Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Elections Matter, But So Do All of Our Friends of Public Education

This session started with a Democratic pick up in the House of 15 seats. That election result led to a complete shake up in the Chamber. Suddenly the Democrats, who only held 34 seats last session, had 49. The make up of almost every committee in the body changed dramatically with a more balanced number of Ds and Rs. But, the Democrats are still the minority on every committee and in the House overall (51-49), so we needed to count on some of our Republican friends to break with their caucus and vote to kill some really bad bills. Breaking with your caucus is far more difficult when you have such a narrow majority, but our friends did. This session, Delegates Tim Hugo, Robert Bloxom, and Gordon Helsel stood with us on bills that we were fighting, and their votes made the difference we needed. So while we are certainly grateful to our friends on the left side of the aisle, without bold votes by these three Republican delegates, our outcomes on these bills would have been different.

Some Bad Bills We Killed:
HB1286- This is Delegate Dave LaRock's annual attempt to create a voucher system in Virginia that would drain resources from our public schools and shift money to private and religious schools. This bill has passed the last three sessions only to be vetoed by Governor McAuliffe. This year was different. His bill came to the House Education Subcommittee where Delegate Helsel broke with the Republicans, and his vote killed the bill on a 4-4 vote. A "Nay" vote was to kill the bill:
YEAS--Bell, Richard P., Cole, Davis, Collins--4.
NAYS--Helsel, Tyler, Bulova, Bagby--4.
It was stunning! A bill that has passed the House and the Senate went down in subcommittee. Thank you Delegate Helsel!

HB1165 and SB172- These bills would have expanded eligibility of the families who could participate in Virginia's back door voucher system known as Educational Improvement Tax Credit Scholarship Program. The patrons championed these bills as a way to extend pre-school education to our under-served 4 year olds. That is not what these bills did. The bills would allow corporations or individuals to receive huge state tax credits for donations they make to scholarship programs at private and religious schools. These individuals can also claim a charitable donation in state income taxes and on their Federal income taxes- so a triple dip. These scholarships can be claimed by families with an income of no more than $74,300 to pay for pre-school. Lots of issues inside this bill, but ultimately the lost state revenue, in the form of tax credits, would have impacts on the state's ability to fund vital programs, including public education. Also the largest scholarship that could be claimed would in no means, pay the full costs of a high quality pre-school. The Washington Post recently called this program welfare for the middle class and a bailout for religious and private schools. We can always count on Delegates Hugo and Bloxom to vote against these bills, but his bill was tricky because of the focus on pre-school students. The Senate version of the bill passed the Senate, but the House Finance Committee killed it and the House version as well. Here are the votes of the Finance Committees on both bills:
SB172- A "Nay" vote was to kill the bill.
YEAS--Ware, Pogge, Orrock, Byron, Cole, Cline, Fariss, Fowler, Freitas, Brewer, Heretick--11.
NAYS--Hugo, Bloxom, Watts, Keam, Filler-Corn, Kory, Sullivan, Lindsey, Ayala, Jones, J.C., Carter--11.

HB1165- A "Nay" vote was to kill the bill.
YEAS--Ware, Pogge, Orrock, Byron, Cole, Cline, Fariss, Fowler, Freitas, Brewer, Heretick--11.
NAYS--Hugo, Bloxom, Watts, Keam, Filler-Corn, Kory, Sullivan, Lindsey, Ayala, Jones, J.C., Carter--11.
Thank you Delegate Hugo! Thank you Delegate Bloxom.

SB516- This bill is Senator Obenshain's annual attempt to expand charter schools in Virginia by taking the granting authority away from the local school board and giving it to a newly formed "Charter School Board". This bill passed last year and Governor McAuliffe vetoed the bill. This year there was writing on the wall, and the Senate Finance Committee actually carried the bill in to next year. So while it isn't dead, this committee passed the identical bill last year, so they realized the bill had no chance in the House.

HB496- This is Delegate Rob Bell's annual attempt to allow home schooled children to participate in the Virginia High School League activities. This bill has passed the House for years and, for a while, we could count on the Senate to kill the bill. For the last two sessions the bill has passed the General Assembly and was vetoed by Governor McAluliffe. This session, the bill came before the full House Education Committee where Delegate Helsel broke with his caucus as the only R to vote with all the Ds and the bill died. Everyone was shocked as this bill has passed the House for years. There was no Senate version of this bill, so we killed it early and didn't have to deal with it his session. A "Nay" vote was to kill the bill. The motion was to pass the bill, and, in a tie, the motion fails so the bill died.

YEAS--Landes, Bell, Richard P., Cole, Pogge, Robinson, Yancey, Davis, Leftwich, LaRock, Collins, McGuire--11.
NAYS--Helsel, Tyler, Bulova, Keam, Bagby, Bourne, Boysko, Hurst, VanValkenburg, Turpin, Rodman--11.
Thank you, again, Delegate Helsel.

We must always remember that a true friend of public education can be from any political party. If we don't build our coalition with members in both parties, we get no where. This session proves that. We are very grateful to Delegate Hugo, Delegate Bloxom, and Delegate Helsel for being with us.

