Friday, May 3, 2019

School Counselor Legislation- Why Did Governor Northam Veto a Bill Today?

In case you have seen the press release, Governor Northam vetoed House Bill 2053 carried by Delegate Delores McQuinn. I want you to know that's good news and here's why...

If you have been following this blog, you know that the General Assembly put a lot of focus on increasing state funding for school counselors by making significant changes to the staffing ratios in the Standards of Quality. This all has been a long time coming.

In November of 2016, the Virginia Board of Education, recognizing the tremendous needs of our public school students, adopted improvements to the school counselor staffing standards. That recommendation of one school counselor for every 250 students, is the recommendation of the National School Counselors Association. It took until 2019 to take action. In December of 2018, Governor Northam included $36 million in his budget amendments to fund the first year of a three year phase in of the 1:250 ratio. The VEA was delighted to see this investment and we were prepared to fight to make sure the members of the General Assembly included this funding in the final budget and passed the legislation that was required to update the SOQ. Keep in mind, that the SOQs exist in law, so without legislation, they are just BOE recommendations.

Senator Roslyn Dance and Delegate Delores McQuinn carried this important legislation for the Governor. If you followed along on this blog, you know that the Senate bill (SB1406) ultimately passed the House and Senate pretty early after crossover. The Governor signed that bill and it will become law on July 1, 2019. That bill requires the full state investment of $36 million to cover the cost, and the General Assembly leadership realized they weren't ready to fully fund that amount. They were still in session, so they made significant changes to the House version of the bill (HB2053) so that it would fit the dollar amount they were willing to spend on school counselors. That amount was only about $12 million. So basically the General Assembly was only willing to fund 1/3 of the first year of a three-year phase in. To make sure they were safe from the ratios and expense of the Senate bill that passed, the leadership of the money committees included language in the budget that said,

"Notwithstanding the provisions of subsection H of § 22.1-253.13:2 of the Code of Virginia, as amended by the 2019 Session of the General Assembly, to the contrary, each school board shall employ the following full-time equivalent school counselor positions for any school that reports fall membership, according to the type of school and student enrollment: effective with the 2019-2020 school year, in elementary schools, one hour per day per 91 students, one full-time at 455 students, one hour per day additional time per 91 students or major fraction thereof; school counselors in middle schools, one period per 74 students, one full-time at 370 students, one additional period per 74 students or major fraction thereof; school counselors in high schools, one period per 65 students, one full-time at 325 students, one additional period per 65 students or major fraction thereof."

What this budget language does is override any laws that passed and, instead, sets the ratio of school counselors to students at what the General Assembly was willing to spend rather than what the law they passed required, or what our students need.

During the reconvened session on April 3, the Governor offered suggestions on the House version of the bill that would have fixed the mess created by two different bills and bad budget language. His very good recommendations were rejected by the General Assembly. That left the Governor with no option but to veto the House version of the bill that had been amended to require far fewer school counselors for our students.

So where are we now? July 1, 2019, there will be a new law in Virginia that improves the school counselor-to-student ratio and puts us on a real path to the recommendations of the BOE and the School Counselor Association. That is good news. The bad news is that the budget language trumps the good, new law and requires far fewer counselors than our students need. As of July 1, the General Assembly is no longer fully funding the SOQs. We must make sure that the General Assembly does not let this bad language remain in the budget. They must fully fund all of the SOQs, even the newest update. The Governor is committed to fully funding the improved ratios for school counselors, let's make sure before we vote for any member of the General Assembly this November, they are also committed to do the same.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Governor Takes Action on School Counselor Legislation and It's Complicated

So the Governor has taken action on the two school counselor SOQ bills that passed this session and WOW is it complicated. It's a brilliant political move and very savvy. The VEA is very supportive of the recommendations and the maneuver that will make sure that the General Assembly does not use budget language to set staffing standards and that there will actual structural changes in the law that will increase state support for more school counselors in all our schools.

This session the Governor's proposals that he announced in December became a Senate bill carried by Senator Dance, and an identical House bill carried by Delegate McQuinn. In the end, the General Assembly passed the Senate bill (without really realizing that action would require a $36 million investment they weren't prepared to spend). Once the Senate realized the issue, they made all sorts of changes to McQuinn's bill and also includesd budget language that attempted to invalidate Dance's bill. SO the Governor had two bill, enactment clauses that were added to McQuinn's bill, and budget language to consider to get to his goal of improving the staffing ratios for school counselors in the Code which forces the state to fund those new ratios.

The General Assembly will take up the Governor's recommendations next Wednesday during the Reconvened Session.

Since the primary goal is to make sure the SOQ was updated, the simplest way to do that is to just sign the Senate bill, as it passed with the ratios the Governor proposed. The Governor has signed that bill. So, with no action needed during the reconvened session, the Senate bill will become law. Legislators can't mess it up. It also forces them to do something on the House bill since the Senate bill costs $36 million and they only allocated $12. So that bill is the safety net bill.

The second bill to be signed "trumps" the first. So the House bill (McQuinn's) amendment allows the state to maintain the $12 million allocated in the budget but forces them to implement and fund the Governor's proposal in  2020-21.  If they do not agree to the Governor on these amendments, the Rs will be blamed for implementing SOQ ratios through budget language which is a terrible precedent. If they accept the McQuinn amendments, that bill becomes the law and there will be a requirement to fund those ratios in 2020-21. BUT, the Governor did not address the budget language that was added to fund the smaller ratio changes, so that will remain. If they accept the amendments on McQuinn's the budget language, along with the $12 million allocation will remain for the 2019-2020 school year. We would then expect the biennial budget to include the additional $24 million to cover the broader ratios in the bill.

It is a check mate basically since the Senate bill will become the law of the land on July 1 unless they pass McQuinn's bill to trump it. In order to pass McQuinn's bill, they need to accept the Governor's amendments or they put themselves in a really bad spot politically.

It is very, very complicated since there were 2 bill, enactment clauses, and budget language. But this is the cool maneuvering that make my job so much fun.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

We Have A Budget Report and They Will Adjourn Sine Die TODAY

Word got out late Friday night that the conferees had reached an agreement on the budget amendments. It was announced that the documents would be available at 10am today. After refreshing the site about 3,000 times, the documents became available at about 10:40am. We are still going through the details, but there is good news for K-12. Please keep in mind that these are AMENDMENTS to the already adopted 2018-2020 biennial budget. There are no cuts to K-12; everything in the amendments are increases to the adopted budget. There are reductions to the budget amendments proposed by the Governor in December, but, as I have written about in this blog, those reductions are based on the tax policy differences assumed in the Governor's proposal and what actually passed the General Assembly.

Here are some top lines from the budget amendments the House and Senate will adopt today before they adjourn:

  • Increase of $72.7 million to add state support for an additional 2% salary increase effective Sept. 1, two months shy of a full year. A compromise, but closer to the the July 1 date the House proposed than the December 1 date proposed by the Senate. 
  • Funds increase to the at-risk add on. This is a really big win from the pressure The Commonwealth Institute put on legislators.
  • Funds an additional $29.5 million per-pupil allocation from the lottery fund to school divisions as proposed by the Governor. Senate has stripped it, House proposed increasing even higher than Governor proposed, so the compromise was the Governor’s proposal. 
  • Comes up short on school counselors. The legislation from the Governor’s proposal has passed, but the budget amendment overrides the new code by establishing and funding different ratios. This is a terrible precedent. It also makes it true that the General Assembly is NOT fully funding the SOQs (assuming the Governor signs the legislation that passed, which he will as they were HIS bills.). Budget amendments only include an additional $12 million for counselors. The new SOQ needs $36 million. Here is the language included in the budget: That notwithstanding the provisions of § 22.1-253.13:2 of the Code of Virginia, as amended by this act, the ratio of the number of school counselors to the number of students as required by law shall be proportionate to the amount of funding for such school counselors as is included in a general appropriation act passed in 2019 by the General Assembly that becomes law.
  • There is $35 million for school construction. That put a squeeze on all the other spending. The House included $0 and the Senate had $70, so they split the difference, but that limited what they could do in the other areas (mainly counselors).


School Safety- good news

  • Increases funding for School resource officer (SROs) training.
  • Increases funding for training of school based threat assessment teams.
  • Funding for a threat assessment case management tool so that cases aren’t lost in transition between schools 
  • Funding for school safety training for all school personnel. 


So good news given that these are all increases to the K-12 2018-2020 budget. Had there been different tax policy decisions made by the General Assembly, there could be far broader investments. This as a HUGE lost opportunity in my opinion. I am hopeful that the increases in K-12 we saw in the 2018-2020 budget and these new increases represent a change in course that will repair the damage still facing our public school budgets after the recession. There is a very long way to go and there must be a commitment to a sustained, long-term plan to return state investments to pre-recession levels. That will simply fill the hole from the cuts.

From there we need to fund the SOQs to the levels adopted by the Board of Education. Next, there must be a state study of the classroom staffing standards and they need to be revised and fully funded to reflect prevailing practice and student need. There must be an increase to the state funding standard on salaries. That will not come with small buckets of state support given 2-3% at a time over 10 years. It comes through yearly increases, offsets to local spending with state investments, and a change in the mathematical calculation the state uses to determine the cost of salary prevailing practice. The state needs to fund their share of the true cost of teacher salaries. These changes will only come about when pressure is applied and we elect members of the House and Senate who are committed to fixing all of the problems with K-12 funding in Virginia. That needs to be the number one issue of the 2019 elections in VA.

