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.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

ERA Goes Down in the House, Senate Passes Anti-VEA Bill

Not a great day in the General Assembly today.

All of the Equal Rights Amendment bills were killed today on a party line vote in the House Privileges and Elections (P &E) subcommittee. The Senate versions of these bills all passed last week, so this is a real blow to to the bipartisan efforts in the House to get this passed. The P&E subcommittee took up the House bills but also killed the Senate bill that was carried by Republican Glen Sturtevant. Here is how the members of the subcommittee voted. Since the motion was to kill the bills, a NO vote was the RIGHT vote:

YEAS--Ransone, Ingram, Fowler, McGuire--4.
NAYS--Sickles, VanValkenburg--2.

It seemed as though this might be the year that Virginia became the 38th state to ratify the ERA, but the vote of 4 members of this small committee killed this effort. Recent polling showed that more than 70% of Virginians support ratifying the ERA, but it only took 4% of the House of Delegates to take it down.

In other disappointing news, the Virginia Senate passed Senate Bill 1236 from Senator DeSteph on another party-line vote 20-19. Senator Chafin wasn't in the chamber at the time, so he didn't vote.  This is the bill that is designed to be anti-VEA and anti- teacher union. It is also a huge overstep by the General Assembly over the local control granted to local school boards to run their schools. The VEA was hoping enough of our friends on both sides of the aisle would understand our argument, but, sadly, only the Democrats voted with us. We are grateful tot he Democratic Caucus of the Senate for standing with us on this vote. We are also glad that the School Board's Association and the School Superintendents also opposed this bill. It now goes to the House where we will try again to defeat it. Thank you to everyone who sent an email to your Senator. If your Senator voted the wrong way on this bill, make sure you follow up with them and ask why.

Tomorrow there are all sorts of interesting bills up in the House Education Committee and the subcommittee that will meet after the full committee adjourns. Tebow, vouchers, a bad charter school bill, and two of the VEA's bills are all up. Look for a full debrief here tomorrow.

Monday, January 21, 2019

Monday Marathon and Gun Day

The General Assembly is open for business on the MLK holiday. People are always surprised that they are in session on a state holiday. Interestingly the General Assembly is in session on every Saturday and Sunday from gavel down on opening day until they adjourn sine die in February during the short session. Luckily they rarely meet on these days, but they could and, sometimes, do. I am grateful to the VEA Lobby Cadre who give up their holiday to make sure that all of our committees are covered. Especially on Mondays.

While I am certain it isn't the case, I think that the Chair of the House Education Committee is trying to wear down the public education lobbyists on Monday. We started with a 7am subcommittee where they heard a few bills where the VEA has positions of support. This morning the VEA was proud to stand with Delegate Lopez on his HB2388, a bill that would allow Dreamers to be eligible for in-state tuition for a Virginia public colleges. This an important bill for students who are on a path towards citizenship and were brought here by their parents. The bill requires that these students graduate from a VA public high school or have earned a Virginia GED, they must be accepted and enrolled in a public college or university in Virginia, and their parents must have paid Virginia income tax for at least one year. The bill reported from the sub committee 7-1 with only Delegate Leftwich voting against. The bill was referred to the House Appropriations Committee where it will likely face a tougher fight.

In the full committee that started at 9am, Delegate Krizek's HB1724 that creates a pilot Grow Your Own program for high needs schools passed, but was also referred to Appropriations. The VEA and the NEA is very supportive of these programs that encourage middle and high school students to learn more about teaching as a profession and to commit to come back to teach in their home school division after graduation with a teaching license. The bill grants college scholarships for these students. There is much research on the effectiveness of these types of programs in filling teaching positions in hard to staff schools. We are hopeful the House Appropriations committee sees the values in the investment of state resources on this program.