While we are talking about friends of public education I wanted to share the vote on the the House budget that expands Medicaid, which we know is good for Virginia, and allows for real investments in our public schools. Here is the vote to pass the House budget, a "Yay" vote was to expand Medicaid and adopt the budget.
YEAS--Adams, D.M., Aird, Austin, Ayala, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bloxom, Bourne, Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Carroll Foy, Carter, Convirs-Fowler, Davis, Delaney, Edmunds, Filler-Corn, Garrett, Gooditis, Guzman, Hayes, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hodges, Hope, Hurst, Ingram, James, Jones, J.C., Jones, S.C., Keam, Kilgore, Knight, Kory, Krizek, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, Marshall, McQuinn, Morefield, Mullin, Murphy, Peace, Pillion, Plum, Price, Rasoul, Reid, Rodman, Roem, Sickles, Simon, Stolle, Sullivan, Thomas, Torian, Toscano, Tran, Turpin, Tyler, VanValkenburg, Ward, Watts, Yancey, Mr. Speaker--68.
NAYS--Adams, L.R., Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Brewer, Byron, Campbell, Cline, Cole, Collins, Fariss, Fowler, Freitas, Gilbert, Habeeb, Head, Hugo, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, McGuire, Miyares, O'Quinn, Orrock, Pogge, Poindexter, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright--32.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Bills We Followed- Where Are They Now?

Session is sprinting towards a finish, but with the House and Senate budgets over $650 million part, we are hearing rumors that the budget battle may extend session beyond the March 10 adjournment date. All work on bills other than budget is wrapping up, so this is a good time to go over some important bills we have followed.

VEA Initiated Bills:
SB456 and HB1119- These identical bills would require the Department of Education (DOE) to implement a school personnel climate survey. The estimated cost of implementing this survey was $300,000 over the biennium. Overall, members of the House ans Senate liked these bills a whole lot, but the House version was killed in Appropriations because they weren't prepared to fund it. The Senate passed the bill 39-0 (in fact it received not a single NO vote in the Senate at all), but the House has sent the bill to Appropriations to die. The bill has not yet been put on the docket, but it should be up on later this week. In good news, the Senate did include language in their budget to require the DOE to implement the survey with the resources they already have. If that language stays in the Conference budget, the DOE will have to implement the survey regardless of the bills passing.
Where are we: We have to wait for the budget.

HB624- A bill to allow state tax credits for educators of up to $250 on non-reimbursed classroom supplies they purchased. The bill had a $23 million fiscal impact.
Where are we: HB624 died in House Finance. A 'Yea" vote was to kill the bill.
YEAS--Hugo, Pogge, Fariss, Bloxom, Ayala, Ware--6.
NAYS--Watts, Sullivan--2.
NOT VOTING--Cline--1.

HB1501- This bill would have restored the original voting procedure to the SOL Innovation Committee and remove the current language that allows 4 legislators to override any vote of the 28 citizen-members on recommendations to make changes to SOL testing in VA.
Where are we: That bill died a painful death in the Speakers Rule's Committee. A "Yea" vote was to kill the bill.
YEAS--Cox, Gilbert, Landes, Kilgore, Ware, Jones, S.C., Orrock, Knight, Ingram, Habeeb, Hugo--11.
NAYS--Plum, Toscano, Carr, Ward, Torian, Bagby--6.

Teacher Evaluation Bill- This bill would have required the DOE to convene a work group to review and update Virginia's Teacher Evaluation Model to reflect the changes allowed by the passage of ESSA.
Where we are: The patron of the bill failed to file the necessary budget amendment by the due date, so the bill could not proceed. In fact, the bill never filed (although it was written) so it was never assigned a bill number.

Other Bills of Interest:
HB1125 and SB349- These bills became each chamber's omnibus bill on changes to teacher licensure. Both bills had very serious issues when they started and had very concerning language that would have allowed anyone to teach by making it very easy to get a teaching license or to allow waivers from even holding a license.
Where we are: The VEA worked very closely with the patron of the bills to get them to a place where they will do no harm. All of the really bad language was removed, including the "let anyone teach" section of the bills. The bills have conformed and, hopefully will not need to go to Conference. Basically the bill allows for full reciprocity for someone with an out of state, valid teaching license, allows for a 3-year provisional license to be extended by up to two years (one year at a time) by the Board of Ed upon the recommendation of the local superintendent and evidence of progress towards full licensure, and a change from a 5-year teaching license to a 10-year teaching license. The bill needs to pass the House and then go back to the Senate for adoption.

HB1600 and SB170- These bills change the definition of a long-term suspension (HB1600) and also limit any suspension in PK-3 to 3 days and prohibits expulsion in PK-3 (SB172).
Where are we: The VEA worked with the patrons and other groups to add flexibility to both bills so that local school boards have the ability to suspend beyond the days stipulated in the bills. These were important changes that we needed to see to get fully behind these bills. HB1600 passed the House 84-15 and the Senate 34-6. It will go the Governor's desk. SB170 passed the Senate 34-6 and just yesterday reported out of House Education Subcommittee 7-0. It will be heard tomorrow morning in the full House Ed Committee where we expect it to pass and head to the floor of the House for passage.

SB261- This bills adds permissive language in the staffing standards for middle and high school librarians that would allow local school divisions to hire fewer librarians. This has been a messy bill that has gained more and more heat the longer it lives. The bill barely passed the Senate after the patron was forced to make significant amendments just to get the floor votes it needed for passage.
Here is the Senate vote on passage, a "Yea" vote is to pass the bill:
YEAS--Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Hanger, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Petersen, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel, Wagner--22.
NAYS--Barker, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Howell, Lewis, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Wexton--17.
RULE 36--0.
NOT VOTING--Locke--1.

