Thursday, April 23, 2020

A Historic Reconvened Session in Virginia

Daily Report- April 22, 2020

The sixth Wednesday after adjournment is when the General Assembly reconvenes to act on any recommendations made to any bill by the Governor, including action on any bill that the Governor vetoes. The General Assembly adjourned sine die on March 12. The very next day the COVID-19 closures started across the Commonwealth. Normally there is a quiet time in the weeks between the end of session and the reconvened session. That has certainly not the case this year. The COVID-19 pandemic and State of Emergency here in Virginia have wreaked havoc on some of the legislation the General Assembly passed and certainly on the budget that they adopted on March 12.

While we had a very successful legislative session with many of our priority bills passing and being signed by the Governor, a few of our top priority bills, including our Collective Bargaining bill, had recommendations from the Governor and were up for consideration today. Usually, the House and Senate would convene in their regular chambers and the business of the day would proceed as normal. We are no longer in normal times.

The 40 members of the VA Senate convened in a significantly larger space at the Science Museum so that they could maintain social distancing. They worked with “technology” that included a bell to alert them that the voting rolls were open. They had on masks and gloves and, this germaphobe noted, a bottle of hand sanitizer at each desk. Senator Barker, who recently had surgery, worked from behind a plexiglass series of panels in what was termed the “Barker Box”. The box was something to see, but how did they get all those bottles of hand sanitizer?

Social distancing in the VA House is far more difficult as there are 100 members plus the staff who need to be on hand. The solution was to meet under a large tent on the grounds right outside the House Chamber. Each member of the House had their own table, masks, and gloves. While it was a beautiful day in Richmond, it was very windy, and some legislators struggled with their papers while discussing bills and amendments. The day started with a half-hour delay as there were technical problems with the voting boards. Those problems were much like lights on a Christmas tree. If any single plug was loose on any cord, they all went out.

Nothing normal about today.

Since the 2020-2022 biennial budget was adopted on March 12, our economy has completely turned upside down. Thousands of Virginians are newly unemployed, our revenues are down, and our economic future is uncertain. The budget that was adopted was built on revenue forecasts that are very different from what we expect just six weeks later, and the Governor decided to freeze all new spending until additional revenue forecasts are available and they demonstrate a recovery. The K-12 budget was treated just as all the others in general. All new spending was frozen. Sadly, this included many of the items the VEA fought for this session and over the last few sessions. In some good news, the Governor does fund the full rebenchmarking costs, and that is a big deal. Our school divisions are facing enormous budget shortfalls. Had the rebenchmarking money not been funded, the holes would have been even bigger.

So, what happened today? As expected, and as the Labor Coalition discussed with leadership, the General Assembly accepted the Governor’s recommendations to delay both the minimum wage bill and the collective bargaining bill until May 1, 2021. Now that the delay was accepted, we expect the Governor to sign both bills. Period. No exception. I have also had significant conversations with leadership in both the VA House and Senate about my concern that there will be another session of the General Assembly and I fear the newly signed bills could be changed before they are ever enacted. I believe the House leadership when she tells me that any attempt to do that is dead on arrival in the House. The House stood firmly with workers from the get-go this session, passing the far broader language originally in HB582 and again when they conformed SB939 to the broader bill and passed it a second time. In the Senate I have the same assurances that any effort to water down the already water-downed version of the bill is dead in the Senate. I told leadership that we intend to hold him to that.

These bills now go back to the Governor to sign. Then they become law.

Then there is the budget. The General Assembly acted on both the Caboose budget (to finish up the current fiscal year that runs through June 30) and the 2020-2022 Biennial budget.

In the Caboose budget, the big change for K-12 was the adoption of the language that grants authority to the State Superintendent of Instruction to waive sections of the Code of Virginia in response to the COVID-19 school closures. Here is the amendment:

The Superintendent of Public Instruction may grant temporary flexibility or issue waivers of certain deadlines and requirements that cannot be met due to the state of emergency or school closures resulting from Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). Such flexibility or waivers may include, but are not limited to, accreditation, testing and assessments, graduation, licensure, including temporary licensure, school calendars, and program applications and reports due to the Department of Education or Board of Education. Such authority only applies to deadlines and requirements for fiscal year 2020 (school year 2019-2020) or fiscal year 2021 (school year 2020-2021). Prior to granting any flexibility or waivers pursuant to this language, the Superintendent of Public Instruction must report to the Secretary of Education and substantiate how the state of emergency or school closures resulting from COVID-19 impacted each deadline or requirement, the proposed alternative, and the affected fiscal and school years. Subsequently, information about waivers or flexibility extended shall be reported to the Board of Education and made available on the agency website.”

As you can read, the General Assembly adopting this budget amendment is another step forward on many of the requirements (licensure, graduation, testing, calendar, and make-up days) that many educators have been asking about. The VA DOE will very quickly report to the Secretary of Education and the VA Board of Education. So, there is still another step, but we are nearing the end of all the authorizations we need to officially answer the questions so many of you have raised. The same amendment is in the first year of the biennial budget in case the COVID-19 crisis and school closures go beyond June 30 and we need any waivers for the 2020-2021 school year. While it is a concerning realization that we may still be dealing with all this as we start the next school year, it is good to know the waivers are there if we need them.