At 4pm the House Education Subcommittee on K-12 meets and, when the docket is long, like it is today, we are usually not finishing up until sometime after 8pm. Today's subcommittee was fairly non-controversial, they are saving all those bills for the next Monday which is the final subcommittee before cross over. The big bill for us was Delegate Carroll-Foy's and Delegate Ware's HB1397 the VEA Teacher Diversity bill. This is the House version of SB2037 that has been going very well on its path towards passage in the Senate. I am always nervous about a bill until it gets its first hearing. Even though the Senate version is doing well, you never know how things will go in the other body and you NEVER tell members of either body that the other side likes the bill. That makes an assumption that the other side doesn't matter. We have been talking with all the right folks and everyone knows that this is a good, solid bill. While HB2037 passed unanimously, it was referred to Appropriations even though the Department of Education says there is no fiscal impact. I am hopeful they can help the Speaker and the Appropriations Committee see that this bill does have a budget impact and they pass it.

In other news, SB1236 Senator DeSteph's bill that attacks the VEA and other teacher unions will get a final vote on the floor of the Senate tomorrow. Keep emailing your member of the Senate and urge them to vote NO on SB1236. Click here to send your email.

On a side note, MLK Day is always Gun Day at the General Assembly. It's always packed with folks on both sides of the issue, but open carry in the hallways of the Capitol and the offices of legislators is disconcerting.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Action Alert on Senate Bill 1236- An Attack on the VEA

Fridays are generally really slow at the General Assembly. They try to finish up early so that legislators can head home for the weekend. Today even the committees that usually meet on Fridays after the floor session, have been cancelled. I won't lie. It's been a long, busy week here. I am looking forward to getting home while it is still light out.

A couple of important updates. We have a cyberlobbist action alert active on Senate Bill 1236. This bill, from Senator DeSteph of VA Beach,  attempts to very broadly define an education employee association.  The bill puts all of these “associations” on an even playing field with the VEA even though there is no requirement in the definition that these other "groups" represent employees, or advocate for improved working and learning conditions for teachers and students.

As defined in the bill, “an education employee association means teacher associations, teacher organizations, and other associations that are formed for the purpose of promoting the interests of teachers or students.” So local school boards would need to treat any “group” as an equal to the VEA and other teacher unions. These other “groups” want access to employee emails and mailboxes. They want access to buildings and events. They want to be able to replace the true teacher unions.

Wondering where this bill came from? There was a local fight in Virginia Beach that the Virginia Beach City School Board resolved in a way that left a disgruntled group looking for a different answer. So even though this local issue was resolved by locally elected officials, Senator DeSteph has decided to try to reverse that decision through legislation.  While Senator Desteph claims to have brought in stakeholders on his substitute legislation, the VEA, VSBA, and VASS were not included in those discussions. It is not a compromise.

Both the Virginia School Boards Association and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents oppose this legislation and we are grateful for that. It is a swipe at the local control of schools that is a Constitutional right granted to our local school boards. More importantly, SB1236 is an effort to silence educator voices at a time where, across this country and right here in Virginia, they have finally found their voices. Please contact your member of the VA Senate now by clicking here and demand they vote NO on SB1236. The bill will be on the floor of the Senate on Monday.

Speaking of Monday, it will be a crazy day here. MLK Day is always "Gun Day at the General Assembly." Gun rights advocates from across the Commonwealth come to Richmond, openly carrying their weapons, to demand protection of their 2nd amendment rights. The gun violence prevention groups will be here too. It is amazing to see their silent protests and quiet work on Gun Day especially since many of them are victims of gun violence. The VEA is proud to stand with them on common sense gun violence prevention legislation.

As if Gun Day wasn't crazy enough, Monday is always a marathon day for House Education. Dockets haven't been published, but I expect quite a large number of important VEA bills to come up. Make sure to read the Daily Report on Monday for a full run down.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Early Start in Senate Education and Health

