, Adams, Cole--5.
NAYS--Sickles, Torian--2.

SJ 231 Constitutional amendment; Virginia Redistricting Commission, criteria to redraw certain districts.
02/14/17  House: Subcommittee recommends passing by indefinitely (5-Y 2-N)
YEAS--Ransone, Jones, Fowler, Adams, Cole--5.
NAYS--Sickles, Torian--2.

SJ 290 Constitutional amendment; criteria for electoral districts (first reference).
02/14/17  House: Subcommittee recommends passing by indefinitely (5-Y 2-N)
YEAS--Ransone, Jones, Fowler, Adams, Cole--5.
NAYS--Sickles, Torian--2.

In case that vote has left you feeling unloved, I share some photos from the General Assembly Office Building this morning.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Budget Talks and Bills Headed to Conference

If you have been following the Daily Reports, you know that the Senate and House budgets are nearly identical in the amount of per pupil allocations to each school division. What is different in each version is how the dollars are dispersed. 

Both bills remove the appropriation of $55.1 million from the Governor’s budget for the one-time bonus. The Senate applies the $55.1M to a 2% salary increase for SOQ funded positions. The House adds the $55.1M to the Lottery Supplemental fund and frees up those dollars for the school divisions to use as they wish, including for salary increases.

A few things to know. Neither budget requires any new salary increase for the upcoming school year. In the Senate’s plan, state support for salary increases can be used for any 2% salary increase given at any point in the biennium. So if your division gave a 2% increase this school year, they can draw down the state money to back-fill the local expense on the previous year’s raise. So while we are happy to see state support for a 2% salary increase, it is important to know what the language in the appropriation says.

The House plan does not call for salary increases at all, and, in fact, the flexible “supplemental” funding stream school divisions can use for raises if they choose, does not include an allocation that would cover a 2% salary increase for all SOQ funded positions. The House plan does have a larger allocation per student through the supplemental fund and school divisions can use this for other priorities including their share of the VRS acceleration. We know that for some localities, there was real concern about how they would pay for the state-mandated VRS acceleration. Some school divisions were so strapped to cover the cost, they were talking about laying off teachers. This supplemental fund gives those localities a funding stream they can use.

So, overall, the budget conference is a tough one. The VEA is standing firmly behind the Senate’s plan for state funding the 2% salary increase. While it does not require a 2% salary increase for next school year, it would encourage and allow school divisions that rescinded raises last school year when the state did not come through with support, to have state support this upcoming year. It will also allow divisions to recoup lost state funding if they gave a raise this school year. We will have to see where the budget debate lands. Again, overall, the per pupil funding from each budget is nearly identical. The devil is in the details. Keep checking the updates to learn more and to take action as a cyber-lobbyist.

Today we are getting a clearer picture of the bills of interest to the VEA that will go to conference. When the House and Senate pass similar, but not identical, bills the bills are handed off to a group of legislators to come to a compromise on the final bill. This process is called “conference”. The budget bill always goes to conference, but many bills do as well. This year we expect the Virtual School Bills (HB1400/SB1240) and the Discipline (Long-Term Suspension) bills (HB1534 and HB1536/SB995 and SB997) will go to conference and we will work with the conferees (the legislators assigned to work out the compromise) to make sure we get the very best language possible in all. Stay tuned here for updates.

Tomorrow is a big day at the General Assembly. It’s Valentine’s Day. The General Assembly staff takes this very seriously. Red and pink decorations are up, candy is out, roses are being delivered, and everyone has their red clothes ready. I will try to get some pictures for tomorrow’s blog.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Very Little To Report

Sometimes a quiet Friday is exactly what you need after the frantic days leading up to crossover and the long days of budget debate. Today was exactly that kind of Friday. Floor action was brief and all afternoon committee meetings were cancelled. Things pick back up on Monday with quite a few bills of interest to the VEA up in committee.

One win this morning. The House Finance Subcommittee #3 killed SB1426, a bill to expand Delegate Massie's Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship program. The House had killed their own version of this bill last week, but, in what is sometimes a strategy to keep lobbyists away, the Senate bill received a surprising, and unexpected, subcommittee assignment. The House version of the bill went to a subcommittee that meets at 4pm Wednesdays. The Senate version was quickly assigned to this morning's much smaller subcommittee #2 that meets at 7:30am. I can only assume the goal was to sneak it in under the radar. That strategy didn't work, and the Senate bill, just like the House version, went down by a voice vote. Another win for VEA!