In the 2020-2022 Biennial budget, the General Assembly acted to unallot, which means put on hold, almost all new funding that was included in the budget adopted on March 12. This is heartbreaking given how much work we put into finally rebounding from the 2008 recession. It took 12 years just to get our schools back to the 2008 levels. We will work hard to make sure that all Federal dollars are maximized and that when spending is restored, it is restored to our public schools first.

Here is the list of the new K-12 funding that was unallotted today. The first column is for FY2021, the second for FY22.

Alleghany-Covington consolidation
Support the Western Virginia Public Education Consortium
Maximize pre-kindergarten access for at-risk three- and four-year-old children
Recruit and retain early childhood educators
Support African American history education
Support history education through the American Civil War Museum
Provide no loss funding to localities
Expand access to school meals
Increase salaries for funded Standards of Quality instructional and support positions
Increase support for at-risk students
Increase support for Communities in Schools
Increase support for Jobs for Virginia Graduates
Enrollment loss
Chesterfield Recovery High School
YMCA Power Scholars Academies
Brooks Crossing Innovation and Opportunity Center
Emil and Grace Shihadeh Innovation Center
Literacy Lab - VPI Minority Educator Fellowship
Soundscapes - Newport News
Cost of Competing Adjustment
Active Learning grants
Blue Ridge PBS
Bonder and Amanda Johnson Community Development Corporation
Agency Total

(This amendment unallot increases in discretionary spending amounts pending the assessment of the impact of a potential general fund revenue shortfall caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.)

Also, the General Assembly approved the Governor’s recommendation to cut funding for additional school counselors. This is another very difficult thing to report. The VEA worked so hard with the VA School Counselors Association and the legislators who were committed to improving the mental health support of our students to pass this important legislation. My heart is truly heavy reporting his news. The good news is that the legislation that improves our school counselor ratios is still in the Code of VA and the changes made today only exist in the budget and can easily be reversed. Do not get me wrong, we know all about budget language being used for cost savings and then remaining in future budgets. The support staff cap is the perfect example of that. We will fight to fully fund the ratios established in the Codified Standards of Quality and make sure our students have the mental health support they need. It makes no sense to cut this kind of support when so many of our students need this help now more than ever.

I anticipate the Governor will call the General Assembly back for a Special Session once we have revenue forecasts that reflect the real impacts of COVID-19 on our economy. I am hopeful that we will see some good news, but I am very concerned that at the Special Session there will be actual cuts versus “unalloting” funds. We must be ready to stand up for our public schools and make sure the Governor and the General Assembly maximize the Federal funding, maximize our reserve funds, and restore K-12 first. Our public schools cannot be last again. We waited more than a decade to “rebound” after the 2008 recession. During that time we have seen the teacher shortage reach a crisis level, a rapid increase in the number of our students who are living in poverty, staggering increases in special education and other health needs for our students, school buildings literally crumbling, and educators more stretched than ever before. All the while Virginia pays our teachers $8500 less than the National average. We must prioritize our public schools. We must prioritize the educators and school employees who are on the front lines keeping our students educated and fed. We must prioritize our kids. We will not wait another decade to “recover” to 2008 spending levels. We will not.

Monday, March 9, 2020

We Have a Conference Budget

The General Assembly voted on Saturday to extend the session until Thursday at midnight. Part of that vote was to allow them to continue to debate bills that were in conference, but it was also because there had been a budget impasse on a few items. By late Saturday night news had come that the budget impasse was over and that the budget would be available today around noon. That is important because before the budget vote can be happen, it must be available for review by legislators and the public for 48 hours. With the budget being available today, legislators can come back on Thursday to take a final vote on the 2020-2022 biennial budget.

The conference budget amends the budget that was introduced by the Governor in December. Where the conferees added money, that is above what was included in the Governor’s budget. Where there are reductions, that is, again, from the Governor’s budget. We are still looking at numbers, but overall, the conferees made additional investments to K-12 over the Governor’s proposals. Over the next 48-72 hours, the VEA will be digging into the numbers and get out our summary along with the state support amounts by school division. For now, I wanted to share some high (and low) lights.
The conferees listened to the VEA and rejected the idea of a one-time bonus for SOQ positions. They funded a full-year 2% salary increase for all SOQ positions in both years of the biennium. I know many want more, and the VEA requested 5% in each year. There are a couple of things to keep in mind, though, as you argue for salary money. These two increases extend the years of state support for salary increases to four. Each of these four years have been a full year. The last time there was a string of four years of state support for salary was 1998-2001. None of those four years was a full year of funding. So, while this is not as much as we wanted, there is a very clear indication that the General Assembly recognizes the need to sustain its efforts on salary.