An early start today in the full Senate Education and Health Committee this morning. Let's get to the good news first. SB1397, the bill that the VEA and the School Superintendents worked on together, passed unanimously. This is the Teacher Diversity Bill that will break through the current roadblocks that keep minority students from entering the teaching profession. It is a really good bill. It now goes to the floor of the Senate early next week. Since it passed unanimously out of the full committee, it will go to the floor as an uncontested bill and likely pass in the block and cross over to the House. A really good outcome. Interestingly, the House version of the bill (HB2037) hasn't been heard in a subcommittee yet, so while we are hearing the House is as favorable to the bill as the Senate has been , we haven't seen a vote on the bill on that side of the General Assembly. So while we feel confident, we are still talking to members of the House and leadership on the House Education Committee and answering any question that have on the bill. We want to make sure this bill gets through the House with identical language to the Senate bill, too. That is important so that it can get on the "fast track" when it crosses over. This is a really big, really impactful bill. Lots of good work has been done to highlight the lack of diversity of Virginia's teacher workforce and this bill is a direct result of all of that work. I am proud of the VEA for taking this issue on and fighting for some really good solutions to this problem. So that's today's good news.

Making a right hand turn, there is some bad new to report. Senate Bill1236,Senator DeSteph's bill that goes after the VEA and other teacher unions, reported out of the full committee today. Interestingly Senator DeSteph offered a revised version of the bill and claimed that he "developed the substitute bill after discussing the issue with stakeholders and coming to a compromise." I am trying to figure out who those "stakeholders" were and how he can call something a compromise when you only talk to one side. Neither the VEA nor the other two opponents to the bill- the School Boards Association (VSBA) and the Association of School Superintendents (VASS)- were invited by the senator to discuss a compromise. The bill is better but it still puts all employee "groups" on an even playing field with the VEA. It also directs local school boards on how they will mange their relationship with the local education association. That is a complete overstep of local control of our schools. You can read the new version of the bill here. This is a tough committee for anti-union bills. Frankly it was our goal to make sure the Democrats on the committee knew what the issue was and that they voted to protect the union. We visited the office of each of the Democratic members and dropped off a one pager on the bill. Because Senator DeSteph claimed to have reached a compromise with stakeholders, two members who are usually with us, abstained from the vote because there was no testimony allowed on the substitute bill. The vote tally is below. A NAY vote was to kill the bill:

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

01/17/19  Senate: Reported from Education and Health with substitute (8-Y 4-N 2-A)

YEAS--Newman, Black, Carrico, Cosgrove, Dunnavant, Chase, Suetterlein, Peake--8.
NAYS--Saslaw, Lucas, Howell, Locke--4.
ABSTENTIONS--Barker, Petersen--

The bill will now go to the floor of the Senate. We will be getting out a cyberlobby action later today on the issue asking our members of the VA Senate to vote NO on the bill. We are making sure that VASS and VSBA are reaching out to their members, too. If we can get school superintendents to call their school division's senator, we may be able to kill this on the floor. If not, we will, hopefully, kill it before it gets to the floor of the House.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

School Safety Bills and A VEA Bill Faces Its First Test

This morning the House Education Committee took up the recommendations from the House Select Committee on School Safety. The VEA is encouraged by many of the recommendations from the committee. We are especially grateful for the focus on increasing school counselor's ability to work directly with  students rather than being assigned many of the responsibilities on test administration and data. Here's the rub. Just saying that school counselors should be relieved of those other responsibilities without providing any additional staff or state funding to hire either more counselors or more support staff to take on some of those other responsibilities is an unfunded mandate. The work will still exist and that means someone will need to take it on. Should that be the school administrators who are already overburdened and unable to be real instructional leaders because of the paper-pushing they are required to do? Should it fall on the teachers who are already stretched beyond their limits? Should these responsibilities simply fall into the "other duties as assigned" and everyone can just try to figure it out? None of these is OK with the VEA. If the General Assembly wants to change the roles of school counselors so that students mental health needs are met, they need to fund additional positions or lift the support staff cap so that state dollars for the support positions we need are funded with state dollars. Delegate Landes' legislation that increases the percentage of time that school counselors spend on true counseling is very well intended and we are grateful to him for highlighting this issue, but the state's idea that this change is "free" is ridiculous. There must be state dollars that follow this change. His bill was referred to Appropriations for review, but we are concerned that it will pass without any additional state dollars to support its implementation.