Where we are: The bill has picked up lots of push back and was assigned to the House Appropriations committee even though it has no fiscal impact. The bill has not yet been placed on the docket, but I expect it to show up later this week. It may never be put on a docket, which is another way to kill it. We will see. This one is very much still alive.

SB969- This bill sets into law how a student may earn a verified credit in Social Studies in order to graduate from high school in VA. The BOE recently made sweeping changes to how we teach (and test) our high school students so that they are better prepared for college or the workforce. The patron of this bill disagreed with what the BOE did and decided to write a bill to overrule them. The bill passed the Senate where the patron has a very high level of influence on education bills. In the House, they saw the light. The VEA lobbied hard against this bill and we had the votes to kill it in subcommittee. In fact, had the bill gotten out of subcommittee we had the votes to kill it in full committee, and had it gotten to the floor, we could have easily killed it there, too.
Where we are: The patron realized his bill was going to die a very quick death in subcommittee and he amended his bill to the point where he doesn't really like it anymore (he said that during testimony on the bill). The very amended bill passed the subcommittee 7-0 and will go to the full committee in the morning. The VEA still opposes the bill based on the over reach of the General Assembly over the Board of Education. We also learned yesterday the amended bill will cost almost one million dollars to implement and we feel that money could be far better utilized. The bill will have to go to Appropriations after it goes to the full Education Committee in the morning. We are working with Appropriations members to have them not fund (and kill) the bill.

Tomorrow I will walk you through the bad bills we were able to kill this session. Some of these bills have passed the General Assembly in years past and we've had to count on the Governor to veto them. Not this year since we are taking them down before they get very far. In fact, Governor Northam is starting to wonder if he will need his veto pen for any Education bills this session.

Monday, February 26, 2018

Voucher Expansion Dies

Today in House Finance, Senator Stanley's bill that would expand Virginia's back-door voucher program died when two Republicans broke with their caucus to kill the bill. Delegates Hugo and Bloxom, both of whom have consistently voted 100% with the VEA, voted against reporting the bill and the bill died. The same committee killed the House version of this bill earlier in session.

This bill would expand Virginia's Education Improvement Tuition Tax Credit program to include pre-school students who are not enrolled in pre-school or who are enrolled in private pre-school. This program allows individuals or corporations to make a donation to a scholarship program that provides money to students to attend private or religious schools. These donations come with huge tax breaks and credits. The bill  is a back door voucher bill. It offers a triple dip into our tax code by 1. allowing individuals or corporations to receive a very substantial state tax credit for the donation, 2. to claim the charitable donation on their state taxable income, and 3. to claim the charitable donation on their Federal income tax return as well. No matter how you try to slice it, when you give away tax credits, you loose revenue. So these credits will result in fewer dollars to invest in our public schools.

Also interesting in this bill is the position of the proponents who argue that these scholarships are designed to help families who live in poverty and to lift these students out of their circumstances and offer up money to pay for high-quality preschool. This bill, however, is designed for families who live at 300% of the poverty line, or $74,000. The scholarships also do not cover the costs of any high-quality preschool program, and most of the scholarships go to religious schools. So state money for "poor" families to send their child to religious schools. As The Washington Post reported last year, these types of programs are welfare for the middle class and a bail out for religious schools.

So we could lose up to $25 million of state money that would find it's way to private and religious schools via families that make $74,000 a year. How about we take that $25 million and make real investments in programs to expand real opportunities for our most at-risk students. Localities would love to expand their Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) slots, but can't because of the requirement of the local match to every state dollar. How about Virginia sends state money to the localities, without the required local match, to expand VPI. How about we use that $25 million to develop grants for our local school divisions that are implementing innovative programs to really target school readiness programs for our 4 year olds? There are so many more things we could do then offer tax credits to send kids to religious schools. Virginia can and must do better. 

I am wrapping up today with a report from the Senate floor. Sometimes you hear things from our elected officials that you have to make sure you heard correctly. It's important for me to share with you what some of our elected officials actually think about education. Today's floor debate was around a bill on dual language teachers. Senator Black asked to be recognized from the floor. His floor speeches are usually quite something and often lead you to scratch your head. So today Senator Black told the story of when he was in school and his story really shows how little he believes in the need for good instruction.

He told the story of the "Cubans" who were flocking to his neighborhood when he was in school. They would come to school and not get any instruction in English language; they would just sit silently in class and they were fine.  Day in day out, just sitting and sitting. And then, like magic, he described what would happen at the 6 month mark, "We'd come in one day and they could just speak English, they just picked it up." Pouf!! No instruction and they could speak English. It was that simple. Call it magic, call it a miracle, but that's honestly how Senator Black feels about teaching our English Language Learners.

So while Senator Black believes in magic when it comes to language acquisition, the bill that will support our dual language teachers with their ability to implement real instruction, passed. No magic needed!

And, yes, Senator Black voted against he bill.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Suspension Bills- Updates on Amendments and Substitutes

Once again this session we saw legislative efforts to reduce the numbers of suspensions and expulsions in our public schools. We can all agree that this is a problem that needs to be addressed. Those of us who work in our public schools can also agree that resources (effective programs, professional development, and personnel) are needed to support the student behaviors that can lead to suspensions and expulsions.