The other thing to keep in mind is that any salary increase is only for the SOQ-funded positions. Salary increases for any position not indicated in the current SOQs in Code is 100% the responsibility of the local governments. Also, since school employees are not state employees, salaries are a shared responsibility between the state and the local governments. That means the local governments are responsible for their share of the salary increase for all the SOQ positions in their divisions. We must realize that until we offset the burden for so many of the costs of K-12 from the localities, many, if not most, can’t afford to give the salary increase even with the state support. The VEA will always fight for state support of salary increases, but we are short sighted if we don’t also look at ways to offset the local burden on the overall cost of K-12.

One way to do this is to implement the SOQs as issued by the VA Board of Education this fall. While the General Assembly did not adopt many (most) of the revisions, they did adopt improved staffing ratios for school counselors and teachers of English language learners. These changes will, ultimately, increase the number of positions that are now covered with the salary increase money as they are SOQ funded positions. So aside from all the good these additional teachers and counselors will do for our students, they will also offset the costs for some divisions.

The conference budget also added an additional increase to the At-Risk Add-On Funding proposed by the Governor. Again, the VEA would have liked to have seen the approach issued by the VA BOE, but in the last two budgets, there has been a significant increase in the at-risk funding. Every single school division in the Commonwealth benefits from this funding source, and it is the only direct funding we have for our students who meet the federal definition of poverty. The VEA has been fighting for increases in the At-Risk Add-On for years.

The conference budget includes enrollment-loss funding to support our small and rural school divisions. These are vital dollars that help our small divisions maintain programs as they lose students. Since VA funds K-12 on a per-pupil basis, even a loss of 10-20 students can have a significant impact on many of our divisions. Again, the VEA would have liked to have seen the pre-recession era funding levels restored, but it is important to have this funding included in the biennial budget.

The conference budget does not include significant investments in school construction, but it does increase the per-pupil allotment dollars and restores the requirement that they go back to being used for non-recurring costs. Non-recurring costs include school construction, additions, infrastructure, site acquisition, renovations, school buses, technology, and other expenditures related to modernizing classroom equipment, plus debt service payments on school projects completed during the last 10 years. This is not the big fix schools need but is a step in the right direction to using these funds as they had been used prior to the recession.

There is a very big win for our Education Support Professionals in the budget. The budget includes almost $2 million to provide a health insurance credit of $1.50 per year for services to retired non-teacher school division employees having at least 15 years of total creditable service. The VEA has been fighting for this benefit for years, and we worked hard this session to pass House Bill 1513, establishing this benefit. We are grateful to Delegate Delores McQuinn for her work on this issue.
There are lots of other details in the budget, but I find the studies, workgroups and language changes interesting. First, there is language to establish a collective bargaining workgroup that will give a report to the General Assembly before the next session. The labor coalition had asked for that language to be included on the bill but thought we would need to get the Governor to add it. The language in the budget was a surprise and we are glad it is there. That will compel the General Assembly to talk about collective bargaining next session.

There are other studies in the budget that foreshadow some action we may expect next session. The budget asks that data be collected on the prevailing practice of planning time for our elementary school teachers. This has been an issue for years as it is so hard to build into the day. There were two bills this session (HB273 VanValkenburg/SB134 Stuart) that the VEA worked closely on, and we used our data to inform the legislators’ votes. Senator Stuart, in particular, highlighted the data we have collected. Our work led to this language in the budget and the work the DOE will now need to do to determine the actual prevailing practice and, hopefully, lay the groundwork to increase planning time for our elementary teachers.

The budget also included $100,000 for the Department of Education to study the teacher licensure process and any required assessments in the licensure process for any inherent biases that may prevent minority teacher candidates from entering the profession. This was a specific recommendation from the inaugural Teachers of Color Summit, and the VEA brought this issue to Senator Locke, who worked to pass this study this year.

There is also money in the budget to require the Department of Education to collect and report information about vacant positions in each school division and the number of individuals graduating from education preparation programs, by endorsement area. Basically, the DOE will need to identify the actual vacancies in positions and look at the pipeline for these positions. We thank Delegate Willet for championing this legislation. These studies show that the budget conferees want to dig into the teacher shortage and school employee working conditions. That is good news.

One other interesting language item addresses standardized statewide tests (the SOL tests) and performance assessments. While the VA Board of Education revised graduation requirements a few years ago, their work was overruled by the General Assembly. For the last few budgets, the General Assembly included language that prohibited the issuing of verified credits for graduation through performance assessments. The Board of Education recognized that there are better ways to assess student learning and the verification of a credit towards graduation then a bubble test. The General Assembly disagreed and prohibited any test that wasn’t an SOL-type test. The VEA opposed this action as it is a clear overstep of the constitutional authority of the General Assembly into the work granted to the Board of Education. Today, the budget strikes the prohibition language and grants the BOE the authority to issue verified credits using locally developed performance assessments. I tell folks all the time, our budget has lots of important numbers, but there is a whole lot of impactful language as well. It was about time this language was removed.