While this short session has felt very long, we did good work for our pubic schools and had really, really good policy outcomes. We were able to kill some really bad bills by building a coalition of legislators from both parties who supported our positions. We have substantial increases to the adopted K-12 budget. We lobbied, marched, and rallied to put pressure on our legislators. We have a long way to go, but this session showed how you make it happen. We cannot watch from the sidelines. We must engage and fight for what our schools and our students need.

Let's get ready for November!





Thursday, February 21, 2019

Long Day on the Floor, ERA, Where Are the Budget Amendments?

Today the Speaker warned House members that they would have along day. He warned that they would be in and out all day as he considered many of the bills where there are differences between the versions passed by the House and the Senate. He wasn't kidding.

Also facing the House this morning was the Resolution submitted by Delegate Hala Ayala to force the House to vote on the Equal Rights Amendment. As you may know, the Senate passed the ERA back on January 15. For most of the session the House Committee that needed to hear the legislation before it could go to the floor, refused to put the bill on the docket. Finally the committee caved to the tremendous public pressure and heard the bill only to kill it on a 4-2 party line vote.

The Democratic House Caucus decided to force the vote by introducing a Resolution to change the rules of House and bring the ERA to the floor for a vote. If you have been following along, the rules change resolution needed to be read five times over five days. That happened and today the vote to change the rules and hear the ERA came to the floor for a vote. The Resolution to hear the ERA failed 50-50, in the House there is no tie break, motions fail. All of the Democrats and Delegate Yancey (who only won his last election when his name was pulled from a bowl) voted to take the ERA to the floor. All of the other Republicans voted to kill the resolution and end the ERA fight this session. The VEA supports the ERA as do 81% of Virginians. The advocates this session did an outstanding job, but the House is still the roadblock. Elections are in November.

We are still waiting to see the final budget amendments. We expect to see them 48 hours before legislators vote, so we expect them at some point tonight as the General Assembly is expected to adjourn on Saturday. As soon as we see them, we will get information out.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Do Your Part- take Action on the Budget

All committee work is complete for this session so we turn all of our attention to the budget. There is no time to waste. Make your voice heard and take action on the VEA requests for the budget amendments and the VEA has an email action alert that makes it easy. Click here to send an email to all 14 budget conferees.

The VEA is asking for the following to be included in the final budget:

1. $87.6 million to increase state support for salaries to a total of 5%. There must be funding for a full year, not for half a year as proposed in the House budget.
2. $35.9 million to increase the number of school counselors funded by the state. This change would structurally change the funding formulas for school counselors and send more state dollars to every locality in Virginia.
3. $35.6 million to increase the At-Risk Add On funding that is directed to those students most in need and to school divisions with high concentrations of poverty.

If you are ready to call the conferees  please ask for exactly what we list above. Here are there numbers in Richmond:

Senate Budget Conferees
· Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (804) 698-7503
·  Emmett W. Hanger, Jr.,  (804) 698-7524
·  Janet D. Howell  (804) 698-7532
·  Dick L. Saslaw  (804) 698-7535
·  Steve D. Newman  (804) 698-7523
·  Frank M. Ruff, Jr.  (804) 698-7515
·  Frank W. Wagner  (804) 698-7507

House Budget Conferees
· Chris Jones (804) 698- 1076
· Steve Landes (804) 698-1025
· Chris Peace (804) 698-1097
· Barry D. Knight (804) 698-1081
· Scott Garrett  (804) 698-1023
· Luke E. Torian (804) 698-1052


· Mark D.Sickles (804) 698-1043

Monday, February 18, 2019

VEA Initiated Teacher Reprimand Bill Passes! It's Headed to the Governor's Desk

This afternoon, House Bill 2325, patroned by Delegate Bob Thomas, crossed the final hurdle to passage. It passed the Senate 40-0 and will go to the Governor's desk for his signature. This is the bill that originated on the floor of VEA Convention last session from the Stafford Education Association. The bill will broaden the authority of the VA Board of Education when they are dealing with a licensed educator who is facing disciplinary procedures. Right now, the Board only has the authority to revoke or suspend a license regardless of the severity of the offense. Last year, the Board asked if they had something less punitive when they were dealing with one specific case. They didn't, so the local education association in Stafford started the process to change the law.

The New Business Item from Convention went to the VEA Legislative Committee where they directed the GR Director to find a patron and work to submit a bill. The SEA had already talked with Delegate Bob Thomas about the bill, and he was ready to go. A bill was drafted and the VEA worked closely with the patron all session to amend the bill to address some legislator's concerns and to keep all of the key voting members up to date with the contents of the bill and to answer any questions. We wanted to be sure we had the votes in every subcommittee and full committee meeting where the bill was headed. We made sure there were no surprises and no voting member of the committees had any questions. That was key to this bill's success. The biggest hurdle was in the House Education Subcommittee meeting back on January 25 where we had to take the bill by for a while to clean it up and amend it to get it through the sub. It was a tense afternoon. In the end, that single "no" vote we had in sub was the only "no" vote the bill received in the House or Senate. Delegate Thomas worked hard on this bill and the VEA  spoke with the key leadership in the Senate to make sure they were good with the bill. So while the vote looked easy, there was nothing easy about this bill. It took lots of work, many conversations, some amending, and then sitting down so it could quickly go through its final full committee last week. Sometimes when a bill is on a roll, it is important to recognize when you don't need to get up again and speak to it. Just let it go on its own merits and on all of the background work we had done.

This is a good bill. Congratulations to Delegate Thomas and to the Stafford Education Association for this one! Well done!

Conferees Start Work on Budget and Final Bills in Committee

The is the last week of session. All bills must be through the committee process by midnight tonight. The final bills the VEA is following were up in committee meeting today, and, since most of them were legislation tied to the budget, they passed out of the money committees. We will have to wait for the conference budget to see what is funded.

The conferees started their work this weekend on the budget. the VEA has an active call to action on the budget. Click here to send an email to all 14 budget conferees. The VEA is asking for the following to be included in the final budget:

1. $87.6 million to increase state support for salaries to a total of 5%. There must be funding for a full year, not for half a year as proposed in the House budget.
2. $35.9 million to increase the number of school counselors funded by the state. This change would structurally change the funding formulas for school counselors and send more state dollars to every locality in Virginia.
3. $35.6 million to increase the At-Risk Add On funding that is directed to those students most in need and to school divisions with high concentrations of poverty.

If you are ready to call the conferees  please ask for exactly what we list above. Here are there numbers in Richmond:

Senate Budget Conferees
· Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (804) 698-7503
·  Emmett W. Hanger, Jr.,  (804) 698-7524
·  Janet D. Howell  (804) 698-7532
·  Dick L. Saslaw  (804) 698-7535
·  Steve D. Newman  (804) 698-7523
·  Frank M. Ruff, Jr.  (804) 698-7515
·  Frank W. Wagner  (804) 698-7507

House Budget Conferees
·         Chris Jones (804) 698- 1076
·         Steve Landes (804) 698-1025
·         Chris Peace (804) 698-1097
·         Barry D. Knight (804) 698-1081
·         Scott Garrett  (804) 698-1023
·         Luke E. Torian (804) 698-1052
·         Mark D.Sickles (804) 698-1043

Friday, February 15, 2019

Have You Taken Action on the Budget?

We are inching closer to all work on legislation being complete. The VEA only has a few bills left out there that are simply waiting to get to the floor. There is really only one that we are still working with the patron on. All of the others have had their final hearings. The last week of session (next week) is always dedicated to these final bills, but really only to budget.

Today the Governor signed the tax conformity bill. That was an important step towards completing the budget amendments, since this year tax policy changes really dictate the amount of future revenues the budget conferees have to work with. As I have described in this blog, the Governor assumed passage of certain tax policies in order to make the investment in K-12 he announced in December. The actual bill that passed doesn't go nearly as far in using the revenues for state investments. As we knew would happen in this circumstance, the budget conferees must make reductions to the Governor's INTRODUCED budget amendments. This is important. There are NO proposed reductions to the 2018-2020 biennial budget that passed last May. Items you are reading in your facebook feeds or in the news that talk about cuts to K-12 are comparing what the House and Senate budget amendments proposed compared to what the Governor budget amendments proposed. Don't get me wrong, the state still has the revenues to make significant increased investments over the adopted budget. They don't have the types of revenues the Governor assumed in his proposals, but they can certainly make the investments the VEA are calling on them to make. They are:

1. $87.6 million to increase state support for salaries to a total of 5%. There must be funding for a full year, not for half a year as proposed in the House budget.
2. $35.9 million to increase the number of school counselors funded by the state. This change would structurally change the funding formulas for school counselors and send more state dollars to every locality in Virginia.
3. $35.6 million to increase the At-Risk Add On funding that is directed to those students most in need and to school divisions with high concentrations of poverty.