The House Appropriations Subcommittee on Elementary and Secondary Education had its first meeting this afternoon. House Bill 2144, VEA initiated legislation that came from a New Business Item at our 2018 Convention, was heard. HB2144, carried by VEA member and teacher, Delegate Chery Turpin would reestablish the Duty Free Lunch Incentive Grant. This grant would make limited state funding available for school divisions that wanted to provide duty free lunches to their teaching staff. Currently there is no federal or state requirement that teachers have a duty free lunch. The incentive fund was established in 1950 and funded until the 1990s. At that time, school divisions were required to report the extent to which they were providing duty free lunches to their teachers. When the reporting requirement was there, more divisions were providing that time during the day. The fund was repealed in 2011 and the reporting requirement also went away.

In 2017, the VEA asked school divisions what their polices were on duty-free lunches. Most reported they did their best to provide them as often as possible. Ours was a soft ask since there is no state report, so the data was what it was. We know that fewer teachers are getting a break to have even a 15 minute lunch. We are grateful to Delegate Turpin for carrying this legislation. In good news, as we traveled the state talking about this bill, we heard from some of our hourly ESPs who were not getting an unencumbered break for lunch. Hourly employees are on a different category depending on how may hours they work. We were able to connect some of our ESPs with their UniServ Directors to help resolve those issues. The more we talk, the more we learn.

In good news,  the members of the sub committee were very responsive to our bill. While the bill was laid on table, that is actually a good outcome on a bill that needs to be funded. The members of the committee can "pick the bill up" off the table once the budget is drafted. I will tell you anything that isn't a kill in that committee is a good outcome. Delegates Peace, Landes, and John Bell asked great questions and engaged on the issue. They also asked about any data the state had on teacher morale. Delegate Peace asked specifically about the school personnel climate survey that the VEA proposed last year and, while not funded, was still required to be implemented. It allowed us to make a case for state funding for a more deep dive into issues. So two birds with one stone on that one. A good day for a good bill that was initiated by your VEA Convention delegates! We will have to see how the budget talks progress, but Delegate Turpin and I were pleased with the outcome in sub committee today.

House Appropriations Tears Apart Governor's Budget Proposals

A quick post that will be followed up with a recap of the day, but WOW, we are sitting in the House Appropriations Committee listening to the Department of Education's review of the Governor's budget proposals and Dr. Lane and his staff are getting torn apart by the leadership of the committee. Not a good first sign of where this committee is heading as they begin to develop their budget development.

If you thought a single penny of the Governor's $269 million in increased funding to K-12 was a sure thing, you need to change your thinking and get to work putting pressure on your member of the House of Delegates.

Not a good sign of things to come.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Lobby Day is Coming. Have You Made Your Plans?

So in big news, the Equal Rights Amendment passed the Virginia Senate! A huge victory, but there is still a HUGE problem in the House. The Chair of the House Privileges and Elections committee, Delegate Mark Cole, has refused to put the House version of the bill on the committee docket for consideration. The Speaker of the House, Kirk Cox, has yet to intervene and force the issue. We will have to see if the Republican leadership in the House of Delegates is really prepared to block a vote on legislation that the vast majority of Virginians support and that the Senate passed. So while we celebrate a victory today, we are along way from passing the Equal Rights Amendment in Virginia. We need to be contacting our legislators and put pressure on them to do the right things. They need to hear from you.

Hearing from you is why the VEA has a Lobby Day every year. This year it is Monday, January 28. It is one, coordinated day where school employees from across the Commonwealth come to Richmond to demand that legislators to do the right thing for us and for our schools. This year it is vital that you come to Richmond. We are facing a budget fight that will set the stage for how K-12 public education is funded for years to come. We need to put pressure on every member of the House and Senate to do the right thing. Come to Richmond, lobby your member of the General Assembly, and then come to the noon rally for education on the grounds of the VA Capitol. Members of Virginia Educators United will join us to demand that the General Assembly FUND OUR FUTURE! It is time to make structural, long-term changes to how we fund our public schools and pay our public school employees. Click here to learn more about VEA Lobby Day and the Fund Our Future Rally.