Overall, the conference budget continues the work that started with the last biennial budget. There is still a long way to go. The road will not be easy as there will need to a real look at new revenues—not casinos, or games of skill, or on-line lottery sales—that can be invested in K-12. We cannot keep shifting money from one priority to another. We must develop a real plan to move more money into all our public services including, and especially, public education. It is well past time.

Sunday, March 8, 2020

Victory! We have a collective bargaining bill!

Today is a historic one, as just a few hours ago the General Assembly passed its bill permitting collective bargaining for school employees (and many other public employees).

This is a tremendous win for students, for schools, for education employees, and for communities.

Some of you reading this may be aware (but most of you probably are not) that when the Va. Supreme Court in 1977 struck down negotiated agreements between school boards and educators in about a dozen Virginia localities, those agreements were in force covering about one-third of all Virginia teachers.

Today we celebrate! Read our news release summarizing what we've won and what it means. One analyst calls this win "the most significant change in Virginia labor law in decades."

But there is much hard work ahead. For your Local Union to win collective bargaining, you will have to organize employees to become members, and you will also have to push your local school board to pass a resolution to initiate the process.

To be ready, you must:
1. Build your membership. You will need to have at least 30% of the potential members in your district and you will need 51% of the potential members to force a vote.
2. Build strong working relationships with your School Board and local governing body (Board of Supervisors or City Council). They will likely decide how collective bargaining works in your school division. We need to be talking with them and answering their questions about the process. There is a lot of work to do here.
3. Take a good look at the elections in your locality this November. Do you have school board or local government elections? If you do, what will your local be doing to determine the candidate who will support collective bargaining at the local level. How will you help support their election?

Remember, a bill won’t make collective bargaining happen, only your action will. The VEA and NEA are knee deep in planning and resource development for all our members. Expect to hear from us frequently about our plans and support.

I will post in a few days with more reflections on the bill and the path it took and what it means.

But for today, let’s celebrate this win and the huge shift we have seen in Virginia!

Wednesday, March 4, 2020

No Budget Yet; Senate Collective Bargaining Conferees Named

There is currently no indication that the conference budget is coming today, and even tomorrow looks unlikely. Today ,one of the House budget conferees commented that they are still working in small groups on smaller sections of the budget. Again, not a good indication that the conference budget will be available tomorrow. Here’s why that matters. Each body of the General Assembly adopts rules on how they will operate during the session. The House Rules on conference reports and the budget conference report are very clear:

Rule 75(c). Any conference committee on the Budget Bill will complete its deliberations and make the report of such conference available to the House as soon as practicable. The House will consider such conference report no earlier than 48 hours after receipt, unless the House determines to proceed earlier by a vote of two-thirds of the members voting. The conference report will clearly state the funding of any nonstate agencies, any item that was not included in the Budget Bill as passed by either house, and any provisions from legislation that failed during that session

That rule means that the conference budget will need to be available for at least 49 hours before there is a final vote on the budget. Yes, there is a 2/3 rule, but the usual process is 48 hours. If we don’t get a budget conference tomorrow (Thursday), the House can’t vote in time for the planned Saturday adjournment. When we see the conference budget, we still have 2 days left of session. Part of what is complicating the budget conferees coming to agreement is they have had limited time to actually meet and work through the budget. Both the House and Senate still have hundreds of bills to debate and hundreds of conference reports on many other bills still to hear. As Senate Finance Chair and Senate budget Conferee Janet Howell said yesterday on the floor, “The longer we are on the floor listening to long speeches and debate, the less time the budget conferees have to work on the conference budget.” She was urging the Senate to remain focused, not take bills by, and to work on all the other bill conference reports. I agree 100% with Senator Howell.

One of the hundreds of bills still to be debated is the House version of the Collective Bargaining bill, HB582. The bill will be on second read in the Senate tomorrow and up for passage on Friday. The bill will then go back to the House where they will reject the Senate Substitute and call for a conference. The Senate has already completed that work with SB939, and the House insisted on a conference. To get to conference, we need the Senate to ask for a conference committee to be named. The Senate bill conferees were named today, and they are Senators Saslaw, Barker, and Norment. Once the House conferees are named, the six legislators will work out a compromise. We will likely not see that conference report until Saturday or, if they go into overtime, Sunday. We will see. We are still working with the patrons on all the possible outcomes and trying to get the best bill we can out of conference. I knew this bill would be among the very last to be taken up for a final vote, and that is certainly the case.

Governor Signs Important Anti-Discrimination Bills Today

Today Governor Northam followed through on a promise he made to the VEA’s Fitz Turner Commissioners. After the blackface scandals that rocked the Governor’s office more than a year ago, VEA’s Fitz Turner Commissioners were invited to the Governor’s mansion to have a frank discussion about racism and discrimination in the Commonwealth. At that meeting, Governor Northam told our Commissioners that he was committed to bring stakeholders together to remove racist language from our Code and to strengthen Virginia’s anti-discrimination laws. The VEA has worked hard this session supporting these efforts. Today the Governor signed two bills that move us all in the right direction. Below is an excerpt from his press release. You can read the full release here.

