Friday, February 2, 2018

Delegate Hurst's Outstanding Job on HB1501

Yesterday the House Rules Committee met. If you have been following the news, you know that the Speaker is using his Rules Committee this session in a way that has never happened before. The Rules Committee is stacked with Republicans even though the body of the House is evenly split. There are 11 Republicans and only 6 Democrats on this committee. The Speaker has referred all sorts of bills, mostly patroned by Democrats, that are more controversial or part of the broader progressive agenda to his committee to kill them. VEA-initiated House Bill (HB) 1501 was one of those bills.

Delegate Chris Hurst carried HB1501 for us. All HB1501 would do is restore the voting procedures of the SOL Innovation Committee back to the original form. The original procedure was that a simple majority of the whole committee would move any recommendation to either the VA Board of Education or the VA General Assembly for consideration. Two years ago the legislature voted to give themselves veto power on any recommendation. If you want to know why that is a problem, you can see the video we produced on the issue by clicking here.

What isn't mentioned in the video is that the four legislators that vetoed the votes of the 28 citizen members and the 3 Democrats, were all Republicans. Delegate Hurst knew patroning this bill would put a target on his back. He knew that the Republican leadership would see this as an attack against their power. To understand how powerful that threat is, NO ONE in the Senate was willing to parton the bill and the Chair of the Senate Education and Health said the bill would be dead if it even got close to the Senate.

So to Rules HB1501 went, insuring the bill would not get close to the Senate. Delegate Hurst did a masterful job presenting and defending the bill even when attacked by the House Education Republican leadership. It was something to watch! Delegate Hurst is a reporter by training, so he was not deterred and he remained clam and collected throughout. We appreciate Delegate Ken Plum and Delegate David Toscano questions about how valuable this bill was. In the end, the 11 Republicans voted to kill the bill and the 6 Democrats voted against that motion. So in the SOL Innovation Committee, 4 Republicans killed really good recommendations to trade our system of high stakes testing for one focused on teaching critical thinking, collaboration, and creativity, and then 11 Republicans voted to keep the veto power alive. Our system of high-stakes testing will continue until something gives. I am hopeful that in 2019, when the House and Senate in VA are up for elections, will be the day. Until that time, nothing will change.

A HUGE thank you to the 1,300 people who signed our petition to stand with Delegate Hurst. We will, one day, change how we teach and test our students. Keep the faith!!

So after that disappointing meeting, early this morning, the House Finance Sub voted on party lines to expand our back-door voucher system. These Educational Improvement Tax Credits are marketed as a lifeline to children in poverty to have access to funds to pay for private and religious schools. The bill gives enormous tax credits for those who make donations to support the scholarships for these students. So that lost state revenue (up to $25 million each year) goes to private and religious schools. The system is set up to skirt the Constitutional issues that exist. As if all that wasn't bad enough, today's bill includes some "quality" standards for these private schools so that legislators can be assured the state has some accountability measurements. What these schools don't have to have is any non-discrimination policies. So state dollars to schools that discriminate on race, ethnicity, religion, sex... unreal. And these students in "poverty", the bill defines poverty as up to 300% of the Federal Poverty line. That is $75,000 for a family of four.

Keep in mind, just the other day the House Finance Committee killed a bill that would give tax credits to educators who spend their own money on classroom supplies. So back-door, voucher system, tax credits are fine. Giving some tax relief to teachers who spend hundreds of dollars from their salaries (that are well below the poverty standard established in the voucher bill, by the way) not fine. It's been a tough two days to be a public education supporter at the General Assembly.