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.