Repealing Discriminatory Language Relating to Racial Segregation in Schools

Governor Northam signed House Bill 973, sponsored by Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg, which repeals discriminatory language on Virginia’s books relating to racial segregation in Virginia schools. This bill is identical to Senate Bill 600.

Governor Northam established the Commission to Examine Racial Inequality in Virginia Law to study the Virginia Acts of Assembly, Code of Virginia, and administrative regulations and identify racist and discriminatory language that may no longer have the effect of law, but remains on Virginia’s books. The Commission identified nearly 100 instances of discriminatory language in its interim report, and will continue to make recommendations to address laws that were intended to or could have the effect of promoting or enabling racial discrimination or inequity. This is one of several bills passed during the 2020 legislative session to remove this language.

“During the Jim Crow era, racism and discrimination were written into laws that were used to enforce segregation and inequality across the Commonwealth,” said Governor Northam. “Words matter, and there is no reason for this overtly discriminatory language to remain on our books. I am proud to sign this bill to move Virginia forward.” 

“As an educator who has spent fifteen years teaching the Constitution, its values, and Jim Crow’s perversion of both, I am humbled to have played a small part in removing some of these last stains of the Jim Crow era from Virginia’s code,” said Delegate VanValkenburg. “This is an important step in the direction of justice for communities that have long suffered the injustices of racial segregation.”

Banning Racial Discrimination on the Basis of Hair

Governor Northam signed House Bill 1514, sponsored by Delegate Delores McQuinn, which bans discrimination on the basis of hair. The bill clarifies that when the law bans racial discrimination “on the basis of race,” that includes “traits historically associated with race, including hair texture, hair type, and protective hairstyles such as braids, locks, and twists.” This bill is identical to Senate Bill 50.

“It’s pretty simple—if we send children home from school because their hair looks a certain way, or otherwise ban certain hairstyles associated with a particular race—that is discrimination,” said Governor Northam. “This is not only unacceptable and wrong, it is not what we stand for in Virginia. This bill will make our Commonwealth more equitable and welcoming for all.”

“A person’s hair is a core part of their identity,” said Delegate McQuinn. “Nobody deserves to be discriminated against simply due to the hair type they were born with, or the way in which they choose to wear it. The acceptance of one’s self is the key to accepting others.”

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

VEA Supports Raising the Minimum Wage

March 3, 2020

This session the VEA has been working with the “Raise the Wage Coalition” fighting for a $15 minimum wage in Virginia. Like much of our work this session, being part of a strategic partnership is vital to getting the best bills to pass. We have been in regular meetings with the minimum wage coalition and working with legislators to help them understand the impact this action will have on many of our school support personnel. Below is the text of a letter that the Raise the Wage coalition (including the VEA) is sending today to the conferees working on the final bill.

Raise the Wage Coalition Letter

Virginia’s minimum wage workers have not seen a raise since 2009, representing the longest stretch without an increase in history. The legislation in conference, HB 395 and SB 7, offers an opportunity to right that wrong and provide working people in the Commonwealth with fair wages for the important work they do that builds the foundation for our economy and our communities.

Everyone in Virginia working a full-time job should be paid enough to provide for their family. However, for many this is not the case. Nearly two-thirds of Virginia families with incomes below the federal poverty threshold have at least one adult who is working, yet they are paid too little to make ends meet. Virginia’s current minimum wage, set at $7.25 an hour to match the federal minimum, is the lowest in the country when accounting for the typical cost of living in our state.

Both bills share some commonalities, but there are significant differences in key areas. In this letter, we lay out our views on how those differences can be resolved to help the most workers thrive while strengthening our economy.

  • First, increases to the minimum wage need to be robust and sustained to achieve $15 an hour. We urge conferees to agree upon a path where the minimum wage in the Commonwealth is set at $15 an hour by 2025, as provided in the House bill.
  • Second, the time has come to repeal several exemptions in Virginia’s minimum wage.  The House bill makes important strides towards eliminating those provisions, many of which are rooted in Jim Crow, and we support this approach in conference.  These include eliminating exclusions for: domestic service workers (including home care workers), agricultural workers, employers with “4 or fewer employees,” and workers 16 & 17 years old.  We oppose provisions that would expand exclusions to the minimum wage laws, such as for employees in an “on-the-job” training program who would be paid only 75% of the minimum wage for 90 days and for students under 22 years old who work under 20 hours per week.
  • Finally, Virginia must reject a “regional minimum wage.” We oppose regionalism because, as currently laid out in SB 7, it would widen inequality in the Commonwealth. For example, under the current provisions of SB7, Northern Virginia would reach a $15 minimum wage by 2027 in nominal dollars. Assuming an annual inflation rate of 2.4%, Richmond and Hampton Roads likely would not see a $15 minimum wage until 2032, or even later. Southwest Virginia may not reach $15 until 2043. Black workers would be particularly likely to be left behind by its approach because only 23% of Black people in Virginia live in the area that would receive the largest minimum wage increase. Regionalism would fuel gender inequality by lifting the wages of fewer people. The majority of working people—nearly 60%—who would benefit from raising Virginia’s minimum wage to $15 statewide are women. 

