Thursday, January 19, 2017

Lots of Action in the Senate and Potential for a Very Rainy Lobby Day

The Senate Education and Health Committee had a long docket this morning. In the middle of working through all the bills, the Committee heard a presentation on mental health services in Virginia. While things are improving, Virginia has a long way to go in addressing this enormous health crisis.

Two bills of interest to VEA came before the full committee. The first is Senator Barker’s bill that would change the Standards of Accreditation on instructional hours for kindergarten students. This increase in hours would require all school divisions in VA to have full-day KG programs by 2019. Right now there are only 3 divisions that don’t offer full-day KG. VEA supported this bill. But, alas, the bill failed on party line vote.

The big bill for us in this committee was Senator Dunnavants’ Parental Choice Education Savings Plan bill. This is a cousin to Delegate LaRock’s bill from last year that passed the General Assembly and was vetoed by Governor McAuliffe over Constitutional concerns. Dunnavant’s bill is targeted to students with an IEP. Parents would withdraw their child from public schools, and all of the state SOQ funding for that child would be deposited into an account for the parent to use for all sorts of “educational programs” that include transportation, SAT/ACT testing, and “other education-related goods and services”. There is no accountability tied to this state money that the student makes any type of educational progress or meets any established goals. State money with no accountability…

This is a voucher bill, but it is more concerning because there is no requirement that a parent enroll a student in any school. If they decide to enroll in a private school, they may choose a sectarian or non-sectarian school. State money with no accountability that can be used for religious schools. After confirming with the patron last night that the bill would “be heard, she refused to amend it, it will pass, and the Governor will veto it”, Senator Dunnavant asked that the bill go by for the day. We were ready, but now we will wait until next week.

In the afternoon the Senate Sub-committee on Public Education also had a long docket and took the following action in bills of interest to the VEA:

SB828- Senator Wexton’s bill directed at slowing down the school to prison pipeline reported after Senator Reeves’ similar bill was rolled in. VEA supports this bill.

SB995, 996, and 997- Senator Stanley’s bills that put serious limits on a school’s ability to suspend students or prohibit suspensions in certain cases. VEA opposes all three of these bills. As our members know, the resources and services schools need to support the behaviors that lead to suspensions have been cut from our schools. 

We certainly recognize the need to decrease suspension rates. Teachers want to teach, but taking away the ability of schools to make decisions to keep the school safe may have unintended consequences. Contrary to what Senator Dunnavant said, this is not a “classroom management problem”. We have a problem that starts with a lack of resources in our schools and extends to communities that struggle to support families and students in need.

There are many changes coming if these bills pass. First is reducing the maximum length of a long-term suspension from 364 days to 45 days, the other is prohibiting suspensions in grades K-2.

In other news, Delegate Bob Marshall’s Bathroom Bill died in sub-committee today. VEA was there to oppose that bill.

And finally...
The weather report for Lobby Day is looking as dark as the support for public education this year.  I wonder if Mother Nature is being paid by the Koch brothers??? Seriously though, heavy rain and thunder are currently forecast for Monday morning. Please come prepared for the weather. There is always a line to get into the General Assembly office building, and the area is not covered. What Mother Nature needs to know is that we are public school employees, it takes more than rain and thunder to deter us.