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 Spotsylvania 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 Spotsylvania 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 Spotsylvania 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.