We recommend that the conferees adopt an approach where the General Assembly studies and fully understands the complexities and potential pitfalls of a regional minimum wage rather than implementing an approach that would leave so many workers behind. For additional context, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed the “Raise the Wage Act” (H.R. 582) in 2019, sponsored by Virginia’s Congressman Bobby Scott, it rejected the idea of a regional wage. That was in part because a federal regional wage would have excluded more than 15 million working people, over 40% of whom are working people of color.

In closing, we want to thank each of you for your efforts to raise the minimum wage in Virginia. As we approach the end of the session and the conference discussions related to this legislation, we look forward to continuing to work together to develop a final bill that provides economic security and opportunity to as many working Virginians as we can.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Last Week of Session- Where are the bills?

The General Assembly is supposed to adjourn Sine Die on Saturday. That assumes they have agreement on all conference bills, including the budget. Today is the last day of committee work this session. All remaining bills should be in the floor or in conference by tomorrow. The rules of the House and Senate require that when the budget conferees complete work on the budget, the bill must be available to members for at least 48 hours before they vote on the bill. That means we will need to see the budget conference by Thursday of this week for session to end on time. The VEA has an action alert on the budget asking members to send emails to the conferees. You can click here to send your email now. We are running out of time to make our voices heard.

Of course, the other big bill we are following is collective bargaining. The Senate will hear the House bill today in Finance and then it will go to the floor tomorrow. Bills, in general, spend three days on the floor before they are passed. The Senate can suspend the rules and move bills along more quickly, which they will need to do as the bill needs to pass and go back to the House. Once that happens, each body will ask for a conference on the bills since they deal with the same Code sections but are different in their approach. Conference is a negotiation on the final bill. There are no committee meetings or testimony in front of the conferees. The are expected to know the bills on which they are working and to have been involved in the committee hearings of the bills. Conference is one of the actions at the General Assembly that still happens under a cloak of secrecy in many ways. I will tell you that often there can be a text message sent to a lobbyist checking a detail, but in general, they work on their own. We will not likely know the outcome of the conference on collective bargaining until Friday or Saturday. Conference bills cannot be debated once they are on the floor for a final vote. They are a yes or no for passage, with conference bills overwhelmingly passing.

So, what will the conference bill include? Hard to know for sure, but I believe we will get something far more like the Senate bill than the House bill. There aren’t enough votes in the Senate to pass a version that is very close to the House bill. Regardless of the final bill there are three things all VEA members should be doing to prepare:

1.       Build your membership. You will need to have at least 30% of the potential members in your school division and, if there isn’t strict guidance on the recognition of the bargaining agent, I would suggest you need 51% of the potential members.

2.       Build strong working relationships with your School Board and local governing body (Board of Supervisors or City Council). They will likely decide how collective bargaining works in your school division. We need to be talking with them and answering their questions about the process. There is a lot of work to do here.

3.       Take a good look at the elections in your locality this November. Do you have school board or local government elections? If you do, what will your local Union be doing to determine the candidate who will support collective bargaining at the local level? How will you help support their election?

We will know more very soon, but this is not the time to wait. It is the time to organize, build membership, and build your PAC. A bill won’t make collective bargaining happen, only your action will.

Friday, February 28, 2020

Collective Bargaining Update

This is the time of session where things get confusing if there are bills that are similar but not identical. Of course, there is no better example of similar but not identical than the two versions of the collective bargaining bills.

The Senate version of the bill (SB939) is an opt-in bill. Local employers would need to pass a local ordinance agreeing to participate in a collective bargaining arrangement with their employees before workers would have the right to bargain. The House version of the bill (HB582) allows employees to organize and require their employers to participate in collective bargaining. The House version also includes all state employees and establishes an Employee Relations Board at the state level to oversee collective bargaining. Obviously, the VEA and our partners in the labor coalition want to see the House bill pass.

As you know if you have followed this blog, the Senate does not have the votes to pass the broader version of the bill. SB939 can pass the Senate and it allows us to begin down the road to the broader bill. You also know if you follow my blog that bills that pass the House or Senate cross over to the other body. In general, the House always thinks their bills are better, and the Senate thinks the same. When HB582 crossed over to the Senate, it was “conformed” to the Senate version. That means the language of the House bill was changed to be identical to the version of the bill the Senate passed. Once HB582 was conformed, it became the opt-in version of the bill. In the House the same thing happened. The House knows their bill is better, so they conformed SB939 to HB582. So right now, SB939 is the broader bill. Today the House passed SB939 (conformed to HB582) 54-45. So, the language in the original bill patroned by Delegate Guzman has passed the House and the Senate. Don’t get too excited, though. Whenever a bill is conformed, it must go back to the body of origin for adoption. The Senate will reject the “new” SB939 and insist on their version of the bill. The House will do the same and we will go to conference.