Ten years ago this session, and in response to the Great Recession, the General Assembly placed an arbitrary cap on state funding for school support personnel that has not been reversed. These positions are vital to providing classroom support for students struggling with behavior issues. In 2016, the VA Board of Education adopted sweeping changes to the Standards of Quality to reflect the increasing demands on our schools by the ever-increasing challenges of our students. These recommendations included more guidance counselors, social workers, nurses, and psychologists, again, all vital to supporting our students' needs. And yet, the General Assembly has not yet taken up the recommendations or developed a plan to implement and fund them. Our schools and our students need these resources.

The education community had asked year after year for state funding for alternative education programs in the elementary grades. Currently the state provides NO FUNDING for these types of programs. Only about 30% of our school divisions are able to provide an alternative education program for our youngest students, and they do so entirely with local funding. This is another place where we have larger school divisions that are able to provide these types of programs, and smaller divisions that can't.  We have also asked for the state to increase funding for programs that have worked in VA. There is evidence that the Virginia Tiered System of Supports (VTSS), offered through the DOE is effective at reducing behavior issues at schools where it is fully implemented, yet the Senate budget cuts increases to VTSS funding. Professional development and school implementation of the Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) model is also effective. And, yet state funding for that program has not expanded. We need resources, but they aren't coming, so the General Assembly is, instead, looking at legislative "fixes" to the problem.

Just like last year, there are  bills that would prohibit suspensions and expulsions in PK-3. No additional resources for our schools or classrooms; just stop their ability to suspend or expel. No question that would reduce the numbers, but schools need support, so we have, in past sessions, opposed these bills. This session, Senator Stanley carried the Senate version of the bill. He was very willing to work with all the stakeholders to get his bill to a place where we could all get behind it. He amended his bill to add 3 days, so that allows a student in PK-3 to be suspended for up to three day. The bill no longer prohibits suspensions. The other amendment he added was to give flexibility to the local school divisions to extend beyond the three days if there are extenuating circumstances. Here is the language in the amendment:

No student in preschool through grade three shall be suspended for more than three school days or expelled from attendance at school, unless (i) the offense involves physical harm or credible threat of physical harm to others or (ii) the local school board or the division superintendent or his designee finds that aggravating circumstances exist, as defined by the Department of Education. 

The education groups all believe that this amendment provides improvements to current practice while also offering enough flexibility to the local school divisions to make the best decisions to maintain safe learning environments for all students.

In the House, Delegate Bourne has HB1600 that would reduce long-tern suspensions from 364 days to 45 days. For all the reasons mentioned above, the education groups all opposed this bill. Delegate Bourne worked with all the stakeholders to amend his bill. In fact, his amendment language is similar to the amendment in Senator Stanley's bill. So HB1600 limits long-term suspensions to 45 days, but adds this amendment:

A long-term suspension may extend beyond a 45-school-day period but shall not exceed 364 calendar days if (i) the school board or division superintendent or his designee finds that aggravating circumstances exist, as defined by the local school board in a written policy, or (ii) the long-term suspension is preceded by another long-term suspension in the same school year.

We were grateful that the patrons and all the stakeholders could come to compromise language on this bill. We still need to fight for resources to support these behaviors, as nothing in these bills do that, but this is a good step and shows what we can accomplish when we all work together.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Contact Your Legislators NOW on Budget- Two Alerts

We have two active action alerts on budget. As you may know, both the Governor and the House of Delegates have expanded Medicaid in Virginia. By pulling down the $3.2 billion in Federal dollars, Virginia can expand health care coverage for thousands of Virginians. As if that wasn't enough, the expansion will allow us to use these Federal dollars to cover some of the Medicaid programs we are currently paying for with state revenues. That action frees up nearly $400 million in state money over the biennium. That money can be reallocated to vital state programs including our public schools. The Senate budget does not expand Medicaid and that decision forced them to make significant cuts to the Governor's budget and to vital public services.

Clearly, expanding Medicaid is good for Virginia and is just good business.

There are very distinct differences between the two budgets, but the House invests those Medicaid savings by adding more than $92 million in K-12 public education than the Governors proposed budget. The Senate, who failed to expand Medicaid, had to cut from the Governor's budget by more than $65 million in our public schools. That is a difference of more than $157 million between the two chambers' spending on K-12.

The biggest cut in the Senate budget was to the already meager 2% salary increase for teachers and support staff that was included at then very end of the biennial budget by the Governor. The Senate eliminated all salary action, period. Virginia's teacher salaries are already among the lowest in the country. Every legislator in the General Assembly admits we have a teacher shortage crisis in Virginia, yet they decided to cut even the smallest raise from their budget. That is unacceptable.

Click here to contact your member of the Virginia Senate and urge them to invest in Virginia by expanding medicaid. We can't afford not to .

The House of Delegates uses the state revenues freed up by the Federal Medicaid dollars to invest in our public schools. They EXPAND the raise for teachers and support staff for a whole year. They increase the Lottery fund by more than $91 million. These dollars go to school divisions on a per pupil basis and there is no local match required. School divisions can use this money as it best suits their students and schools.

The House of Delegates did the right thing. They made real investments in our schools, our teachers, and our support staff. We still have a long way to go, and we would like to see salary action in BOTH years of the biennium as we requested, but at least the House invests in us.