Monday both the House and Senate will take up education bills so there will be much more to report. Until then I will take this quiet Friday and wish you all a happy weekend!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

VEA Bill Advances and Budget Debate

In an astonishing display of committee chairmanship, Senator Newman completed a docket of 73 bills this morning in the Senate Education and Health Committee in just under 3 hours. Only 4 bills were passed by for the day, so they took action on 69 bills. It was something to watch. He really runs a fantastic committee.

The VEA-initiated bill that establishes, as a state policy, the goal that teachers be paid at or above the National Average reported out of Senate Education unanimously (HB2332). It was referred to Senate Finance even though there is no fiscal impact on the bill. The bill was not referred for fiscal review in the House, so I mentioned to our patron, Delegate Roslyn Tyler, the referral concerned me. She wasn’t worried, but the Lobby Cadre will make contact with the members of the Finance committee to explain the bill so that it continues on its path to passage.

In other action, the Senate Education and Health Committee reported the “Tebow bill” that would allow home-schooled students to participate in VHSL activities. Here is a portion of VEA’s testimony on the bill this morning:

“Public school students must meet 13 different requirements in order to be eligible to participate in VHSL activities. There are no “maybes” or “almost” or “close enough”. It’s all or nothing. VHSL’s purpose with these requirements is to maintain a fair, and level, playing field for our student athletes. Allowing non-public school students to participate un-levels the playing field.
Every parent tries to make the best decision for their own child and with each of these decisions there are things the parent must consider. Public school families give up the freedom and flexibility of curriculum, hours, and state standards but they are afforded the opportunity that comes with a public school education. Parents who choose a non-public school setting have the benefits of flexibility of time and instruction, but with their decision, they lose the opportunity to participate in public school VHSL activities.”

Here's how the committee voted. A Nay vote was the right vote:

HB 1578 Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs (Tebow Bill). Reported from Education and Health (9-Y 6-N)

YEAS--Newman, Black, Carrico, Cosgrove, Lewis, Dunnavant, Chase, Suetterlein, Peake--9.
NAYS--Saslaw, Lucas, Howell, Locke, Barker, Petersen--6.

The Senate Committee also failed to report the calendar bill that would allow local school divisions to determine the best start day for school. For 31 years, public schools in VA have been required to start school after Labor Day unless they are granted a waiver, mainly for weather. Next year Fairfax will be added to the list of local school divisions that will have control over their own calendar as they were granted a waiver last year. So Loudoun, Prince William, Fairfax, and nearly every school division west of I-95 has a waiver. Local control is already in place for most school divisions in Virginia through the waiver process. It is well past time to return it to ALL localities. This won’t be the year, but, maybe, one day, the state will allow local control on decisions effecting school start dates.

Here is the committee vote to kill the bill this morning, a NAY vote was the Right Vote:

HB 1983 School calendar; opening day of school year.

Passed by indefinitely in Education and Health (9-Y 6-N)

YEAS--Newman, Saslaw, Lucas, Barker, Black, Carrico, Cosgrove, Lewis, Dunnavant--9.
NAYS--Howell, Locke, Petersen, Chase, Suetterlein, Peake--6.

Delegate Dickie Bell’s long-term suspension bills (HB1535 and 1537) were conformed to the Senate versions, which we prefer. While this is action that was expected after crossover, we are very hopeful when the bills go to conference, we get a bill closer to the Senate version. We are keeping a close eye on this process.

The other bills that are concerning to us are those on CTE local waivers on teacher licensure. These identical bills (HB1770 and SB1583) would allow a local school division to waive, for CTE hires, the licensure requirements on teaching. The VEA will continue to hold the line that just putting a subject matter expert in a classroom doesn’t mean they can teach. We realize there are shortages, and hiring for some trade classes is difficult, but we need to make sure that our teachers have training on how to teach. You don’t solve a teaching shortage by removing requirements of training in pedagogy.

The House and Senate each spent a long afternoon debating each amendment to their respective budgets. Once each body adopts their own budget they will send their Budget Bill to the other body. The House will reject the Senate budget, and the Senate will reject the House budget. That action forces Budget Conference (the meeting to come to a compromise). Budget work will continue until the end of session. Keep tuned for more and for possible cyber lobbyist alerts. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Bills Have Crossed Over and It's JMU Day at the General Assembly!

The day after crossover is always a day to reset and regroup. There is limited action in committees and on the floor as bills are referred to subcommittees in the other body. Tomorrow’s Senate Education and Health Committees will take up quite a few bills of interest to the VEA. I will update you tomorrow.

Crossover always means a shift of focus to the budget. The House and Senate budgets are very similar in overall dollars to K-12, but different in their strategy for how the money is dispersed. Our friends at The Commonwealth Institute have a nice comparison of the budgets (Governor, House, and Senate). You can read that by clicking on the link below.

