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.