Click here to contact your member of the House of Delegates and tell thank thank you for making real investing in Virginia. Let them know that we stand strong with them. Expanding Medicaid is the right thing to do for Virginia and for our public schools.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Budget Details Are Coming

The details of the proposed House and Senate budgets are just coming out today.  Budgets are filled with money and language. Sometimes the committees will add language and no money. Both are important. These details always come out after Budget Sunday. The budget amendments adopted by the committees are called "half sheets" as each budget item (money and/or language) is on a 1/2 sheet of paper. They just came out an noon today and we are analyzing all the details and will have a full report later today or tomorrow. For now we know the budgets are $650 million apart. That is enormous.

The two budgets will go to conference which is a committee made up members of both the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees. This conference is charged with developing a compromise budget. It has been a very long time since the budgets have been this far apart.

The VEA will be launching a campaign to encourage the conferees to expand Medicaid and to invest the state savings in public education. Be on the look out for a new cyber alert this week and push for phone calls next week. We are going to be strategic and targeted in our approach and will need your help. In the next couple of days there will be messages from VEA President, Jim Livingston, email alerts, and links in this blog. We need to spread the word and load up the email inboxes of our legislators on this issue.

Without expanding Medicaid there will be no choice but to maintain the drastic cuts included in the Senate budget. We cannot allow that to happen. So stay tuned... budget details and call to action are coming. Get ready!!

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Senate CUTS, House INVESTS- Medicaid Battle Lines Drawn

Today the Money Committees (House Appropriations and Senate Finance) revealed their amendments to the 2018-2020 Biennial Budget. A Medicaid battle is now going to define the last few weeks of session. 

For context, thirty-two states and Washington, DC have expanded Medicaid. Virginia has not. While expanding Medicaid obviously requires us to cover more Virginians (which is a good thing) it comes with nearly $3.2 BILLION of Federal dollars to cover the costs and frees up $400 million in state dollars that we currently spend on programs that would be covered by the Federal government if we expand Medicaid.

The House, after a resounding election result in November with the pick up of 15 seats by Democrats, has agreed with Governor McAuliffe (in his budget) to expand Medicaid. The Republicans in the House have long argued that the Federal funding available to states under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was not sustainable. Each year that Virginia does not expand Medicaid they leave nearly $3.2 billion of Federal money on the table. With Congress not repealing the ACA and the big pick up of Democrats on Election Day, the House Appropriations Committee finally decided to accept the expansion. Keep in mind the expansion will free up just over $400 million of state funding that we currently use to fund many Medicaid programs using state dollars. So the House had $400 million more to spend than the Senate. 

So what was the House able to do for our public schools with some of that additional revenue? 

The House EXTENDS the 2% salary increase for all SOQ funded positions from December 2019 as proposed by McAuliffe, to July 1. 

The House INCREASES the At-risk add on funding and add language that would allow that money to be used to hire more school counselors. 

The House INCREASES the amount of supplemental lottery fund. That money goes directly to the school divisions on a per pupil basis. There is no local match required, so school divisions really have the opportunity to spend it on the programs they need. Now, the House always plays a little Tom Foolery on this budget line by adding things to this "money with no strings" like the At-Risk Add on increase and changes to the SOQ on elementary school principals as recommended by the Board of Ed, but they did increase this money. Without Medicaid expansion, that doesn't happen. 

The House also INVESTS and targets money to the Virginia Pre-School Initiative, a platform issue for Governor Northam. 

The Senate Finance Committee did NOT include medicaid expansion in their budget, so they are looking at cutting Governor McAuliffe's introduced budget by at least the $400 million the expansion brings to Virginia. The VA Senate was not up for election in 2017, so, while they are aware of the results in the House, they are still separated from it, so they feel shielded by the public on this issue. 

So without Medicaid expansion, what does the Senate offer our public schools? They are required to provide technical updates to the cost of the Standards of Quality. This is rebenchmarking. Please remember rebenchmarking simply updates the cost to continue the programs we currently have in the Commonwealth. It does not change anything. No new programs or positions are funded through this money. It is NOT NEW MONEY. While it is an investment in K-12, it is required by law and does not show a new commitment to our public schools. Don't be fooled by the messaging of some of our legislators. 

The Senate REMOVES the 2% salary increase at the end of year two as proposed by Governor McAuliffe. No raises AT ALL  for two years.

The Senate CUTS $7.1 million to make sure every elementary school in the Commonwealth has a principal.

The Senate DOES NOT add guidance counselors. 

The Senate increases the At-Risk Add on ONLY IN THE SECOND YEAR.

Ultimately the two budgets will go to Conference and we will see if the House, shaken up by the 2017 elections, or the Senate, still a brick wall against expansion, will win. There is very limited middle ground on this front. These last few weeks of session will be eventful and those of us who voted in 2017 with the goal of expanding medicaid will need to take our fight to the VA Senate and stand with the House. 

Expand Medicaid and have an additional $400 million in Federal dollars to invest in Virginia as the House proposes, or stand with the Senate, stay the course, and leave the $3.2 billion in Federal dollars on the table forcing Virginia to take a cuts only approach? What will our legislators do? As Ralph Northam said on the campaign trail, "If someone told me they'd vote to leave $3.2 BILLION dollars on the table, I'd tell them they should have their head examined!" 

The doctor has spoken!

Friday, February 16, 2018

Final Push On Budget

The House and Senate will revel their budgets on Sunday. The VEA and our partners at The Commonwealth Institute both have action alerts on the At-Risk Add On. NOW IS THE TIME TO ACT!!

The VEA Cyberlobby Action Alert is a direct ask to leadership on the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees (the Money Committees) to include an increase to the At-Risk Add On to their budget. You can click here to send a message directly to the leaders of the Money Committees through this alert.