For anyone who is not a member of the VEA, we encourage you to learn more about the Virginia Educators United plans for January 28 by clicking here.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Mondays Are Busy for House Education

Today the House Education Committee got to work. Mondays are always long because the House Ed committee has three subcommittees, and two of them meet on Monday. On Mondays, House Ed Subcommittee #3 meets at 7am, then the full House Ed committee meets at 8:30am, and House Ed Sub #1 meets at 4pm. As the dockets get longer, these days go non-stop from 7am until at least 7pm as the subcommittees run long with so many bills to hear.

Why are subcommittees so important? Well the subcommittees are the engines that drive all the committee work. They are smaller and more focused. Most bills in both the Senate and the House are assigned to subcommittees, where they get very thorough hearings. In general, this is where bills are amended and discussed at length. It is where one vote can kill or advance a bill and where you can have the most influence. It is also where you must be the most prepared to speak to every detail of each bill. I enjoy the subcommittees and appreciate the discussion and debate with the smaller group. You can see who sits on the House Education subcommittees by clicking here and then clicking on each of the three subcommittees. You can see the the members of the Senate Education and Health subcommittee on public education here.

There was not much action on VEA bills today, but there is a whole lot of tweaking language, proposing amendments, and working on bill strategies. Things will pick up tomorrow.

As an fyi for those of you following the ERA Constitutional Amendment, the chair of the House committee where the legislation is assigned, Privileges and Elections (P&E), is continuing to say that he does not intend to being the legislation to the committee. You can contact Delegate Mark Cole, Chair of House P&E by clicking here.

Friday, January 11, 2019

VEA Initiated Bills and Budget Amendments

Today's post features the legislation that VEA members voted, at Convention, to initiate along with a really sweeping bill that has been in the works since VEA's first Teachers of Color Summit and the recommendations that came from that event. Overall, it is a good agenda for educators.

From our 2019 Legislative agenda:
Teacher Evaluation and a$200,000 budget amendment for the VA Department of education to complete the study: Delegate Debra Rodman (D) patron
You can click here to read the legislation.

Duty Free Lunch and a $500, 000 budget amendment for initial funding: Delegate Cheryl Turpin (D) is our Chief Patron and she has co patrons that you can see when you click on the bill.
You can click here to read the legislation.

Part time VRS Study/$200,000 budget amendment: Delegate Ayala (D) (notice patrons who have signed on when you click on the bill).

Our bill that will allow the VA Board of Education (BOE) to have the ability to issue a reprimand when a teacher faces a license action in front of the BOE. Right now the Board can only revoke or suspend a license. Those are really severe punishments for lesser infractions. We need to change that. Delegate Thomas (R) is patroning the bill. You can click here to read the bill.

The Department of Education has requested funding in order to implement the School Personnel Climate Survey we proposed last year. Our patron's have each submitted a $300,000 budget amendment to cover the cost. Thank you Senator McClellan (D) and Del. VanValkenburg (D).

VEA will support the School Construction funding in the Governor’s budget and Senator Bill Stanley’s (R) School Modernization budget amendments.We will go after the restoration of the Per Pupil Lottery Allocation in 2020 through the Biennial Budget process.

From the Teacher of Color Summit Recommendations:
An amazing bill to open up both Teacher Diversity and the Teacher Pipeline in Virginia. There is a House and a Senate version of the bill. They are identical.
House Bill 2037 is patroned by Delegate Jennifer Carroll-Foy(D) and Co-Patroned by Delegate Lee Ware (R). you can click here to read the House version of the bill.

The Senate version of the bill is patroned by Senator Mark Peake (R) and co-patroned by Senator  Mamie Locke (D). You can follow the Senate bill here.