Are you ready to take action? Click here to quickly send an email to the 14 members of the Budget Conference. If you are ready to call them all, ask for exactly what we list above. Here are there numbers in Richmond:

Senate Budget Conferees
· Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (804) 698-7503
·  Emmett W. Hanger, Jr.,  (804) 698-7524
·  Janet D. Howell  (804) 698-7532
·  Dick L. Saslaw  (804) 698-7535
·  Steve D. Newman  (804) 698-7523
·  Frank M. Ruff, Jr.  (804) 698-7515
·  Frank W. Wagner  (804) 698-7507

House Budget Conferees
·         Chris Jones (804) 698- 1076
·         Steve Landes (804) 698-1025
·         Chris Peace (804) 698-1097
·         Barry D. Knight (804) 698-1081
·         Scott Garrett  (804) 698-1023
·         Luke E. Torian (804) 698-1052
·         Mark D.Sickles (804) 698-1043






Thursday, February 14, 2019

Our Last Two Bills Move Forward, It's Budget Time

This morning the Senate Education and Health Committee unanimously reported (passed) the last two VEA initiated bills still making their way through the process. I have written extensively about these bills, so I won't go into a lot of detail here, but they are both important.

House Bill 2037,  from Delegate Jennifer Carroll-Foy, is our teacher Diversity bill that is a direct result of the recommendations from the first VEA Teachers of Color Summit. You can read about the details of the bill in my previous posts. It is a good and important bill. It will go to the floor of the Senate tomorrow and be up for final passage on Tuesday. Since it came out of the committee unanimously, it is considered an uncontested bill and should pass quickly. If you happen to be going to the VEA's Teachers of Color Summit this weekend, Delegate Carroll-Foy will be on site on Friday to talk about her bill and to be recognized for her work. I look forward to reporting soon that this bill has passed both the House and the Senate and is headed to the Governor's desk.

In the same committee this morning, House Bill 2325, from Delegate Bob Thomas, also passed unanimously and it headed to the uncontested calendar tomorrow on its road to final passage on Tuesday. This is the bill that came from last year's VEA Convention. This bill will broaden the authority of the VA Board of Education on license action. This bill gives the Board the ability to reprimand rather than just suspend or revoke a license. This is another important bill and we appreciate the hard work of our patron. He has done an outstanding job. Like HB2037, I look forward to reporting this bill's final passage on Tuesday.

As action on bills wraps up, all eyes turn to the budget. Both the House and Senate have named their members of the Budget Conference (called budget conferees) and it is time to let them know what we want to see included in the final version of the budget. We are demanding three things:

  1. $87.6 million to increase state support for salaries to a total of 5%. There must be funding for a full year, not for half a year as proposed in the House budget.
  2. $35.9 million to increase the number of school counselors funded by the state. This change would structurally change the funding formulas for school counselors and send more state dollars to every locality in Virginia.
  3. $35.6 million to increase the At-Risk Add On funding that is directed, on a per-pupil basis, to those students most in need.
We need to fill the budget conferee's email in boxes and their voicemail with messages. Sending an email is easy. Click here to quickly send an email to the budget conferees.

You can also call their Richmond offices. That takes a little more time, but it is very effective. Just ask for the three items above to be included in the final budget. Here are their phone numbers here at the General Assembly:

Senate Budget Conferees

· Thomas K. Norment, Jr. (804) 698-7503

·  Emmett W. Hanger, Jr.,  (804) 698-7524

·  Janet D. Howell  (804) 698-7532

·  Dick L. Saslaw  (804) 698-7535

·  Steve D. Newman  (804) 698-7523

·  Frank M. Ruff, Jr.  (804) 698-7515

·  Frank W. Wagner  (804) 698-7507



House Budget Conferees

·         Chris Jones (804) 698- 1076

·         Steve Landes (804) 698-1025

·         Chris Peace (804) 698-1097

·         Barry D. Knight (804) 698-1081

·         Scott Garrett  (804) 698-1023

·         Luke E. Torian (804) 698-1052

·         Mark D.Sickles (804) 698-1043



Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Might This Be the Year King's Dominion Law Goes Down?

This afternoon Delegate Robinson's House Bill 1652 passed both bodies of the General Assembly. This is a school calendar bill. As you may know, Delegate Robinson has been trying for 8 years to pass a bill  that would repeal the King's Dominion law. This law requires school divisions to open after Labor Day unless they apply for and receive a waiver from the VA Board of Education to start earlier. Most school divisions in Virginia actually have a waiver, but basically the school divisions east of I-95 don't. Fairfax finally got a weather waiver last year, so most students in Virginia live in divisions that are able to set their own calendars and start before Labor Day. Today we finally got a bill to pass. I don't want to jinx it, as crazier things have happened, but as of today, all this bill needs is the Governor's signature, and the administration supports the bill.

This bill isn't perfect as it isn't a full repeal, but it does eliminate the need for any school division to get a waiver to start earlier. The hospitality and tourism lobby still have some control over this legislation, so a full repeal wasn't possible,

The bill is a bit complicated, but it protects every school division that currently has a waiver or is eligible for one and it allows all divisions to start before Labor Day. Here are the details:

  1. The first part of the bill covers any jurisdiction that has held a “legacy” Labor Day waiver  since 2011-2012. These jurisdictions would be able to open prior to Labor Day with no opening date restrictions or pre-Labor Day holiday requirements.
  2. The second part of the bill covers any jurisdiction holding a waiver this year.  These divisions would continue to be able to start prior to Labor Day with no opening date restriction, but would have to give a holiday on the Friday prior to Labor Day.
  3. The third part of the bill is the biggest change. It covers school divisions that don't have a waiver. They would be allowed to open no earlier than 14 days prior to Labor Day and have to give the pre-Labor Day Friday holiday.
So if your school division has started before Labor Day, you will see little or no changes. For those divisions that have been forced to start after Labor Day, they can now set their calendars to start school up to 14 days before Labor Day, no waiver needed, however they must give a 4 day Labor Day holiday.

Many school divisions have already set their calendars for next school year. This bill would become law on July 1, 2019, so some school divisions that now have the ability to start before Labor Day may decide to take another look at their calendars for the 2019-2020 school year. We need to be prepared for that. Some divisions that opened before Labor Day this year will need to adjust their calendars to include the Friday before Labor Day as a holiday. Again, we need to be prepared for that as well. 

The King's Dominion Law passed in 1985. We have been fighting it for years. Local school boards should be able to set their own calendars that work for their communities. This bill doesn't quite get us there, but it certainly puts the needs of our public schools and communities ahead of amusement parks. Thank you Delegate Robinson for your fight on this issue!


Delegate Helsel for the Win

Just to show you can never sit back and count your chickens at the General Assembly, I share the continuing saga of Senate Bill 1236. That is Senator DeSteph's bill that adds a definition of education employee association into law and directs local school boards how to interact with their employee associations. If you are keeping score, we have already killed the bill when Delegates Helsel and Collins voted with the Democrats to kill the bill on Monday. As we were preparing for the 8am House subcommittee meeting this morning we got a heads up that Senator DeSteph was planning to bring his bill back. In order to do that he would need to have a member of the committee who voted on the prevailing side ask for the bill to be heard again. The prevailing side were the folks who voted to kill the bill. We knew none of the Democrats would make that ask, so that left Helsel and Collins. Helsel was a solid no vote because he thought the bill was a mandate on local school boards and he, in general, opposes those bills. That left Delegate Collins.

Delegate Collins told me on Monday he hated the bill. I also let him know that the School Boards Association and the VEA tried to work with DeSteph on language we could support, and he rejected that effort. Collins told me, "You can't work with him." Delegate Collins actually wasn't present on the vote for the bill, but cast his no vote after the committee adjourned. Even with all that, he was the one that brought the bill back.

We knew that we had lost Collins as a NO vote so we knew we needed all 10 Democrats and Delegate Helsel present and voting when the bill came back. I actually had to chase down some members of the committee who got up to leave prior to the end of the meeting to tell them to stay in their seats. I even followed one member to the bathroom to hustle him back to his seat so no trickery could happen.

In the end, all the Democrats were in their seats and Delegate Helsel broke with his caucus to vote to kill the bill. The bill died, AGAIN, on an 11-11 vote. In the House, there is no tie breaker and that kills the bill. Last year Delegate Gordon Helsel was our Legislator of the Year for votes just like this. Today he continued to be a champion on public school issues. Last year he told me, "If School Boards, Superintendents, and teachers oppose a bill, how can I support it?" Today the School Boards, the Superintendents and the VEA opposed the bill, so Helsel held firm. 

This time the bill really is dead as the Chair of the House Education Committee said the committee has completed its work this session and there is no one left to bring the bill back. The fun never ends here. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Review of the Proposed Budget Amendments to the 2018-2020 Biennial Budget

Hopefully you read the previous post so you know that during this session the General Assembly is only considering amendments to the adopted 2018-202 Biennial Budget. In order to understand the budget amendment proposals, you need to understand what is in the ADOPTED biennial budget. Here are some of the K-12 highlights from the biennial budget:

Salary Increase- State support for a 3% salary increase for all school employees that are funded through the Standards of Quality ($131 million). This increase is effective on July 1, 2019 and is for the full fiscal year. To offer flexibility to school divisions, they are eligible for the state funding if they give an average of a 3% salary increase over the course of the biennium. The current biennium covers the 2018-19 and the 2019-2020 school years. If your school division gives an average of a 3% salary increase between this school year and next school year, they will receive their share of state dollars for the increase.

