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.