The big action of the day was celebrating JMU's National Football Championship! Both the House and the Senate had presentations of Resolutions commending the team for their accomplishment. I add this as JMU has a very special place in the hearts of your Lobby Cadre! Gail Pittman, Jay Deck, and I bleed purple and gold. We were not shy in our hunt for a photo op with JMU Football Coach Mike Houston, quarterback Brian Shor, and safety Raven Greene. Some may call it stalking, but we call it taking advantage of an opportunity. Photos of your proud Lobby Cadre are below! GO DUKES!! FYI... Coach Houston took the first one. We didn't plan on what to do when there was no one available to take a picture, we just stood there for a second and then he offered. A good man!

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Crossover Day and Some Important Action

Today is Cross Over Day! Each body has until midnight to complete action on all legislation that originated in that body. In the House that is 1,561 bills or resolutions; the Senate a slightly lighter load of 1,013. Let’s hope neither takes until Midnight!

The Senate passed their version of the long-term suspension bills this morning. Senator Stanley has been working with education groups to strike a compromise that will cut down on long-term suspensions in VA, but will also allow school divisions to keep other students and the school staff safe from the most egregious violations. SB995 passed the Senate 32-8 and SB997 passed 34-6. We are hopeful that Delegate Bell will feel the pressure to reach a good compromise on his similar bills that barely passed the House yesterday. That was always our goal. As I have said in previous posts, the VEA recognizes the need to bring down long-term suspension rates, and we look forward to continuing the work to bring the resources to our schools to support the student behaviors that, often times, lead to suspensions.

The Senate also took up the Virtual School Bill this morning. There was a floor substitute and the VEA was hopeful there would be a bill we could get behind. That is just not the case. Senator Petersen, who is still going to work with Senator Dunnavant on the bill, acknowledges that there are still issues with the bill. VEA believes that one of the biggest issues is the establishment of a separate Virtual School Board that is completely independent of the Board of Education. This Board would establish a virtual state-wide “school” that would receive all state and federal funding for each student enrolled. That funding and oversight system is flawed, and, unless that is changed, VEA will continue to oppose the bill. The VEA also has concerns about the quality and completion rates for full-time virtual schools. When state money is used, there should be a requirement of both indicators. A good report on the graduation rates of Virtual Schools can be found here:

The House passed two troubling bills, HB1605 and HB2342. HB1605 which is Delegate LaRock’s Educational Savings Account bill, is his annually-submitted voucher bill. This year the bill is very broadly written. The bill narrowly passed 49-47 with some good friends of public education voting with us by opposing the bill. The vote count is below. The Senate killed a more narrowly drawn version of this bill yesterday when Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam cast a tie-breaking NO vote. We will see what happens to LaRock’s bill as it makes its way through the Senate. Please thank your member of the House of Delegates for a NAY vote on HB1605.

HB 1605 Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts established. House: VOTE: PASSAGE (49-Y 47-N)

YEAS--Adams, Albo, Anderson, Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Byron, Cline, Cole, Collins, Cox, Davis, Dudenhefer, Farrell, Fowler, Freitas, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Helsel, Hodges, Holcomb, Ingram, Jones, Landes, LaRock, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, Minchew, Miyares, Morris, O'Bannon, Orrock, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Ransone, Robinson, Stolle, Villanueva, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Mr. Speaker--49.

NAYS--Aird, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bloxom, Boysko, Bulova, Campbell, Carr, Edmunds, Filler-Corn, Hayes, Heretick, Herring, Hester, Hope, Hugo, James, Keam, Knight, Kory, Krizek, Leftwich, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, Loupassi, McQuinn, Miller, Mullin, Murphy, O'Quinn, Pillion, Plum, Price, Rasoul, Rush, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Ware, Watts, Yancey, Yost--47.
NOT VOTING--Fariss, Kilgore, Morefield--3.

HB2342 is Delegate Landes’ Regional Charter School bill. He does try to thread a Constitutional needle with this bill, but he missed the mark. The VA Constitution grants the authority to establish and maintain public schools to the local governments, and this bill undermines that authority. The bill passed 55-42. The vote count for this bill is below. Please thank your member of the House of Delegates for a NAY vote on HB2342.

HB 2342 Public schools; Board of Education to establish regional charter school divisions.: House: VOTE: PASSAGE (55-Y 42-N)

YEAS--Adams, Albo, Anderson, Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Byron, Campbell, Cline, Cole, Collins, Cox, Davis, Dudenhefer, Edmunds, Farrell, Fowler, Freitas, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Hodges, Holcomb, Ingram, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LaRock, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Massie, Minchew, Miyares, Morris, O'Bannon, Orrock, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Stolle, Villanueva, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yancey, Mr. Speaker--55.