Rebenchmarking to update the costs of the current SOQs ($477 million)- This appropriation is simply the updated costs of maintaining all the current programs funded by the state. This adds NO NEW PROGRAMS, it simply is an increase in state support to reflect the increase in costs. These dollars are "baked into" the amount of money each division receives in Direct Aid.

Increasing the At-Risk Add On ($7.1 million)- This is state funding is for programs to support students who meet the Federal definition of living in poverty. It is state money that is "added onto" the per pupil amount each school division receives. Every single division in the Commonwealth receives some At-Risk Add On money, but school divisions with high concentrations of poverty are the most positively impacted by this additional state funding.

***Again, everything above is in the adopted budget and there are no proposals on the table to decrease any of this funding. ***

Back to this session and the budget amendments that are being considered. Here is an overview of the key components adopted by the House and Senate. As you will see, they have real differences to work out in conference. If you don't know what that means, make sure you check out the first post of the day on the budget process:

The House of Delegates adopted key budget amendments to do the following:
Additional Salary Increase ($43.8 million)- This amendment is to fund an additional 2% increase (on top of the already adopted 3%) for 1/2 of FY2020. They added some flexibility language so that school divisions that can't afford the full 5% increase would still be eligible for state dollars so long as they gave increases over the course of the biennium. The VEA Budget Report explains all of this in detail and it is linked at the bottom of today's blog.

At-Risk Add On Funding ($0)- The House did not add any additional state funding to increase the at-risk add on over what is included in the biennial budget.

Increases the number of school counselors funded by the state ($35 million)- This proposal matches the Governor's proposal on permanent increases in state funding so that school divisions can hire more school counselors.

The Senate took some different approaches in their key budget amendments:
Additional Salary Increase ($87.6 million)- The Senate matches the Governor's proposal for an additional 2% (over the 3% in the adopted budget) in salary. This proposal is for a full year.

At-Risk Add On Funding (about $19 million)- This funding is to increase the amount of funding provided to school divisions for students who meet the Federal definition to levels ABOVE the adopted budget.

Changes to School Counselors  ($12.1 million )- This proposal decreases the counselor to student ratios somewhat, but not nearly to the extent the House version would. The Senate did include language to require school counselors spend 80% of their time on counseling duties (current requirement is 60%) but provided no funding mechanism to hire additional staff such as testing coordinators.

Want to know all the details and see where the VEA stands on the budget amendment  proposals being considered, please read the VEA's full report here.

As soon as the budget conferees are named, we will be putting out a cyberlobby action alert asking you to contact the conferees. Keep watching the VEA web site, facbook page, and twitter for that. A link to the action alert will also be included in this blog.




The State Budget Process In Virginia- Where Are We Now?

Right now the General Assembly is not only in the middle of their work on over 2500 bills, they are also in the middle of work on the budget. I am devoting today's post to the budget process and providing information on where and what we can expect. There is a lot of misinformation out there, so this seems like a good way to clear it up. If you learned something from reading today's post, please share it with your network. We need to understand the process in order to advocate for what we need.

Virginia operates on a two year budget called the Biennial Budget. This two year budget is developed during the even-numbered General Assembly sessions. The session is longer in even years so that the extensive budget work can be completed. We are currently operating under the 2018-2020 biennial budget. It was adopted in May of 2018. The process always starts with the Governor who proposes a two year spending plan that maps out his (or her's one day) budget priorities for the next two years. The Governor's Introduced Budget is the starting point from where the House and Senate begin. The House and Senate "Money Committees", which are the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, work from the Governor's introduced budget and craft their own version of the biennial budget. They are always different with different approaches and different spending priorities. These budgets are actually introduced as bills that go to the floor of each body for debate and, ultimately, passage. There is a House Budget Bill and a Senate Budget Bill. Once each passes their body of origin, they cross over to the other body. Unlike non-budget bills, they are introduced and debated in their body of origin after the official "crossover" date for all the other bills.

When the budget bills cross over to the other body, they will be rejected. The House prefers their budget and rejects the Senate's, the Senate prefers their budget and rejects the House. When you have two bills that do the same thing (fund the Commonwealth for the biennium) and each body has passed one version of the bill and rejected the other, there is disagreement on the bill. That forces the creation of a smaller committee, made up of money committee members, from each body and from each party. This is called the Conference Committee and the members are the Budget Conferees. The real decision on budget rests with these legislators and they often become the key targets for budget advocacy efforts.

Once there is an agreement, the conference budget will go to the floor of each body for adoption and then crossover. This time they will have the same language and there will be agreement in both bodies to pass the bill. That usually happens on the last day of the regular session and is the last action taken during session. Once they pass the biennial budget, they adjourn. Last year the budget conferees could not come to agreement by the last day of session, so they adjourned without a budget and reconvened in April to try to come to agreement. The process took quite a while last year because of disagreement on Medicaid expansion, and we didn't heave a final budget until late May. The Governor takes action on the budget by signing or making recommendations that the General Assembly can take up when they reconvene 6 weeks after the regular session ends. That is called the "Veto" or "Reconvened" session. Once the Governor signs the bill, we have our two year budget.

So this is an odd year. Why are we battling over a budget you ask? Because the General Assembly takes up the budget every session. In odd numbered years, the General Assembly makes AMENDMENTS to the adopted biennial budget based on changes in revenue and forecasts. The process mirrors the biennial budget process, but we are only working with amendments, which are additions or changes, to the two-year budget. Since they are only making updates to an adopted budget, these are short sessions.

In December, the Governor announced his amendments to the biennial budget. These changes were largely based on revenues coming in higher then forecast and on changes to tax policies that the Governor assumed would pass. The House and Senate money committee leadership has rejected those tax policy changes, so they have fewer new revenues to work with. The House and Senate presented their budgets just a few days ago. Since then each body has passed their amendments and the bills have crossed over to the other body. They have not rejected the other body's budget, yet, but they will. That will lead to a conference committee. The House has already announced their budget conferees who will represent the House and they are Delegates S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), Steve Landes (R-Augusta), Chris Peace (R-Hanover), Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach), Scott Garrett (R-Lynchburg), Luke Torian (D-Prince William), and Mark Sickles (D-Arlington). The Senate has not yet named their conferees as they wait to do that until after they reject the House budget. We will know who they are today or tomorrow. Once that happens all focus will shift to them and their work. Conference does not happen in open committee meetings, so we won't see their progress. We will see the final budget (with details usually leaking before hand) in the final days of the session. Keep in mind these are amendments to the Biennial Budget adopted in 2018.

So if all that wasn't enough, I could spend time talking about fiscal years (July 1-June 30 in VA, we are currently in FY19) and caboose budgets. I won't,  but know that while we operate under one budget at a time, over the course of the biennium we actually deal with 12 budget proposals and the work never ends.

Later today I will post information in the current House and Senate budget amendment proposals.

Monday, February 11, 2019

More Defeated Bad Bills

Today the House Education Committee, once again, defeated a bad bill. Senate Bill 1236 from Senator DeSteph is the bill that would have the state define what is or is not an "education employee association" and further, would put very strict requirements on local school boards on types of policies they would have to develop and implement. The VEA sees this as the state taking a huge step into the role of local governments. Education professionals are not state employees and the local governments, not the General Assembly, should determine how those local governments work with their own employees. There is no where in the Code of Virginia where the state takes this step and they shouldn't start now. Police officers are local employees, should the state be defining how the local governments work with those employee associations? What about firefighters? Would they be next as the state oversteps their role?

The School Boards Association tried to work with the Senator to improve the bill and there was actually a place where event he VEA could have gotten behind the bill, but Senator DeSteph rejected that language. In the end, the VEA, AFT, School Boards Associations, and the School Superintendents all opposed the bill. The bill died 11-10 with Delegates Collins and Helsel voting with the Democrats to kill the bill. This bill took some work, but in the end it paid off and we protected local employees and local employers from an overstep of the state.

Here is the vote. The vote was to report the bill (which means pass the bill) so a "NAY" vote was the right vote:

SB 1236 Public schools; equal access, education employee associations, etc.


02/11/19  House: Failed to report (defeated) in Education (10-Y 11-N)

YEAS--Landes, Bell, Richard P., Cole, Pogge, Robinson, Yancey, Davis, Leftwich, LaRock, McGuire--10.
NAYS--Helsel, Collins, Bulova, Keam, Bagby, Bourne, Hurst, VanValkenburg, Turpin, Rodman, Sullivan--11.
ABSTENTIONS--0.
NOT VOTING--Tyler--1.


Friday, February 8, 2019

VEA Convention and Teachers of Color Summit Bills Advance

If you ever thought that your voice couldn't make a difference, I wanted to assure you that it can. Two important bills continued their paths towards passage yesterday. The idea for each of these bills came directly from our members.

House Bill 2325 started as a New Business Item at Convention. Lori May from the Stafford Education Association made the motion that the VEA seek legislation to amend the Code of Virginia to broaden the authority of the Virginia Board of Education on cases where an educator faces license action. Current Code allows only for the license to be revoked or suspended. The NBI asked that a less punitive action, a reprimand, be added to the Board's authority. The VEA asked for legislation to be drafted, and Delegate Bob Thomas from Stafford has carried the bill on our behalf. The bill passed the House of Delegates 95-0 and yesterday passed the Senate Education and Health Subcommittee on Public Education unanimously. The bill will go to the full Senate committee next Thursday with a recommendation to send the bill to the floor of the Senate for passage. Once that happens, the bill should go to the floor of the Senate that Friday, and pass the Senate the week of February 18. At that point all that is left is the Governor's signature and the bill becomes law!