The other big news today is that VEA Fund recommended candidate, Jennifer Boysko,  was sworn into the Virginia Senate. That leaves her seat open in an nearly evenly divided House. She also sat on the House Education Committee. Her open seat there shifts the balance of power a bit for sure. Speaker Cox has announced that the Special Election to fill that House seat won't be until February 19. The General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on February 23, so we will have to work with some new math until then. For most of session the House will be 51 Republicans and 48 Democrats.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

VEA's Teacher Diversity Bill and An Attack On Our Union

This morning was the first meeting of the Senate Education and Health Committee and they took no time at all getting started. They reported bills and referred bills at lightning speed. A VEA bill and a bill that attacks educator unions were both referred to the afternoon sub-committee meeting for full hearings. Usually some of these larger, more controversial bills come up later in session. Not this year.

Senate Bill 1236 (Senator DeSteph, VA Beach) is an attempt to undermine the role of the VEA and our local affiliates. Interestingly, this bill came out of a local issue the Virginia Beach Education Association (VBEA) faced and fought off. So even though the VA Beach School Board was able to take care of their issue through local organizing and the work of locally elected officials, Senator DeSteph decided to make the issue a legislative issue and is trying to add to Code language his local school board rejected. We were glad to have the Virginia School Boards Association (VSBA) and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) with us opposing this bill. The bill reported 3-2 with our two champions Senators Locke and Howell voting to stop the bill. The fight will likely be on the floor of the Senate as the full committee will likely report on party lines.

On another note and in really, really good news, VEA initiated Senate Bill 1397 is a direct result of the recommendations that came out of VEA's Teacher of Color Summit. Diversity among Virginia’s student population continues to increase, non-white students made up 49 percent of Virginia’s student population in 2016-17, up from 39 percent in the 2003-04 school year. Virginia’s teacher workforce is nearly 80 percent white. Research shows that diversity in schools, including racial diversity among teachers, can provide significant benefits to students.  Improving teacher diversity can help all students. Teachers of color are positive role models for all students in breaking down negative stereotypes and preparing students to live and work in a multiracial society. Both quantitative and qualitative studies find that teachers of color can improve the school experiences of all students. PK-12 students of color also do better on a variety of academic outcomes if they are taught by teachers of color.By 1998, in response to the National movement to high-stakes testing, Virginia added passing standardized, professional assessments (PRAXIS) for entry into teacher education programs and for earning your initial teaching license. These assessments show significant pass rate gaps between white teacher candidates and minority teacher candidates.Candidate screening tests also inadvertently perpetuate historic inequities.

In order to diversify our teacher workforce, we need to address the three inflection points where standardized professional assessments create road blocks to minority teacher candidates entering the profession.Virginia needs to examine the three inflection points for teacher licensure where the current requirements bar entry for minority candidates: 

  1. Entry into traditional teacher education programs 
  2. Earning their initial license 
  3. Completing the requirements of a provisional license

SB 1397 eliminates the requirement, established by the Virginia Board of Education, that all individuals seeking entry into a traditional teacher preparation program must pass the professional assessments. We know these assessments unfairly screen out minority teacher candidates. It would allow colleges and universities in Virginia to establish their own entry requirements into their programs. The bill also grants authority to the Virginia Board of Education to develop an alternative evaluation that would allow a teacher candidate to demonstrate proficiency in the relevant content area, communication, literacy, and other core skills for educators before being granted an initial teaching license. This bill does not eliminate the professional assessment as one of the means of evaluating a teacher candidate’s readiness to become a licensed teacher, it simply allows the development of an alternative method of evaluation as prescribed by the Board. And finally, it allows for a local Superintendent to request a waiver from the Virginia Board of Education of the professional assessment requirement of a provisionally licensed teacher who has met all of the other requirements for full licensure and has also received a rating of proficient or above on the performance standards each year of their provisional license. 

We are grateful to Senator Mark Peake for patroning this bill. There is an identical bill in the House that is partroned by Delegate Carroll-Foy and Delegate Lee Ware.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Day One of the 2019 Session

The gavel went down at noon today on the 2019 session. Have you talked with your legislator yet? If you haven't, reach out now and tell them your story. Build a relationship and make sure you are a "go to" person for them on education issues. If you don't know who your legislator is, you can click here to find out.