NAYS--Aird, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bloxom, Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Filler-Corn, Hayes, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hester, Hope, Hugo, James, Keam, Kory, Krizek, Leftwich, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, Marshall, R.G., McQuinn, Miller, Mullin, Murphy, O'Quinn, Pillion, Plum, Price, Rasoul, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Watts, Yost--42.

NOT VOTING--Fariss, Morefield--2.

The very last bill the Senate considered before adjourning on crossover day was Senator Obenshain's Regional Charter School Bill, SB1283. This bill is identical to the bill that passed the House earlier in the day with the vote count above. The Senate is not as friendly to this type of bill. All day Senator Obenshain kept taking the bill by temporarily in an effort to get his 21 votes lined up. The VEA had conversations with Senator Hanger and Senator Chafin leading into the vote and we knew neither of them liked the bill. Ultimately, Senator Obenshain did a splendid job presenting his bill, and Senator Hanger voted against the bill. That should have been a 20-20 tie, but Senator Chap Petersen voted in favor and the bill passed 21-19.

Tomorrow morning each body will start debate on the bills that survived cross over. Many of the bills the VEA is following aren’t crossing over, but the bills we have left are important and we look forward to advocating for the good ones, and against the bad. 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Hours and Hours and Hours of Floor Action

We have less than 36 hours until crossover and, in typical fashion, the House and Senate floor calendars were very long. All committee work was cancelled as both bodies worked to complete debate on all of their own bills by midnight tomorrow.

The House passed VEA’s HB2332 unanimously. Delegate Roslyn Tyler carried legislation to add language to Virginia’s teacher compensation goal. This bill adds language that would put, as a state policy, the goal that teachers in Virginia be paid at or above the National Average. We are very grateful to Delegate Tyler for carrying this bill for us and we look forward to getting it through the Senate as unscathed as it was in the House. We have tried in past sessions to get this language into Code, and this may be the year we make it happen!

In an interesting twist in the Senate, the Parental Choice Education Savings Account Bill from Senator Dunnavant (SB1243) passed on its last read along a party line vote of 21-19. A few minutes later, the body asked that the bill be reconsidered and the vote was 20-20 allowing Lieutenant Governor Northam to cast the tie-break vote. He voted NO and the bill failed! This is a big victory against VOUCHERS! Thank you to Lt. Governor Northam for breaking the tie. It will be interesting to see what happens when HB1605 comes over to the Senate. Delegate LaRock’s bill is much more broadly drawn, but it is the same voucher scheme that failed today. Time will tell.

Many bills that VEA opposes are still on the floor and will all be taken up for final passage tomorrow in what will surely be another long day of floor action.

Friday, February 3, 2017

A Story of the Good and the Bad in House P&E

This morning the House Committee on Privileges and Elections met for the last time before crossover. The VEA was there for a couple of reasons. 

First, we wanted to make sure the full committee did not pick up Delegate Bell’s HJ629, the Constitutional Amendment on Charter Schools. The subcommittee laid the bill on the table last week, but since it was “on the table” it could still be picked up and passed by the full committee. That action would have kept the bill alive. Second, we had heard the full committee would pick up Delegate Landes’ HJ763 which would prohibit the drawing of any electoral district in a way that would favor or disfavor any political party or incumbent legislators. The subcommittee had voted to lay HJ763 on the table in subcommittee, so the rumor of it being picked up by the full committee was really exciting for those of us who believe in a fair redistricting process and the end of political gerrymandering in VA.

So the good… the Charter School Constitutional Amendment was not picked up and is, for all purposes, dead. So we will not face this amendment this session or next session. Really good news!

The bad and, frankly, the ugly. The full committee quickly adjourned before taking up the redistricting bill. I haven’t seen an adjournment and a run for the door by members of the House so quickly in a while. The room was packed with Virginians who support a fair redistricting process. Our partners at Virginia 2021 have done a great job organizing and mobilizing on this issue. To say there was anger and frustration in the room is an understatement. We must continue to fight this fight, but we are literally trying to get legislators to pass a bill that might make their race for re-election competitive, and that isn’t something elected officials, on either side of the aisle, want to do. Easy re-election is their preference. It is not ours, and we will stand with Virginia 2021 and with all of those who agree that political gerrymandering in VA must end.

Meet the VEA Lobby Cadre

The VEA is very fortunate to have a team of dedicated leadership and staff who are at the General Assembly every single day, covering every single committee and subcommittee meeting during session. We are lucky to have our Lobby Cadre! Please read below to learn a little more about them.