House Bill 2037 and the identical Senate Bill 1397 are the direct result of the recommendations from attendees of the first Teachers of Color Summit back in 2017. During that Summit, attendees worked in small groups to come up with recommendations, in both policy and practice, that would break down the barriers that prevent teachers of color from entering the profession. One of those recommendations was changes to the professional assessment requirements for entry into a teacher preparation program, those needed to earn an initial license, and those needed to complete the provisional license process. The pass rates for non-minority students is upwards of 40% higher than their minority counterparts. At the summit, our members talked about this issue and the inherent cultural biases that exist in the tests (and in many standardized tests, frankly).

Staff at the VEA formalized those recommendations and pushed them out to policy makers and legislators. This year Delegate Carroll-Foy and Senator Peake drafted those recommendations into legislation that are on the road to passage.

The House version of the bill passed 99-0, crossed over, and is currently assigned to the Senate Education and Health Committee. The Senate version of the bill is moving a little more quickly. It passed the Senate 40-0, crossed over and is on the floor of the House of Delegates where I expect it to pass today. These bills will also become law in Virginia.

Don't let anyone tell you your voice doesn't matter or that you can't make a difference. Get involved, fight for your issue, talk to others and see if the issue is, perhaps, state-wide. If so, we may need a new law to fix it!

Thursday, February 7, 2019

It's Budget Day

Today the House and Senate budget bills are on the floor of the body of origin. This is the next step that will be taken as we move towards a final budget before the General Assembly adjourns on (hopefully) February 23. Make sure you contact your legislators and ask them to adopt the SENATE version on salary increases and the HOUSE version of the increases to school counselors by clicking here to send them an email

In odd numbered years, the Governor and the General Assembly are not crafting a new budget, they are amending the biennial budget that is adopted in even numbered years. So while Virginia does operate on a biennial budget, there really is a budget fight every year. This year is especially contentious given the very significant changes to Federal tax policies that were included in the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act last year. The tax cuts at the Federal level actually put many states, like Virginia, in a position where the legislatures need to determine how to implement the new policies at the state level.

The Governor's proposal took advantage of the additional state tax revenues by investing them in public services, mainly public education. Both bodies of the General Assembly have taken a different approach. They have taken all of the additional revenues and put them into a "lock box" until October. The plan is that the General Assembly will reconvene at that time and pass legislation to send those revenues to Virginians. It's interesting that the Republican leadership have come up with a plan to send Virginians checks immediately prior to Election Day for the General Assembly. Coincidence? Probably not.

This will be a long day of floor debate and breaks to caucus as the debate each amendment to the budget. Once each body passes their budget, it will cross over to the other body. Each body will insist on its own version of the budget and that action leads to the bill going to Conference. That simply means that a smaller group of legislators from each body will be assigned to figure out a compromise bill. That takes time. Once the conferees have an agreement, we will go through the process again only there will be agreement in each body to pass the Conference budget. That usually happens on the last day of session. At least that's how it is supposed to go...  we will see.

Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Day One of the Second Half of Session

Today was spent shoring up Senate support for our HB2325. This is the bill that expands the ability of the VA Board of Education to issue a less punitive reprimand when a teacher is disciplinary action on his or her license. Currently the Board can only revoke or suspend a license even for more minor infractions. This bill will offer the option that 38 other states already have. The bill passed the House 95-0, but we want to be proactive answering any questions or concerns the key senators may have. The bill will likely go to the Senate Education and Health Subcommittee on Public Education where five members of the Senate can put the bill on a path to passage. Chairman Carrico talked through the bill with me today and he said it looked good and if he had any questions he would call. Senator Dunnavant, a doctor, said the bill makes complete sense as it matches what Virginia does for those in the medical profession facing license action. I will get with Senator Peake tomorrow, but if Dunnavant and Carrico are good, I feel confident he will be as well. The two other members of the subcommittee are Senators Locke and Howell and we know we can count on them with this bill.

Our patron, Delegate Bob Thomas, has worked really hard to move this bill forward. He has already talked with the Chair of the full Senate Education and Health Committee, Steve Newman, as well. Hopefully the bill will be heard next week and move quickly to the floor.

All of our other work is focused on budget. Please click here to send an email to your legislators asking them to support the Senate budget amendment approach on salary increase and the House amendment approach on increasing the numbers of school counselors.

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

Last Day Before Crossover- Send An Email NOW

The House and Senate must complete all work on their bills by midnight tonight other than their budget bills. Yesterday the VEA sent out an action alert calling on our cyberlobbyists to send emails to their legislators asking for support of the SENATE version on salary increases and the HOUSE version on school counselor funding.

If you haven't sent an email, please do so now by clicking here.

On the floor of the House today, HB2037 from Delegate Carroll-Foy, passed. This is the teacher diversity bill that I have been writing about all session. The bill passed 99-0. The identical Senate bill, patroned by Senator Peake, passed the Senate 39-0, so it looks like this important piece of legislation is going to pass. Nothing is guaranteed, so we will watch it carefully, but as it stands now, we are in really good shape!

Also on the House floor today, Delegate Davis brought his HB2614, a Charter School bill to the floor. Keep in mind this bill died in subcommittee only to be revived in the full committee when Delegate Davis realized a couple of the Democratic members of the committee were not present to vote and he knew he could pass it that day. His presentation of the bill was misleading at best, but he ended his floor speech by getting caught up in what can only be considered racially insensitive comments that brought a gasp from members of the floor. I expected six Republicans to vote with the Democrats to kill the bill before Delegate Davis' floor speech (Hugo, Bloxom, Helsel, O'Quinn, Pillion, and Morefield). That should have resulted in a vote of 45-54. Instead many more Rs broke from their caucus after the terrible comments from Davis. The motion was to pass the bill, so a "NAY" vote was the right vote. As you can see, a total of 11 Rs voted to kill the bill. What was already a bad bill that was dead on arrival on the floor, was made far worse by the patrons comments. We thank the members of the House who voted to kill this bill.

YEAS--Adams, L.R., Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Brewer, Byron, Campbell, R.R., Cole, Collins, Davis, Edmunds, Fowler, Freitas, Garrett, Gilbert, Head, Ingram, Jones, S.C., Knight, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, Marshall, McGuire, McNamara, Miyares, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Robinson, Rush, Stolle, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yancey, Mr. Speaker--37.
NAYS--Adams, D.M., Aird, Austin, Ayala, Bagby, Bell, John J., Bloxom, Bourne, Bulova, Campbell, J.L., Carr, Carroll Foy, Carter, Convirs-Fowler, Delaney, Fariss, Filler-Corn, Gooditis, Guzman, Hayes, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hodges, Hope, Hugo, Hurst, James, Jones, J.C., Keam, Kilgore, Kory, Krizek, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, McQuinn, Morefield, Mullin, Murphy, O'Quinn, Orrock, Pillion, Plum, Price, Ransone, Rasoul, Reid, Rodman, Roem, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Thomas, Torian, Toscano, Tran, Turpin, Tyler, VanValkenburg, Ward, Watts--62.

Tomorrow morning the work begins again on the bills that have crossed over.

Monday, February 4, 2019

So Much For a Slow Week

I cannot start a post about action at the General Assembly without addressing the big news that broke on Friday afternoon regarding Governor Northam. The VEA and NEA issued a joint statement calling on the Governor to resign. Here it is:

VEA President Jim Livingston and NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia have issued the following statement regarding Governor a Ralph Northam:
"There is no place for Gov. Ralph Northam’s racist actions. Both NEA and VEA strongly condemn them. This goes beyond political affiliation. We must set a better example for our students. The public must have trust and confidence that their elected officials will fight for them, and that trust has been irreparably damaged. Ralph Northam should resign."

As of this moment, the Governor has not resigned. The General Assembly is moving very quickly and there is so much to report, but the actions of the Governor are overshadowing everything. I am going to leave the VEA/NEA Statement stand for itself today. We will see how this all plays out.

Yesterday, the money committees released their proposed budgets. Keep in mind that these budgets are the starting point from where they will have to make a decision. Neither is the end game. The VEA will put out our analysis of the budget soon, but the Senate Finance Committee was so late making the final decisions that they have yet to put out the materials we need in order to do a fair comparison between the two. There are a couple of things we know; our demand that the state provide funding to  increase salaries was heard.

Both the House and the Senate matched the Governor's proposal to add 2% to the already adopted 3% salary increase for SOQ positions. Interestingly, the House only provides the additional 2% for six months. State funding for a partial year increase is not sufficient. The House also has all sorts of "flexibility" language that, in some ways, incentivizes school divisions to give less than the 5%. The Senate, on the other hand, funded the increase at the same level as the Governor which means an additional 2% for a full year. We don't yet know the details as to how the Senate proposes the pay outs to the local school divisions, but they have added language to the Governor's introduced budget, so we know there are changes we will need to look at, they just aren't available yet. From a quick read, the Senate's approach to salary increases is the better of the two.

