Thursday, January 26, 2017

Virtual Schools, Vouchers, Discipline, and the Governor

Today was VEA-Retired Lobby Day. I was grateful to be able to give our retired members a briefing on the VEA's top issues this session. We are fortunate to have such a dedicated group of members who really step up and advocate!

A long day of Education Committee and Subcommittee meetings today. The House Subcommittee Public School Innovation started at 7am in order to work through all of the bills they have stacked up. Two different approaches to full-time Virtual Schools reported. One is Delegate Dickie Bell’s bill that is identical to last year’s bill that Governor McAuliffe vetoed. It sets up a separate virtual school board that would be independent of the VA Board of Education. The Virtual School Board would be established as its own school division. The VEA continues to oppose this approach. There is an identical bill to this one in the Senate sponsored by Senator Dunnavant. That bill was up in Senate Education and Health but was passed by for the day.

The other approach requires all school divisions to make a full -time online program available to at least 2% of their students. In Delegate Bulova's HB1764, the local school board would maintain control of the virtual school and the student would stay on the local rolls. The VEA thinks this is a better approach, but it still needs some work, so we are watching this one for now. There is an identical Senate bill sponsored by Senator Petersen SB1380. That bill was passed by for the day in Senate Education and Health. Virginia is going to have to figure out how to offer a full-time virtual program. I am not certain either of these bills get us where we need to be, but we are at least working on it.

The Senate Education and Health Committee passed SB1243 which is a voucher bill disguised as a Parental Choice Education Savings Account. Senator Dunnavant’s bill is limited to special education and low income students.  Her bill is headed to Senate Finance for a review. The House version of this bill is Delegate LaRock's HB1605. That bill has no limits on qualifications to be eligible for a savings account. That bill passed the House Education Committee ans was referred to Senate Finance. Both are troubling bills that VEA opposes. .

This afternoon the Senate Education Subcommittee on Public Education will, once again, take up the school discipline bills they heard last week. Senator Carrico, the Chair, has asked the bills to come back to sub. These are the bills (SB995, 997, and 996) that would reduce the days allowed for a long term suspension from 364 to 45. SB997 would prohibit suspensions in grades K-5. The VEA opposes these bills. We will see what happens later today in subcommittee, but we are hopeful that bringing them back to sub is a sign there are more questions. Check back tomorrow for more.

Finally, this morning Governor McAuliffe went on the radio to insist that the General Assembly must do something for school employee salaries. The VEA is glad the Governor is taking up our cause. We need to keep up the pressure. Click on the link below to send an email to legislator.