Jim Livingston
Jim Livingston is your VEA President. Jim began his term on August 1, 2016.

From Jim,
The thing I find most interesting about lobbying is the fact that so many elected members of the GA bring their own personal biases to bear in the form of the legislation they bring to the table.  Too many legislators bring their own agenda rather than representing constituents.  That is not true of all but for many who’ve been in elected office for some time, they have clearly lost touch with constituents and too often vote simply according to ideology.

For that reason, it has become very clear that it’s time to shake up the GA!  Simply put…it’s time for some of them to go!

I wish members knew how much personal stories/personal appearances by individuals impact/influence how legislators respond.  While it’s difficult for our members to leave their classrooms/work assignments, their personal appearance to speak to specific legislation would have a huge impact.

James Feddermann
James J. Fedderman, Ph.D., is the choral director at Arcadia High School located on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. He is in his first term as VEA Vice President and his third term as NEA Director.  He is looking forward to advocating and advancing the Legislative Agenda of the VEA.
Dr. Fedderman is the proud father of one daughter, Jordan Alexandria Fedderman and one son, Jaylen Alexander Fedderman.

Gail Pittman
Gail Pittman began lobbying for the VEA in 1988. Over those years she has seen many changes in the General Assembly.  Support for public education has cycled high and low, but throughout, Pittman has been a consistent voice for Virginia's public schools and Virginia's public school employees.  VEA is a powerful voice for its members and the children they serve.  Pittman is proud to have a small part in that advocacy.

Jay Deck
Jay Deck is the UniServ Director in Valley UniServ. He has lobbied for the VEA for 24 tears. He enjoys representing teachers and students in the public schools. Without VEA a presence, those voices would be lost. I monitor the money committees (House Appropriations and Senate Finance) in the General Assembly.

Pat Wood
Pat Wood is the UniServ Director for New River UniServ including Grayson, Galax, Carroll, Pulaski, Radford, Floyd, Montgomery and Giles.  Her office is located in Radford.  She is a veteran UniServ Director of over 25 years.  She has been with the VEA Lobby Cadre for five years.  Pat has four daughters and lives in Roanoke. 

Alicia Smith
Alicia Smith has been with the Virginia Education Association since January 2007. She is the UniServ Director assigned to the Elizabeth River UniServ Unit serving Chesapeake and Norfolk. Her professional experience includes working in political campaigns in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Illinois. She fell in love with the Virginia General Assembly during the 2004 session as a Graduate Student Intern for Norfolk State University’s Office of the President and Legislative Affair. VEA brought her back to this love in 2007. Serving on the Lobby Cadre reminds her of the diversity of our Commonwealth. Virginians from every walk of life are free to come in and out of Capitol Square telling their stories and advocating for their interest. Actively accessing this freedom is her favorite thing about lobbying for you. 

Lisa Staib
Lisa has been a UniServ Director in VEA's Alexandria office for 15 years and this is her 6th year on the lobby cadre. Growing up in a capital city, Jefferson City, Missouri, and as a political science major, Lisa has always been interested in politics.  And as the members she works with can attest, she loves to analyze and advocate for local school board policies.  Lobbying combines both of these interests and strengthens in her work on behalf of VEA members at both the state and local level. 

Cindy Kirby
Cindy serves VEA as a UniServ Director in Fairfax. This is her second year on the Lobby Cadre. She looks forward to working with her colleagues and to educating our NOVA Senators and Delegates on VEA’s legislative agenda and K-12 public education issues. Cindy thinks that it is so exciting to part of the effort to improve the lives of our members and advance the cause of public education in Virginia. She was thrilled to see so many of you on Lobby Day!

Kathy Burcher
Kathy Burcher is the Director of Government Relations and Research for the VEA. In this role, she serves as your chief lobbyist. This is Kathy’s second year on the Lobby Cadre, but her 10th session advocating for public education issues in VA. Kathy likes to tell members to “Tell Your Story!” She knows that legislators need to hear the impact of the decisions made here at the General Assembly. They need to know what is happening in your classrooms, in your schools, and in your communities. So, keep telling your stories, keep talking with your legislators. Build that relationship during the off-session and keep it up. Invite them to your schools, to your rep meetings, make them a partner in everything you do. Remember, they work for you.

Travis Blankenship
Travis is our new Government Relations Specialist who will oversee VEA’s Campaigns and Elections and PAC work, but he will also serve on the Lobby Cadre. Travis is a familiar face at the General Assembly having worked the last 5 sessions for the Virginia League of Conservation Voters. We are happy to have Travis join the Cadre and the VEA Team!