The House and Senate also took very different approaches to school counselors. As you may know, much of the talk around school safety has focused on student mental health and the need to allow school counselors to be available to students in need rather than caught up as test administrators and other duties that take them away from students. The VEA supports the changes to the required staffing levels for school counselors that the Board of Education adopted in 2016. Their recommendation would bring the school counselor to student ratio to the recommended level of the National School Counselor Association. The Governor's budget included a three year plan to get us there, and the VEA was grateful for that. The House actually included the Governor's first year portion on of the plan in their budget. The House changes the SOQ funding formula and increases state funding for these vital positions. We believe this is the best approach and it puts VA on the path to meeting the NSCA and VA BOE recommended ratio of 1:250. The Senate takes a different approach to freeing up school counselors time to do the work they need to do for our students. Currently, school counselors are required to spend 60% of their time on counseling duties. The Senate increases that number to 80% but they don't proved a real funding mechanism to hire additional people who can do the work that school counselors will no longer do- like serving as the school test administrator. We need to see the details, but when you take the work away from one person in a school and you don't either provide funding to hire someone to do it or eliminate the work completely, it will fall to someone else. That is not effective. The VEA prefers the House version of funding school counselors.

There will be a much broader analysis in the next few days as we get more details. Be on the look out here for that.

Today is a full day on the floor for the House and Senate. Any bill that has not passed a committee is dead. If they re-refer any bill to a committee from the floor, it is also dead. Each body must complete all work on the bills that originated with them by midnight tomorrow night. They may need every minute of that time to make that happen.

Tomorrow a couple of important bills will get their final House vote- our Teacher Diversity bill (HB2037, a good bill) and HB2614 which is an unconstitutional charter school bill, a bad bill. The Diversity bill should easily pass, and I feel good that we have the votes to defeat the Charter School bill. We will know at some point tomorrow.

Friday, February 1, 2019

Teacher Reprimand Bill Passes House, All Eyes on Money Committees

Today HB2325, the Teacher Reprimand bill patroned by Delegate Bob Thomas, passed the House 95-0. This bill is a direct result of a new business item from the VEA Convention. This bill expands the options available to the VA Board of Education when they are deciding what action to take on a teacher's license in a discipline hearing. Right now their only options are to revoke or suspend the license, today we are one big step closer to adding the less punitive option of a reprimand. The work begins on Monday as we prep the Senators who will hear the bill first. If the bill follows the same path in the Senate that it did in the House, it will go to the Senate Education and Health Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education. The members of this committee are Senators Carrico, Dunnavant, Peake, Locke, and Howell. We will make sure they all understand the intent and purpose of the bill and answer any questions they may have ahead of the subcommittee meeting.

Today is the last day that full committees have to send bills to the floor of the originating body for debate. In Virginia, all bills are on the floor for three days and each body must complete work on their own bills by midnight on Tuesday. That is the official point of crossover. All bills that passed from their originating body will cross over to the other body and the whole process starts over. In good news, it gives your lobby cadre some slower days as all of the action is on the floor. There are no subcommittee or committee meetings.

The Sunday before crossover is always Budget Sunday. The money committees (House Appropriations and Senate Finance) will release their budget amendments to the full committees. These are regular committee meetings, so they are live streamed. You can watch them on the VA General Assembly web site. The VEA will also spend Sunday and Monday crunching numbers and preparing our report that will compare the Governor's, the House, and the Senate budget amendments. All signs look good that the House and Senate will include the additional state support for the 2% salary increase for SOQ funded positions matching the Governor's investment. We will have to see how each body does it once we see budget language on Sunday.

For now, we celebrate HB2325 and get ready for the real fight- budget.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

Movement on School Calendar Bills and A New Elective Course on The Bible???

Might this be the year that we put a dent in Virginia's School Calendar Law, affectionately called the King's Dominion Law? As you probably know, this is the law that requires Virginia's public schools to start after Labor Day unless they have been granted a waiver by the VA Board of Education. The King's Dominion Law has been in effect since 1985 but this past year Fairfax was added to the list of school divisions that were granted a weather waiver. With Fairfax being added to the divisions that start before Labor Day, most of Virginia's public school students live in a district that has local control of their own calendars.

The VEA has long supported repealing the King's Dominion Law, but not so that school starts before Labor Day, but, instead to allow the local school boards to set their own opening day that best meets the needs of their students and families. The VA House of Delegates has passed various pieces of legislation over the last few years to make some movement on this issue. The VA Senate has firmly stood with the hospitality and tourism lobby and have defeated this bill year after year. Today we saw something different. Senate Bill 1005 from Senator Amanda Chase takes a unique approach to repealing the Labor Day rule. She presented a substitute to her bill that she claimed was a compromise between the hospitality lobby and those of us in education. The substitute was not quite that, as the education groups had not signed off on the version she presented to the committee. It was not the Senator's fault as the hospitality folks told her the education groups had signed off on the bill. The substitute went a long way to changing the law, but it didn't protect all of the school divisions that currently have, or are eligible for, a waiver. In fact, the bill carved Fairfax out of the list of divisions that would have their current waivers grandfathered. Apparently the hospitality folks wanted to make sure the largest school division in the Commonwealth would be treated differently and not be granted an automatic waiver. Interestingly it was Senator Sutterlein, who is from Roanoke, who was the champion for all the school divisions in his area, but also for all school divisions that currently have a waiver. As he said, "Local school boards have the right to set their own calendar" and not live with the current law that allows "the  industry" to tell us otherwise." The bill was amended to allow for every school division that currently has, or is eligible to have, a waiver to keep it. It also allows all other school divisions to set their own calendars so long as 1. They start no sooner that 14 days prior to Labor Day, and 2. They give both the Friday before and the Monday of Labor Day off. That substitute reported 10-4 in a huge victory in this fight. We shall see what happens, but the bill in on its way to the floor of the Senate and that's a big deal.

In other news, Senator Carrico's Senate Bill 1502 would require the VA Department of Education to develop curriculum for an elective high school course on Hebrew Scriptures and the Old and New Testaments. The original bill would have required every school board to offer the course, but the patron pulled that back to make it permissive. Each local school board can decide whether or not to offer the course. There was very heated debate on this bill as is singles out a single religion and steps into a separation of church and state argument. The patron brought in an expert to testify on the value of offering this type of coursework. His Harvard expert said, "You can not be considered educated without a working knowledge of the Bible." I won't lie, that rubbed me the wrong way. The whole discussion of this bill did the same. The "expert" went on to say that here is substantial correlation between studying the Bible and student achievement. I tried very hard to not respond to the "expert" but I did feel the need to remind the committee that if they are considering this bill as a means to improve student outcomes, there are other important steps they could take that would include state support for more school counselors, state support for smaller class sizes, state support for programs that support teachers, and state support that provide resources for families. The bill reported from the committee and will go to the floor of the Senate for, what I expect to be a heated debate.

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Charter School Bill Advances, VEA Bills Heard, and a Bill You Have to Read to Believe

The chaotic tempo of the days leading up to crossover continued this morning and this chaos created a path for an unconstitutional charter school bill to report out of the full House Education Committee. HB2416 from Delegate Glenn Davis, authorizes the Virginia Board of Education to establish local charter schools even of the local school board denied the charter school application. It violates the local control statue and is a concerning bill. Interestingly, the bill died in subcommittee on Monday afternoon on a 4-4 vote. Ties votes fail in the House. The patron of the bill managed to have his bill reheard in the full committee. The full House Committee is made up of 12 Republicans and 10 Democrats. The Democrats oppose charter school bills that violate the Constitution and we can count on Republican Delegate Gordon Helsel to vote against these bills as well. If every member of the committee is present and voting, the bill would die on an 11-11 vote. The problem in the days ahead of crossover is that subcommittee meetings are scheduled at different times and the most controversial bills usually come up at this point in session. Members who serve on committees that meet at the same time are often running back and forth between committees to cast their votes. In the House you must be present to vote. Senators can leave a proxy vote if they have to head to another committee. When the charter school bill came up, Delegate Roslyn Tyler had to be in another subcommittee meeting so she was absent. That allowed the charter school bill to pass on a 11-10 vote. Delegate Helsel still voted with the Democrats on the bill, but even with that, we were outnumbered. The bill will go to the floor tomorrow. We feel good that we have the votes to stop the bill on the floor, but after defeating the bill in subcommittee, it was a blow to allow for committee trickery to bring it back.

Last night the House Rules Committee heard more than 65 bills and among them were two VEA initiated bills. HJ670 patroned by Delegate Hala Ayala asked for a study of the cost implications of allowing part-time school employees to be eligible for Virginia Retirement System (VRS) benefits. All study bills were laid on the table and the patrons were all asked to draft letters about their study request and submit them to the commission that reviews these study requests. The VEA will do that and we will see if we can get a study completed so that then we can determine the possibility of expanding VRS eligibility.

