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While it does not require a 2% salary increase for next school year, it would encourage and allow school divisions that rescinded raises last school year when the state did not come through with support, to have state support this upcoming year.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.