The Commonwealth Institute and the Alliance for Virginia's Students/Legal Aid Justice Center is asking folks to directly call or email their member of the House and Senate to demand action on the At-Risk Add On. You can click here to do that.

Take the time to DO BOTH now!! Every single school division in the Commonwealth would see an increase in state funding if we increase the at-risk add on. This funding is directed to the schools and students that need additional resources and support. They need us to speak up for them.

There will be a Daily Report from the Money Committee meetings on Sunday with breaking news on the budget. Folks at the General Assembly have been keeping their budget plans close to the vest, so we aren't getting many clues on what to expect. Normally we do. Keep the pressure on.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

The Day After Tragedy

Yesterday was yet another school shooting.

It was the 18th school shooting this year.

The 18th.

This year is only 46 days old.

Eighteen school shootings in 46 days.

We cannot accept this as normal. Something must be done.

Today VEA member and 25-year teaching veteran, Delegate Cheryl Turpin spoke eloquently on the floor of the House about the events in Florida and about the lives lost. Click below to watch. Thank you Delegate Turpin for summing up how we all feel.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

We Have Passed the Half-Way Mark

We have passed the half way point of the 2018 General Assembly session. It has been an interesting month to say the least. I am sad to report that that the VEA initiated bill on Tax Credits (HB624) and changes to the SOL Innovation Committee Voting (HB1501) both died before crossover. Sadly our House bill requiring a school climate survey (HB1119) died in the House Appropriations Committee unexpectedly on Friday. It was looking like it was going to pass and we were going to get the funding in the budget to make it happen, but the K-12 Appropriations Sub took it down. We do still have the Senate version of that bill (SB456) that passed 38-0, but it has been assigned to the Appropriations Committee in the House, so I fear it is being sent there to die. All is not lost, as there may still be an appropriation in the Senate budget for the survey and we can fight for that in budget conference.

The House and Senate will announce their budgets on Sunday, so we will know soon. We will also see what the House and Senate will do for teacher salaries. We expect something in the first year, but we will have to wait and see what they do and how they do it (I believe the House will look at using lottery revenues again, which is a terrible idea). We do have a cyber lobby alert out on increasing the At-Risk Add On Funding in the budget. You can click this link to take action.

There are 4 main bills we are watching closely. Two are the teacher licensure bills (HB1125/SB349). The VEA worked closely with the House patron (with Delegate Bulova doing our work) to make that a good bill. The Senate patron was not as willing to listen, but the bill isn’t terrible. Our main worry of allowing a local superintendent to waive license requirements if someone has “content knowledge” is no longer in either bill. That was our focus, frankly. Below you can see a side-by-side of the two bills so you can see the differences. The House bill puts a study component onto ABTEL (the BOE’s Advisory Board on Teacher Education and Licensure) which is great. In case you didn’t know, the VEA has about 8-10 members on ABTEL and I serve as the VA PTA representative, so we have ABTEL stacked!!! These two bills will go to conference and I believe the House version will be the vehicle, but I will keep you updated.

The next bill that has gotten a lot of action and attention is SB261, the librarian bill. There is a whole lot of confusion about this bill and, from my perspective, it is getting more attention than any other bill right now. In its original form, SB261 would add permissive language to the SOQ staffing standard for school librarians. The current staffing standard requires two librarians for each 1,000 students in a middle or high school. The original bill would allow a school divisions to employ one librarian and one media specialist, resource teacher, instructional coach, personalized learning, lab facilitator, or content coordinator to satisfy the 2 for every 1,000 staffing requirement. The VEA opposed this bill. The patron, Senator Sutterlein, didn’t have the votes to get the bill off of the Senate floor, so he amended it to move it along. The amended bill still offers permissive flexibility on the 2 librarian for each 1,000 students in middle and high schools, but only allows for one librarian and either one media specialist or one resource teacher. The VEA still opposes this bill. The VEA supports the staffing standards in the SOQs and we know that when we offer flexibility to those standards, inequities develop for our students. For some reason there is a rumor that the VEA supports this bill. Please help me by sharing that we OPPOSE the bill. I have written about it at length in the Daily Reports, but that doesn’t seem to be getting the message out. This bill is on the Governor’s radar. His office is getting bombarded with calls from folks who oppose this bill.

The other troubling bill is SB969. This bill puts into law that every public school student must earn a verified credit in Social Studies to graduate. This verified credit is earned ONLY by passing an end-of-course SOL test. No division my use a performance based assessment (which is what the Board of Education established in their revised Standards of Accreditation on graduation requirements). The patron, Senator Steve Newman, did add some flexibility for students who can’t pass an SOL (special education and ELL) after he realized the issues with requiring the SOL as the only means to earn a verified credit and to graduate from high school for these student populations. What is very troubling in this bill is the overreach of the General Assembly to 1. Set graduation requirements and testing standards into law and 2. To undermine the Board of Education’s authority to set the Standards of Accreditation. Our concern isn’t about Social Studies, it is about the General Assembly using their authority to write laws to override the BOE. The bill passed the Senate overwhelmingly which really shows the power of Senator Newman in the K-12 world. We are hoping to kill it in the House. This one is going to take some work and some Republican friends to support our position. BTW all of the education groups oppose this bill. It is also on the Governor’s radar.