This is going to be a budget session even though, on paper, it isn't. This session will be all about tax policy and how the state handles the changes in tax code at the Federal level that will impact the state. The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act made significant changes to the Federal tax code. Virginia will conform to the Federal changes as they always do. The issue will then become how Virginia handles the standard deduction changes and the ability to itemize. There is potential for substantial new revenues that can be invested in public programs like public education. In fact, Governor Northam's budget amendment proposals assumes passage of tax policies that will bring in these revenues. Without them, cuts will need to be made to his proposals. So the General Assembly is facing very difficult choices. Obviously the VEA supports the Governor's budget amendments and investments in our schools and school employees. It will be the big issue of session.

As usual, today's floor action was focused on organizing the session and establishing rules. Committees will start meeting this afternoon, so there will be more to do tomorrow. Today your Lobby Cadre spent their time visiting every legislator's office and sharing the VEA legislative agenda. If you haven't seen the 2019 VEA Legislative Agenda you can click here to read it.

Tomorrow I will give updates on the VEA bills. There is a lot of good work going on with those.

I wanted to end with a shout out to Mrs. Carol Bauer's 4th grade class. Carol is a tremendous VEA advocate, our senior NEA Board member, and award winning teacher. She let me know that the link I shared on Monday to the web site American Evolution that celebrates the 400th Anniversary of Virginia's General Assembly was helpful to her students and they enjoyed the content. So glad I shared it here. See, this blog is more than just an update, it's a teaching tool :) Click here to check out the web site.

Monday, January 7, 2019

Are You Ready for the 2019 General Assembly Session?

Ready or not, legislators are back in town.

The gavel will go down at noon on Wednesday, January 9 for the 400th anniversary of the the oldest, continuous, law-making body in the New World, Virginia's General Assembly. The Assembly was established on July 30, 1619. There will be all sorts of commemorations and celebrations this year to mark the anniversary. You can visit The American Evolution web site to learn more about all the events this year.

Even though session doesn't start until Wednesday, most legislators are either in Richmond or on their way. Bill drafts are being considered, patrons are lining up, and bills are dropping into the queue for committee referrals. If you are interested in looking at all the bills that have filed so far, you can go to the Legislative Information System (LIS) web site to find out everything you want or care to know about session. Legislators have until 5pm this Friday to file their bills and, even with bill limits this session, we expect about 3,000 bills to drop. Session is always busy and chaotic.

This session is in an odd year, so it is a short session lasting only about 45 days. Virginia operates on a biennial budget that is adopted during even-years, so those sessions are longer (60 days). Of course last session lasted for more than 5 months when the House and Senate failed to come to agreement on a budget until May 30. In odd years, they will only be considering amendments to the biennial budget, so we don't expect to go into extra innings, but that doesn't mean there won't be big budget fights to fight.

On December 18, Governor Northam delivered his proposed budget amendments to the General Assembly for consideration. There will be more about that tomorrow. Ultimately the members of the General Assembly determine how state dollars are allocated, so they will create their own budget, but the Governor's is always the starting point. If you went to one of VEA's Pre-legislative Dinners, you know that the Governor really doesn't have the final say on how state dollars are allocated. It's the members of the General Assembly who do that, so we need to make sure they know how we feel about how state dollars are allocated. If you don't know who your legislators are, you can click here to find out.

As always, the VEA will follow every bill and have coverage in every committee and sub-committee meeting the entire session. We do this by bringing in a team of lobbyists from our membership and staff who work very long days, walk miles, take notes, and keep your GR Director updated. Of course VEA President Jim Livingston and Vice-President James Fedderman will lead a good portion of this work, but they are happy to be joined by members Kelly Walker and Dave Palanzi and VEA staff Brenda Pike, Joel Coon, Jay Deck, Lisa Staib, Bekah Saxon, and Dena Rosenkrantz.

So let's get ready. Wednesday is coming!