Our other bill in Rules last night was HJ592 patroned by Delegate Debra Rodman that would have required the VA Board of Education to revise the teacher evaluation model that is still tied to the Race to the Top requirements from 2011. These requirements include that 40% of a teacher's evaluation is tied to student growth. Test scores continue to be the measure of student growth and we know that is not the best indicator of a good teacher. The bill was laid on the table, but the Chair of the House Education Committee, Steve Landes, will write a letter, on behalf of the VEA, to the Board of Education asking them to prioritize this work this year. This may not sound like a big deal, but it is. This is win. We have been asking the VA BOE to do this work for three years, and, while they keep insisting the work on on the plan "this year", it has yest to happen. Having the Chair of the House Education Committee put pressure on the BOE will certainly push them. Right now the BOE says they will take up the work in July of this year.

And finally, in case you think that we can rest easy as we build our pro-public education majority in the House, I leave for you HJ684 from Delegate Dave LaRock. This bill was defeated 7-0 in Rules without the VEA having to say a word in opposition, but I want you to read the bill so you know what type of legislation is literally just below the surface waiting for any sign of light so it can pass. We need to work hard to make sure we never lose the good friends who vote against this type of bill. Thank you to Delegates Knight, Landes, Ware, Orrock, Plum, Ward, and Torian who voted to kill the bill. Please take a couple of minutes to read the bill yourself so you know why we have to stay awake and continue to fight the fight. Click here to read the bill.


Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Marathon Rules Committee and Attention Turns to Budget

As I have reported in the Daily Reports, we are inching towards crossover. All bills in each body need to be through the subcommittee/committee process by the end of the day on Thursday so they can be on the floor on Friday. All the committees that may have been slow to put their bills on dockets are backed up and jamming all theirs bills onto the final meetings before cross over. The House Rules Committee is doing exactly that. 

Unlike the other committees in the House, the Rules Committee does not have a regularly scheduled meeting. They meet at the call of the Speaker of the House and Speaker Cox just called the committee and the associated subs this week. This afternoon two VEA initiated bills are finally on the docket along with 54 other bills. This will either be an incredibly long meeting (if each bill is heard) or it will be quick if the Chair just takes all the bills by in a block. If they go by for the day, they all die. The two VEA bills are our part-time school employee VRS bill patroned by Delegate Ayala and our Teacher Evaluation bill patroned by Delegate Rodman. Our evaluation bill asks for the VA Department of Education to review and revise the current teacher evaluation model in Virginia that is tied to student test scores. The VA DOE has altered members of the House that they intent to do the work this year and so the bill isn't needed. Our argument is that we have been hearing those exact words from the DOE since 2016. Delegate Chris Peace asked the VA Board of Education to send him a letter that confirms the revision is on their plan of work. We did receive the letter, but we would still like the bill to pass to force the work to happen. We will see what is the will of the Rules Committee on both bills. 

Sunday of this week, the House and Senate will release their budget amendments. This morning I was asked to go by Delegate Chris Jones' office. Delegate Jones is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee and the chief budget negotiator in the House. He confirmed the reports we had been hearing- the House budget will include the additional 2% salary increase in the second year of the budget to match the Governor's 5% proposal. That is big news. The delegate also congratulated the VEA on our lobby day and rally yesterday. We were heard. The devil will be in the details on how the House will fund and allocate this increase. Until we see the actual budget, we are reading tea leaves which is always risky.

So what about the Senate? No word, yet, and no leaks. I did get a chance to talk with Senator Salsaw who is a very vocal advocate for increasing teacher salaries. He is also a lead budget negotiator on the Senate side. He told me that he hadn't heard yet where the Senate was on the 5%, but "he won't support a budget proposal that doesn't include it." 

Monday, January 28, 2019

Lobby Day, March, and Rally

Today has been a good day. More than 2,000 supporters of public education marched to and rallied on the Capitol steps. Check out facebook at twitter to see the crowd. It was really impressive, and the legislators who were in session on the floor of the House and Senate at the time heard you. A couple of legislators mentioned the rally during their testimony on bills. So while they could hear our voices during the rally, will they pass a budget that funds our future? We will see. Today the House Republicans announced that they will include the additional 2% for teacher salaries in the second year of the budget which will match the Governor's proposal. We don't yet know what they will cut to fund it. They are not planning to make the tax policy decisions included in the Governor's proposals, so that leads to a very significant difference in the revenues the House Rs have available to invest. I will be meeting with Delegate Chris Jones in the morning. He is the chair of the House Appropriations Committee and the lead budget negotiator in the House. I am hopeful he gives me some details ahead of Sunday's budget announcements.

In other new, the VEA initiated HB2325 from Delegate Thomas that expands the options available to the VA BOE when they are taking action in a teacher's license passed the House Education Committee 18-0. That puts the bill on the uncontested calendar starting tomorrow. That generally makes for smooth sailing for a bill on the floor. Hopefully that will happen and we can start getting the Senate ready to take up the bill after crossover. This is a good bill, and Delegate Thomas is a great, hard-working patron. I feel good about  the bill. This is the bill that came from a new business item at convention and will allow the VA BOE to reprimand a teacher versus taking the more punitive license action that are, currently, their only options.

Later today the last House Education K-12 Subcommittee will meet. There is nothing too controversial, so while it will be long, it shouldn't be too bad. I will give updates tomorrow.

A big thank you to Delegates Hugo and Bloxom for their votes on HB2351 in the House Finance Committee this morning. The VEA opposes the bill as it expands the Education Improvement Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Even though this is a very limited expansion, there are some things we know about the program. These tax credits are lost state revenues that could and should be used to provide additional programs that actually target the most in need students. Last year VA lost over $11 million in tax credits to this program. Donors to these scholarships not only get significant tax breaks on their state returns, they can actually make a profit off of their donation in VA by also claiming the Federal tax deduction and, sometimes a 501 (c) 3 write off.  These programs are marketed for children in poverty and yet the bill allows for families who make up to 400% of poverty (over $100,000) to be eligible to take them. This is yet another way to shift state dollars (through lost revenues of the tax credits) to private schools under the guise of helping students in poverty.

The VEA is opposed to even a limited expansion to this tax credit program for these reasons and this morning HB2351 died on a 11-11 vote with Delegates Hugo and Bloxom voting with the Democrats.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Special Saturday Post

There was lots of action on VEA bills late on Friday in a specially called House Education Subcommittee meeting. The sub normally meets on Wednesdays immediately after the full House Education Committee, but the docket was so long this past Wednesday, the chair wasn't able to get through all the bills. Here's why she had to call a special sub meeting- crossover is coming. Crossover is Wednesday, February 6. Each body must complete work on all bills that they originated by midnight, Tuesday, February 5. Bills need to be on the floor of the body for three days. That means all bills must have finished the committee process by Thursday, January 31 so they can be on the floor on Friday. So all the subcommittees must meet to get all their bills to their full committees between now and Wednesday. Some bills report out of committee and are re-referred to another committee, generally a money committee, so that adds a new wrinkle. At this point if a bill is re-referred or passed by for the day (which means, can we look at it at the next committee meeting) that means it's dead.

This next few days are CRAZY for committees and subcommittees at the General Assembly. We will also be able to see what bills will be "pocketed" by committee chairs. These are bills that the chair of the committee decide not to hear at all. While this seems crazy, if a chair doesn't like a bill or thinks that it is a bill that is redundant or unnecessary, they can basically, put it in their pocket and never hear it. It's why committee chair positions are so powerful.

Friday's subcommittee finished all the bills on their docket, no bills were pocketed, and all of the bills that reported (passed) are on the docket (agenda) for Monday morning's full House Committee. Bills that report from that committee will go to the floor for debate. So here is the update on Friday's action on VEA initiated bills and some other bills that we follow:

HB2037 is Delegate Carroll-Foy's (D) Teacher Diversity bill. It is co-patroned by Delegate Lee Ware (R). This bill is a direct result of the VEA's Teachers of Color Summit. The VEA has worked closely with the VA DOE, VASS, and the patrons to draft and get this bill bipartisan support and in a good place. The Senate version of the bill (SB1397 by Senator Peake (R) and co-patroned by Senator Locke (D)) has already passed the Senate and is headed to the House. The House version hit a road bump after the full House Education Committee re-referred the bill to the House Appropriations Committee even though the bill has absolutely no cost associated with its implementation. In general, this is a death sentence for a bill that, for some reason, leadership wants to kill. Once we got the re-referral, the VEA worked with both patrons to save the bill. Delegate Carroll-Foy worked with her caucus and Delegate Lee Ware worked directly with House Education and House Appropriations leadership to get the bill back on a good track. Having patrons from both parties was a good call, as it seems Delegate Ware saved the bill. HB2037 reported out of Appropriations 7-0 and will go the floor of the House. It should go on the uncontested calendar (just as the Senate version did) and that's a fast-track for passage. This is an important bill and while I don't want to curse it, all signs look good for passage. Keep your fingers crossed. The House and Senate versions of the bills are identical. You can read the House bill here

VEA-initiated HB2325 from Delegate Bob Thomas (R) was a New Business Item from the VEA Convention. This bill would add a reprimand as an option the VA Board of Education can take on a teacher facing license action. The patron has been outstanding. He met with each member of the subcommittee before the hearing so they all understood the bill and he answered all their questions before the meeting started. That is what really hard working patrons do and it's why Delegate Thomas has been so successful is his legislation this session. The bill did hit a road bump after the VA School Boards Association stood to speak to the bill, not in opposition and not in support, just to point out a few things. That got members of the subcommittee asking a whole lot of questions. In the end we had to amend the bill a bit, but nothing changes the intention of the bill. The bill passed out of the sub 7-1. We appreciate Delegate Chris Hurst, who is on the sub, leading the amendment discussion and working out in the hallway with us, VSBA, and the patron to get the language right. The only no vote was Delegate Leftwich who only voted no because he wants to see the full bill, with the amendments, during that committee meeting. If it has passed unanimously, it would have been fast tracked in the full committee, and the one no vote flags it for discussion. I talked with Delegate Leftwich after the sub meeting to put his concerns at ease (I hope). We actually talked about the whole section of the current code on teacher licenses and how "messy" it is. He said the whole section needs a rework (in a good way, he was very supportive). I let him know the VEA would love to work with him, next session, to clean up the Code. The amended HB2325 will be up in the full House Committee on Monday, January 28. So if you are in Richmond for Lobby Day, come by the House Shared Full Committee room in the Pocahontas building at 9am and cheer the bill on!

