Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Snow, Good Data, and Still Slow

The General Assembly has only had a "snow day" twice in the last 40 years. So although it was  very cold, snowy day, we proceeded with committee work.

The House Education Committee met this morning to hear reports from three groups: The Virginia High School League, VCU Wilder School of Public Policy, and The Virginia Chamber of Commerce. Still no bills on the docket, but there was really good information presented and good questions from the new members of the Committee.

VCU presented their data from their annual survey of Virginians on their feeling and perceptions on public education. The data show that most Virginians support a strong system of public education and believe there should be more funding to meet the increasing needs of our students. It is always a morning that validates what we, who work in public education, know; the families we work with believe we need additional resources. The breakdown this year showed that Virginians in the Southwest lead the way in demanding more resources for their public schools, with Central Virginia very close behind. You can read a summary of the report here.

Next week the work of House Education should begin to pick up. Let's hope it does as the legislation is stacking up and the Committee has yet to hear a single bill. The solution to this problem, you ask? Sub Committee meetings at 7am starting next week.

We were hopeful that the House Finance Sub Committee would take up a few Tuition Tax Credit Scholarship bills that are problematic to the VEA, but the committee was cancelled at the last minute. So finance bills are stacking up, too.

So with slow action, I was able to spend time today prepping our bill sponsors. Our Senate bill requiring the DOE to implement a state-wide school climate survey that would inform state and local policy to address the teacher shortage and student achievement will be up in a Senate sub tomorrow afternoon. Our good friend, Senator Jennifer McClellan, is carrying that bill (SB456) for us and Delegate Schyler VanValkenburg has an identical bill (HB1119) in the House.

I also caught up with Delegate Hala Ayala who is carrying our Tax Credits for Educators bill (HB624). This bill would allow educators (as defined in the bill) to receive a tax credit of up to $250 for  non-reimbursed classroom supplies. Delegate Ayala let me know that Delegate Mark Cole signed on to this bill. We are excited about the bipartisanship, but this is going to be a tough bill to get out of House Finance. We will see.

Finally, I touched base with Delegate Chris Hurst who is carrying a bill that would repair the SOL Innovation Committee voting rules that currently allow 4 legislators to veto the vote of 28 citizen-members appointed to the committee. These citizen-members act as subject matter experts on revising our system of standards and assessments here in VA. The bill doesn't have a number, yet, as we purposefully delayed its filing to that it would still be alive on VEA's Lobby Day on Monday, but as soon as I have one, I will share. Tomorrow the VEA will launch an on-line petition to let Delegate Hurst know we are with him and to ask the General Assembly to support this bill. It has a tough fight and the Senate is looking to kill it quickly. I have some confidence in the House, but, regardless, we are so appreciative of Delegate Hurst for seeing the real issue at play when legislators give themselves the power to override appointed citizen-committee members. He wanted this bill as soon as I talked to him back in November. I think the reporter in him is happy to shine a light on this.

So hopeful tomorrow I will be able to report that bills were heard and our bill advanced in the Senate! Also tomorrow I will make sure to include a link to our petition so you can sign it and share it- grassroots style!

One last update, send some healthy vibes to your Lobby Cadre. The flu has struck and we are down about 1/2 of our Cadre. There are so many people in such close quarters during session, it is a breeding ground for germs. So healing thoughts and grassroots efforts are the ask for today.

Stay warm!