The nerd in me wants to point out that as of this afternoon, both collective bargaining bills are in the hands of the VA Senate. They haven’t yet gotten the conformed HB582 to the floor, and the confirmed SB939 went back to the Senate today.

Here’s what’s important. The House stood with workers. The members of the House know that the Senate doesn’t have the votes to pass the broader bill. Any member could have voted differently or switched their vote today. None did. Even with all the Ds in the House knowing where this bill is likely to land when it goes to conference, they stood strong and passed, for the second time, a broad and full repeal of the ban on collective bargaining. Except Democrat Dawn Adams. She has voted with the Republicans both times.

Today, if you see a Democratic member of the House of Delegates, tell them thank you for standing with labor and the VEA!

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Budget Conferees Named, All Money Bills Wrapped Up

The last two days have been very busy. Both bodies have debated and passed their own budgets. This is done during a very long day of floor debate. The members of the House and Senate debated specific lines in the budget while also trying to add new amendments that were not included in the budgets drafted by each body’s money committee. The House and Senate debated their budget bills for hours and hours.

As you can imagine, after all that work, both the House and Senate believe that they have the best approach to the 2020-2022 biennial budget. However, the legislative process requires that all bills cross over to the other body for consideration. The House budget was rejected by the Senate because they prefer their budget. Same thing happened in the House. That leads to two budget bills with differences.

In the General Assembly that means there needs to be a group assembled to work out a compromise. This process is called conference. The Speaker in the House and the Majority leader in the Senate choose the legislators who serve on the committee of conference. Budget conferees will decide the funding priorities for the biennial budget. They are very powerful in this process. All communication about our needs and requests need to now go directly to the conferees. Here they are:

From the House: Delegates Torian, Sickles, Carr, Bulova, Tyler, Cox, and Knight
From the VA Senate: Senators: Howell, Saslaw, Norment, Hanger, Lucas, Barker, and Locke

We will see the budget conference next week ahead of expected adjournment on Saturday, March 7. 

All eyes really go towards budget, but there is still much work to do with many other bills. My good friends Delegate Lashrecse Aird and Delegate Marcia Price, for the last three session, have taken advantage of quiet times on the House floor and have gone live on Facebook with really informative videos. They generally do these videos when the House is at recess or “at ease” and taking a quick break. They call their installments “At Ease.” Last night’s At Ease does a really good job explaining what is happening in these last few days of session. You need to be able to log into Facebook to see the video, but it is worth the 10 minutes for the lesson.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Education Bills Wrapping Up; The Truth About Mandatory Principal Reporting Bills

February 24, 2020

Two big areas of activity to report on today.

The House and Senate education subcommittees wrapped up business Monday and have now had hearings on all their bills. In the House, all education bills have now been passed, killed, referred to Appropriations, or are on the floor. The Senate will have its final full committee meeting on Thursday, and all its bills will also then be either passed, killed, referred to Finance, or on the floor.
This progress allows us to focus on the big bills remaining for us: collective bargaining and the budget. I will share more about those tomorrow.

On the final day in the House, it’s looking like the years of work by Senator Barker to make sure every eligible child in Virginia has access to full-day kindergarten will finally have a favorable outcome. Over the years, the VEA has stood alongside the Senator on this, and fewer and fewer school divisions have opposed it. Right now, there are only two school divisions without full-day kindergarten for all eligible students: Virginia Beach and Chesapeake. Both school divisions testified today that they will be able to meet the requirements of the bill and will have full-day KG for all students by the 2022-23 school year. Finally!!

On the House floor today, John Bell’s SB377 passed—it restores the option of a three-person panel in teacher grievance and dismissal cases. It now goes to the Governor’s desk to be signed. This is the last of the series of due process bills VEA initiated this session to undo damage done in 2013, when the General Assembly wanted to make it easy to fire teachers. This bill joins SB98, SB167, HB365, and HB570 that have already passed both bodies and are also headed to the Governor’s desk. This session has been very important for our due process rights. Elections matter.

Mandatory Reporting

The second big item is the mandatory reporting bill, a VEA priority. It’s HB257, and it passed the Senate and House Friday. The bill removes the requirement that school principals report all discipline incidents that may be misdemeanors to law enforcement. On the floor Friday, some House members tried to connect this bill with some of the gun safety bills that have passed, and tried to build connections that students would become school shooters if principals don’t report all these instances to law enforcement. That is not only false, but morally wrong. What we know is that principals would often prefer to handle these cases as discipline issues and not be required to report them to law enforcement. Here’s the press statement VEA issued after the passage of the bill and its Senate companion:

H 257/SB729: A Commonsense Approach that Relies on Principals’ Professional Expertise

HB257/SB729, supported by the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia School Boards Association, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, the Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals, and the Legal Aid Justice Center, gives school officials a tool to manage certain disciplinary infractions without mandatory reporting to law enforcement.