In good new, Delegate LaRock killed his own annual version of his voucher bill (HB2568). He gave a 20 minute presentation on the bill and then moved to lay it on the table. The word on the street is that he knew it would die in full committee, so he was asked by the chair of the full committee not to bring the bill. Delegate Helsel (last year's Legislator of the Year) breaks with his caucus and votes against vouchers, so he would be the deciding vote.  We are grateful to Delegate Helsel for listening to the VEA on this bill. 

In bad news, Delegate Glenn Davis' unconstitutional Charter School bill, HB2416, reported out of committee 6-3. We are hopeful the full committee will kill the bill. Delegate Helsel knows our position and he usually votes our way on these bills. In case you were worried at all, the Governor is opposed to HB2416 and has let legislators know it. You can read his bill here

I will post a lobby day update tomorrow. Monday is big! 

Friday, January 25, 2019

Things That Make You Go HHUUMMMM....

Very early this morning the VEA was in the small House Finance Subcommittee meeting to speak against expansions to the Education Improvement Tax Credits (more on those later) The first bill the subcommittee heard was Delegate Rodman's HB2194 that would have eliminated the sales tax on menstrual supplies. The argument here is that these supplies should be considered medically necessary and should not be subjected to sales tax. Delegate Byron had a bill (HB2540) that would have covered the similar supplies but add diapers, incontinence supplies, disposable undergarments, and bed sheets into the same category and be sales tax exempt as well. Delegate Byron said that only eliminating the tax on menstrual supplies was discriminatory. She wrote the broader bill because, "Men in her district didn't think it was fair to discriminate against them on this issue." HHHUUMMMM......

So to why the VEA was there. There were two bills that would expand Virginia's bad policy, and deceivingly named Education Improvement Tax Credit Scholarship program. These are a version of back door vouchers. The broader of the two bills was passed by for the day, which, with this timing and proximity to cross over, kills the bill. The other bill, from Delegate Miyares was a far more narrow expansion of the tax credit program. That bill reported from the subcommitte on a vote of 4-2 with Delegates Keam and, our consistent friend on this issue, Delegate Hugo voting to kill the bill. The bill will now go to the full committee.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

Threat Assessment Team and School Construction Legislation Advances

This morning the Senate Education and Health Committee advanced a few bills that were subject of some of the VEA's New Business Items (NBIs) from Convention. They are good bills, and we are hopeful they will pass.

In school safety we are seeing bills that increase state support for School Resource Officers, that provide resources for more effective training of the members of threat assessment teams, and that ensure there are Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between school divisions and the local law enforcement agency that provides the SROs and that these MOUs are reviewed every 2 years. These are all good bills. Another big issue VEA members discussed at Convention was how we share information from the Threat Assessment Teams to the school divisions and school staff in a way that not violate FERPA. Today the VA Senate Education Committee took a step in the right direction by passing Senate Bill 1591.

This bill directs the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety (the Center) to convene a work group to develop guidelines and best practises for the sharing of information between a local school board and law enforcement regarding a student whose behavior may pose a threat to the safety of a school or institution or the community. Such guidelines and best practises shall seek to balance the interests of safety and student privacy and shall be consistent with the provisions of the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, as applicable. The bill requires the Center to develop such guidelines and best practises, report to the Chairmen of the House Committee on Education and the Senate Committee on Education and Health, and make such guidelines available to local school boards, public institutions of higher education, law enforcement, and the public by October 1, 2019. The VEA supported this bill.

Also during Convention, the VEA delegates passed an NBI on the state restoring school construction funding. We want to go after this through some changes to the supplanting of lottery dollars so that that money can go back to the original intent- to support school maintenance projects and school construction. That is a change that is very hard to make during a budget amendment year. We need to take that up next session during Governor Northam's biennial budget development. This year, thought, there are ways to make some inroads. Once is in the Governor's budget amendments that restores funding to the Literary Fund that makes low interest loans available to school divisions that are used for school construction or renovation.

Senator Bill Stanley convened a School Modernization Committee this summer and their work had been submitted as legislation that will give school divisions some options and alternatives as they look to renovate or replace buildings. Two of these bills are proceeding through the Senate. Both are Senator Stanley's bills. Senate Bill 1331 establishes standards for the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of public school buildings and facilities and allows for a local school division to enter into a lease agreement with a private entity to meet such standards. The bill would allow for net energy metering in public school buildings and facilities. The bill would also authorize the Virginia Resources Authority to provide partial funding for school modernization projects, effective January 1, 2020. This bill is a very interesting approach that has been used in North and South Carolina.

Senator Stanley also has Senate Bill 1702 that creates the Public School Assistance Fund and Program for the purpose of providing grants to school boards to be used solely for the purpose of repairing or replacing the roofs of public elementary and secondary school buildings in the local school division. The bill permits any school board in the Commonwealth to apply for Program grants but requires the Department of Education to give priority in the award of grants to school boards that demonstrate the greatest need based on the condition of existing school building roofs and the ability to pay for the repair or replacement of such roofs.

This summer, as the members of the School Modernization Committee traveled the Commonwealth they heard horror stories about the problems schools are facing because they have not been able to do basic maintenance to many roofs in years. Leaks, mold, and falling ceiling tiles are issues many schools are facing as a result of roof issues. This bill establishes a fund that will provide state dollars to address this specific issue.

This afternoon is the last Senate Education and Health Subcommittee on K-12 until after crossover so we will finish the hard work on the education bills in the Senate. In the House there are far more bills to get through and there are some big ones coming up. Updates on a few of them tomorrow.


Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Busy Morning in House Ed and Delegate Helsel Is Still a Champion!

This morning the full House Education Committee took up a long docket of bills that included the VEA's Teacher Diversity bill (HB2037, the Senate version of the bill SB1397 passed 40-0 yesterday). For some reason the bill has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee even though there is no state or local fiscal impact of the bill. Not sure what is going on here, but Chief Patron Delegate Carroll-Foy and Chief Co-Patron Delegate Lee Ware are talking with the members of the Appropriations committee to make sure the bill is in good shape.

Also today Delegate VanValkenburg's bill that will codify teacher planning time for all teachers was passed by for the day. He is trying to get the bill to a place where there is no fiscal impact. If he can't do that, the bill will die in Appropriations. He assures me he has a plan and the bill will come to the full committee on Monday, which happens to be VEA Lobby Day. You might want to stop by the  House Education at 8:30am to hear that bill. Just so you know why it is important to have educators in the legislature, like Delegates VanValkenburg and Turpin, while the planning time bill was in subcommittee, Delegate Glenn Davis commented how important planning time was because everyone needs a "break" at work where they can sit and clear the heads or even take a jog if they like. Delegate VanValkenburg very diplomatically explained what teachers actually do during planning time and that leaving school property was not on the list.

Also today in House Education we had the annual presentation of the bill that would allow home schooled students to participate in public school (VHSL) sports. Once again Delegate Helsel broke with his caucus and voted with the 9 Democrats to kill the bill on a 10-10 tie. We were worried right before the vote as we were missing a good friend who always stands with us on the bill, but with Helsel voting with us and another member who typically votes against us on this bill being absent today, the bill died on a 10-10 vote. Just like last year, Delegate Helsel was the key vote in killing this legislation. As he told me last year, "if the school boards, superintendents, and VEA is against an education bill, how can I be for it." That's what we mean when we say we have friends on both sides of the aisle.

The VEA bill that allow the Board of Education to reprimand a teacher facing license action rather than only suspend or revoke a license was on the docket today, but time got the best of the Chair, and that bill will be up on Friday afternoon. Delegate Bob Thomas has been a great patron to work with and he is working with the members of the Committee to help them understand the simple nature of the bill. Hopefully his ground work and our ground work on this bill will lead to a good outcome.

At 4pm today the House Appropriations Subcommittee on K-12 will hear from every House member who has submitted a budget amendment. There is a very long list, and this is always a very long day because of that. This year is especially tricky as the General Assembly has yet to act on tax conformity or any tax policy that will determine the revenues that my or may not be available to the budget crafters. Last year I was a black widow. Every time I got up to support a budget amendment, the amendment was killed. I am not certain they will kill everything since they don't have a budget plan right now. Today if a bill is "laid on the table" that is a win. That means it is still in consideration by the money committees. Maybe this year, the black widow will leave the committee at the end of the night with a whole lot of budget amendments still on the table.