Teacher Licensure Comprehensive Bills - Comparison

HB 1125 (Landes)

SB 349 (Peake)
Regulations Governing Licensure:

·         Eliminates initial license technology proficiency requirement and for those seeking initial license or for any renewal eliminates PD in instructional methods to support SOL achievement

·         Local Superintendent may waive any applicable requirements in C or D new 2, 4, or 6 for person they seek to hire as a CTE teacher.

·         Increases the on-line teacher license from 5 years to 10 years
·         Provisional license grace period of one year to meet requirements in D new 1 (child abuse recognition), new 3 (CPR), new 6 (dyslexia)

Regulations Governing Licensure:

·         Eliminates initial license technology proficiency requirement and for those seeking initial license or for any renewal eliminates PD in instructional methods to support SOL achievement

·         Local Superintendent may waive any applicable requirements in C or D new 2, 4, or 6 for person they seek to hire as a CTE teacher.

·         Allows local superintendent to waive any requirements in C and D for a provisionally licensed teacher and they are eligible for renewable 5-year license so long as other requirements are met (no timeframes)


·         Full Reciprocity - individuals must establish a file at VA DOE; no testing requirements, no service requirements


·         Full Reciprocity - individuals must establish a file at VA DOE; no testing requirements, no service requirements

Alternative Routes to Licensure:

·         Board to establish alternative route for PK-6 and special ed general K-12. Must complete all assessments, and alternative program certification as established by the BOE

Alternative Routes to Licensure:

·         Board to establish alternative route for PK-6 and special ed general K-12. Must complete all assessments, and alternative program certification as established by the BOE

Licenses of teachers; provisional licenses; exceptions:

·         Provisional license extended for military deployed
·         Extension of provisional license by the BOE for at least one year, but up to two so long as certain requirements are met

Licenses of teachers; provisional licenses; exceptions:

·         Provisional license extended for military deployed
·         Extension of provisional license by the BOE for at least one year, but up to two so long as certain requirements are met

Waiver of Licensure CTE:

Waiver of Licensure CTE:

·         Increases local superintendent waiver from 1 to 3 years

Regulations governing education programs:

·         Establishes a 4-year Bachelor’s degree teacher education program

Regulations governing education programs:

Career and technical education; three-year licenses:

·         Issue 3-year license to those qualified to teach- increases from part-time to full-time
·         Mentor assigned increased from one year to two

Career and technical education; three-year licenses:

·         Moves hours of experience to a separate section, but maintains 4,000 hours of recent or relevant work experience, but lowers the years from 4 to 2
·         Virginia Communications and Literacy Assessment (VCLA) is optional

Renewable License Duration:

·         Increases current 5-year renewable license to 10 years with a requirement of 360 Professional Development (PD) points (which simply doubles the number to match the doubling of length of license).
Renewable License Duration:

ABTEL Study/Report:

·         Adds language tasking the Advisory Board on Teacher Education and Licensure (ABTEL) to study multiple components of the relationship between teacher licensure and teacher shortages and report to all by June 1, 2019.

ABTEL Study/Report:

Monday, February 12, 2018

Crossover is Tomorrow

Tomorrow is the last day that each chamber may take up their own bills. Each chamber convened this morning at 10:30am in preparation of discussing and voting on many bills. As I reported earlier in the session, the House was very slow to get going on their bills and they are paying the price. As I write this at nearly 7pm, they are still on the floor debating bills. The Senate adjourned at 3:04pm, so clearly the House is behind and they have far more bills.

Overall we are fighting far fewer really bad bills this session. That is good news. No charter schools, no true vouchers, and no for-profit virtual school bills. There are still some worrisome bills that we will continue to watch and oppose. The first is SB261 that will add permissive language to the SOQ on middle and high school librarians. There is a whole lot of misinformation on this bill. So let's go thorough it.

As written, SB261 would allow school divisions that are required, as established in the SOQs, to employ two librarians at any middle or high school (because they have 1,000 or more students) to, instead, employ one librarian and any one of a series of other positions, both licensed or non-licensed. While this is a permissive bill, it is still a bad bill. Legislators don't always vote against a permissive bill, so we, and our friends at the VA Librarian Association, worked hard contacting our Senators to let them know the problems with the bill. The patron, Senator Seutterlein, ultimately amended his bill because it wasn't going to pass otherwise. The amended bill only allows for a school division to hire a media specialist or a resource teacher in place of the second librarian. It remains permissive. It passed the Senate and is on it's way to the House. The VEA still opposes this bill and it is on the Governor's radar. We need to keep the pressure on.

Another bill that we must watch is SB969 that would put into LAW that any public high school student must earn a verified credit in Social Studies to graduate. This verified credit must be earned by passing an SOL end-of-course test unless the student has an IEP or special circumstances. No performance-based assessments would be allowed. Don't get me wrong, we believe in the value of social studies, but putting graduation requirements into the LAW versus allowing the Board of Education to establish them in regulations is bad practice. Ultimately this practice would take away the Board's Constitutional authority to set graduation requirements in the Commonwealth. No other test, verified credit, or graduation requirement is included in law, and neither should this. We will work to defeat the bill in the House.

Focus will quickly move to budget. The House and Senate will reveal their budgets on Sunday and we do have a cyber lobby alert to the leadership of the money committees to increase the At-risk Add On. Please click here to take action.

