Monday, January 22, 2018

VEA Lobby Day and Action in the House- FINALLY!

Today more than 300 VEA advocates descended on the Virginia Capitol to meet with their legislators. I love walking around the legislative office building and seeing so many offices filled with educators. I know that the members of the General Assembly look forward to our lobby day every year, and they listen to us. A huge thank you to everyone who traveled to the Capitol today!

Very early this morning the first House Education Committee subcommittee met and there is finally progress on bills. The bills that come up early during session tend to be less controversial and this morning was no exception to that rule. There was one exception. Today Delegate Robert Bell brought his bill that would open up dual enrollment courses offered through our public high school students to all home schooled students in the Commonwealth. The VEA opposes legislation that allows home schooled students to participate in public school dual enrollment classes when no state funding follows them. Aside from public school students possibly being bumped from dual enrollment classes offered in their schools, this is an unfunded mandate. The VEA was joined by the School Boards Association, and school Superintendents opposing this bill. When the vote was recorded, the vote was 4-4. In the House, ties die. The Chair of the Subcommittee, Delegate Leftwich, was stunned and confused for just a moment since this committee is made of up 5 Republicans and 3 Democrats, so this was not the expected outcome. Someone from the side of the dais told the Chairman that the bill failed to report because of the tie, and that outcome was recorded. The patron of the bill was not pleased.

Here's what's interesting and confirms that ELECTIONS MATTER! Delegate Helsel, one of the Republicans in the subcommittee, is brand new to the Education Committee. He voted against his caucus and killed the bill. After the committee adjourned, I thanked Delegate Helsel for his vote. He said to me, "Why would anyone vote for a bill like that? If the teachers, school boards, and superintendents oppose a bill, I think I should, too." The VEA is grateful that Delegate Helsel is on the Education Committee and that he sees value in the opinions of educators.

In the late afternoon, a different House Education Committee met to take up a series of bills the VEA supports. There were multiple bills that dealt with the post-Labor Day start. The subcommittee ultimately moved two bills forward to the full committee. HB372 is a not a full repeal of the King's Dominion Law, but gives school divisions the authority to set their own calendars so long as if they start before Labor Day they include at least a 5 day weekend over the holiday. HB1020 also passed the subcommittee. That bill is a full repeal of the King's Dominion law. Last year the House passed a bill identical to HB372, but it failed in the Senate. We will see what happens this session. The post-Labor Day start has been the law of the land since 1986, it is time to make a change.

The subcommittee also took up a pile of bills on SOL testing reform. Most of the bills would reduce the number of standardized tests to the Federal requirement. Ultimately the subcommittee decided to send all of the bills to the Committee on the Future of Public Education and they will all be addresses off session.

In case you are wondering if the general sense is that SOL assessments need reform, the subcommittee heard another bill to allow "super scoring" of the SOLs. This would mirror scoring on the SAT where a student score can be built on the best scores he or she achieved on each section. HB808 would allow, for students who take an SOL more than once because they did not pass the first time, the highest score in each section of the SOL test to count towards the final score. The current design of the SOL assessments do not allow for that type of scoring model. The subcommittee has asked the patron work with the Department of Education and bring the bill back to the subcommittee next week.

Super proud of VEA members Bruce Smith and Tracey Mercier who spoke in favor of reducing the number of SOL tests. They came and told their stories! Well done!