Thursday, January 25, 2018

Big Issues This Session, Success on School Climate Survey

Good news to report today on VEA initiated SB456. This bill, carried by Senator Jennifer McClellan, would require the VA DOE to implement a state-wide climate survey of school personnel to evaluate issues that may be effecting teacher retention and student achievement. Other states have used this type of survey to make well informed state policy and funding decisions around teacher shortages. We are very hopeful we will win this one this session.

The bill reported 15-0 out of the Senate Education and Health Committee. When a bill comes unanimously out of committee, it goes on the uncontested floor calendar. Those are considered noncontroversial bills that are usually passed in a block. This is good news for the bill. It will have its first read tomorrow. The House version of the bill (HB1119) carried by teacher and VEA member Delegate Schyler VanValkenburg, hasn't gotten out of the blocks, yet, but I expect the bill to be heard in subcommittee next week. Hopefully the House will treat our bill exactly as the Senate has. 

I wanted to go over some big issues we are following this year. Of course, the VEA Legislative Committee approves our positions on any bill. No staff member speaks or takes action on a bill without approval of the committee. We are also focused on issues adopted by our members through our Legislative Agenda. While there are many well-intended bills and issues in the pre-K through 12 lane, we focus on bills that would have the greatest impact on our members. Often times we are lock step with the other education groups. But, from time to time, we find ourselves on the other side of an issue from our friends and sometimes we don't take up issues that other groups think we should. 

The VEA  Legislative Committee decides whether to support, oppose, or watch a bill. Often bills are assigned to a watch list because we are working with the patron to make changes to the bill. Sometimes the Legislative Committee decides to take no position on a bill. Sometimes these bills are better taken on by other groups such as the school superintendents or school boards. Regardless every single bill of the nearly 3,000 that have been filed this session have been reviewed by VEA staff for committee review and any Legislative Committee member can bring a bill up for consideration. 

So what are some of the big issues this year? Number one for us is the teacher shortage. 

There are many bills trying to go at this issue through changes to teacher licensure. The VEA believes that this is a teacher quality issue. We need to make sure that we maintain high standards for anyone who would like to be licensed to teach in Virginia, but we also need to look at current practice and see where we can make improvements. By the way, changing licensure requirements have no cost to the state or to localities, so it's seen as an easy way to get more teachers in the door. The VEA is covering all of the teacher licensure bills. 

We are also working on improvements to salaries of the SOQ funded positions, which includes teachers. This work is focused on budget amendments and with members of the money committees in the House and Senate. The "money committees" are the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees. These two committees will each develop a biennial budget and then work together on the final budget for 2018-2020 that we will see in early March. 

Speaking of budget amendments, we are also supporting amendments to increase the at-risk add on (see my post from earlier in the week for more information on that) and to reverse the cap on support staff that Virginia implemented during the depths of the recession. Both of these changes would have tremendous positive impacts on every single school division in the Commonwealth. 

We are also following bills that update the current SOQ staffing standards and implement the 2016 SOQ revisions. We are tracking and supporting bills to reduce class size and to address the SOQ revisions adopted by the VA BOE in October 2016. These revisions include increases in staffing levels for school nurses, guidance counselors, and other support personnel. The VEA is supporting all of the class size and staffing bills and having good dialog with legislators about adopting the SOQ revisions. 

Another other big issue we are working on is shutting down the school to prison pipeline. There are bills addressing this issue from a couple of different directions, and the VEA is working closely to move the best of these bills forward. 

We feel hopeful that we will have really good outcomes this session for our pubic schools and our public school employees. We are grateful to all of our activists who are staying in touch with their legislators and telling their stories. Keep it up. The session is just getting going, we have a long way to go. There is no greater fight than to protect our public schools and the students they serve.