Friday, February 9, 2018

ERA, Appropriations, and Librarians

The morning started in the Senate Rules Committee where there were (a ridiculously high) 76 bills on the docket. The VEA had positions on a few of the bills. We supported a couple of study bills including Senator Locke's that would have required a study of the teacher licensure process in Virginia with a focus on identifying any inherent biases that prevent minority teacher candidates from entering the profession. But the issue of the morning of the Equal Rights Amendment. The room was packed with ERA activists, many of whom had fought for years and many who are new to the fight. The VEA proudly supports the ERA amendment, and has for many years. The Chair of the Rules Committee tried to put the bill in a block vote with other bill he intended to kill. Senator Janet Howell moved that the ERA bill be removed from the block and taken up separately.

The Chair of Rules, Senator McDougal, took a voice vote to kill the ERA bill and the crowd would NOT have that. After a back and forth between the crowd and the chair,  he moved on to the next bill. Every activist in the room stood up and they began singing "We Shall Overcome". They sounded wonderful and, with about 100 of them singing along, the committee could not continue any business. Ultimately the Chair agreed to have the members of the Committee vote by raising their hands. The bill died with all of the Democrats and Republicans Jill Vogel and Richard Stuart voting against that motion, Senator Steve Newman not voting,  and all of the other white men, and Republicans, voting to kill the ERA. After some upset in the room, the ERA activists walked out while, once again, singing "We Will Overcome". For me, it was one of the best moments of this session. Women in the Commonwealth have organized and are voting. The election results in November prove that. In 2019 members of the VA Senate will face this powerful electorate and, I am certain, today will be remembered.

This afternoon will be all House Appropriations. All of these bills need to be heard so they can move to the floor before crossover on Tuesday. There are 6 subcommittee meetings back-to-back, and the bills that survive sub will be heard in the full committee after the completion of all the subs. VEA initiated and supported bills are in the 2nd sub and we are hopeful a couple of them will report out and be heard at the end of the marathon, in the full committee. It is going to be a long afternoon. I am hopeful my track record in Appropriations the other day doesn't continue.

Finally, SB261, the bill that provides "flexibility" for school divisions in how they allocate school librarians in middle schools and high schools can't get off the floor of the Senate. They don't have the votes. The patron, Senator Suetterlein, has offered amendments that will only allow for a school divisions to substitute a media specialist or a resource teacher for the second librarian. It is a huge improvement, but still concerning. It is a permissive bill, so no school division must do this, but, if this bill passes, they could if they chose to. We will know soon what the outcome will be.

Monday will be all floor action as they subcommittees and full committees will have mainly wrapped up their work on their own bills. So there won't be much report, but, as I have learned, there is always something to report from the General Assembly. I have been capturing some really amazing quotes spoken by legislators during bill debates. I may share a few of those on Monday. You can't make this stuff up.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

So About Last Night

The House Appropriations K-12 Sub Committee had their last meeting before crossover and budget development. Bills will pass other committees on good policy, but have a fiscal impact or will have a budget implication that needs to be reviewed. The sub didn't get started until around 5:00pm, and the VEA supported 12 of the bills and was ready to speak to the value of each bill. We had no expectation that some of the big dollar bills would get out of the committee, but there were some smaller bills we felt good about. Everyone in the room had been at work since 7am, so we were punchy and the night started to fall apart for our bills.

The first three bills I spoke to on behalf of the VEA all died. Then came a bill we had no position on, and it reported out. I started to realize the pattern that was developing. When I went up to support our next bill, I introduced myself as the Kiss of Death. The subcommittee laughed, and then killed our bill. If I got up, the bill was dead. I knew it wasn't me, but it was obvious that our bills to reduce class size, add instructional positions, add programs to support our students the most in need, are expensive and the Commonwealth does not have the resources to support these important budget items.

It did become kind of a joke, and we were having some fun about it. In fact, at one point I had to leave the room to take a call. A bill was up that we had no position on, and as I was walking back into the room, the committee was voting to kill the bill. The chair said to me as I entered, "You just walk into the room and bill goes down." It was all in jest, I promise, but nothing was getting out of there.

The best part of the night was when Delegate LaRock leaned towards my ear when his bill was up and said jokingly, "Will you oppose my bill? I'd like it to pass." I didn't get up and his bill was actually carried over to 2019, so it lived. The funny thing is, VEA actually supported that bill, but I didn't want to do it to fail.

Below you have the list of bills that were in the committee. The VEA supported HB13, 121, 168, 199, 305, 687, 791, 1111, 1508, and 1118. Take a look to see what the Kiss of Death did on those bills. HB1278 is the bill that we supported but the patron asked me to sit it out... it lived. I don't take it personally, these bills are much-needed, but very heavy lifts. I won't lie, though, the committee was rough although the committee members were great about it all and it started to become entertaining. I learned Chairman Chris Peace and Delegate Steve Landes can take a joke, because I didn't let them off easily.

HB670Subcommittee recommends reporting with substitute (8-Y 0-N)
HB692Subcommittee recommends reporting with substitute (8-Y 0-N)
HB13Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB121Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB168Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (7-Y 1-N)
HB176Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (8-Y 0-N)
HB199Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB255Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (7-Y 0-N)
HB305Subcommittee recommends striking from docket (9-Y 0-N)
HB336Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (8-Y 0-N)
HB687Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB688Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB791Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (6-Y 2-N)
HB1111Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB1118Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (8-Y 0-N)
HB1278Subcommittee recommends continuing to 2019
HB1380Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (5-Y 3-N)
HB1508Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (8-Y 0-N)
HB1576Subcommittee recommends laying on the table (7-Y 1-N)