With the advent of “zero-tolerance” approaches to disciplinary infractions, Virginia principals are currently obligated to report even low-level incidents to law enforcement. Professional judgement and skills of these principals are ignored and, as a result, some students, especially minority students, begin a path down the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

Current Virginia law also does not allow for considering students’ age or disability status when requiring certain behaviors to be reported to law enforcement. Virginia has no minimum age of criminal responsibility, so even very young elementary students are subject to the current mandate, with no opportunity for school officials to consider such mitigating factors. Similarly, school officials are currently not able to consider context in deciding how students with disabilities that may manifest in certain behaviors are appropriately addressed. HB257/SB729 would allow for more thoughtful analysis before a decision is made on involving law enforcement.

HB257/SB729 still requires that all serious incidents are reported to law enforcement and does not prevent even low-level offenses from being so reported. It also still requires that school administrators inform parents of all incidents directed toward their children. By bringing some discretion back to school officials, these bills would thereby allow input from those parents to help guide some of the decision-making of how to proceed.

Contrary to inflammatory and false statements made about HB257/S 729, this legislation maintains our safe schools while permitting school principals to use their discretion on low-level incidents when conditions warrant.

“This legislation is about removing the zero tolerance policies that push too many students into the criminal justice system, particularly our minority students,” said VEA President Jim Livingston. “It’s time we move away from a one-size-fits-all approach to reporting and tap into the experience and expertise of our front-line school principals.”

Statement made by the Virginia Education Association, Virginia School Boards Association, Virginia Association of School Superintendents, Virginia Association of Secondary School Principals, and Legal Aid Justice Center.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Winding Down the Work on Education Bills

February 20, 2020

Both the House and Senate Education Committees are working hard to get through the volume of bills they have seen this session. Wednesday. the chair of the House Education Committee announced that the last full committee meeting would be on Monday. The subcommittee on PK-12 has finished their work on bills, and the SOL/SOQ committee will meet Monday morning at 7am to finish their bills. The Senate has a bit more work to do and will need the Public Education subcommittee to meet Thursday afternoon. The final full Senate Education and Health meeting will be next Thursday.

As I said in Tuesday’s post, all the attention will turn to budget in the next few days and to the floor of each body as they spend hours debating and voting on the bills that crossed over. Today we saw SB377 advance to the floor of the House after already passing the Senate. The bill restores an option of a three-person panel in teacher grievance and dismissal cases. This is one of three bills that are top priorities for the VEA. The three bills act together to reverse actions taken by the Republican-controlled 2013 General Assembly and Governor Bob McDonnell to strip teachers of their due process. The changes were part of the Republican false narrative that it was hard to fire teachers and, since so many teachers are bad, we need to make it easy to fire them. During a 2013 floor speech, a member of the Virginia Senate suggested we needed lemon laws for teachers, and the Republicans passed exactly those laws.

Each body will debate their budget Thursday, so we are prepared for a long day, but our bills are, overall, doing well.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Budget and Bills

February 18, 2020

Now that the House and Senate money committees have each passed a budget, what happens? The budgets are actually bills that will go through the regular bill process. There are two bills in each body: a caboose budget bill that finishes up our current fiscal year (FY20) that runs through June 30, and the biennial budget bill for fiscal years 21 and 22. In the House these bills are HB29 (Caboose budget) and HB30 (Biennial budget). In the Senate they are SB29 and SB30. Since the budget bills have already been reported from their committees, they will go to the floor later this week. Until then, the staff for each committee (House Appropriations and Senate Finance) will hold briefings on the budget bills for members of each body ahead of any voting on the floor. The bills will then go to the floor where there will be a debate of the bills and, ultimately a vote to pass the bills and cross them over to the other body.

The budget bills are the only bills that can be debated and acted upon in the body of origin after cross over. Each budget bill will, however, crossover to the other body for consideration and debate. The House will reject the Senate budget bills, and the Senate will reject the House budget bills, and that will “force” a conference. Conference is used for any bills that are similar and the same Code section, but there are differences in the version adopted by the House and Senate. Many bills go to conference each session, but the budget conference is what all folks will be watching. Ultimately there will be 6 budget conferees named in the House and 6 in the Senate and these 12 very powerful legislators will decide the final budget that will go to the Governor for his signature. Sunday’s budget reveals are only part of the story. Many groups will be contacting the budget conferees to express the priorities they would like to see funded in the final budget. The VEA is among these groups. Until the budget conferees are named, we will be contacting the leaders of the money committees to express our opinions on the bills. Be on the lookout for information on how to get involved.

The other, non-budget, thing that is happening is final action on bills. Tuesday, we were working three different bills, two of which will likely go to conference. All three are in different postures (where they are in relation to passage), are very different content and Code section, and each has a different set of partners with whom we are working. One of the bills is a VEA bill that hit a glitch in subcommittee Monday, but all is good after lots of work Tuesday. These final days of bill work are exhausting and challenging. Literally your brain turns on and off in the bill numbers, content, and conversation minute to minute. Today was the kind of day where I was texting on one bill, taking a call with a partner on another, and meeting with different partners on another, all the while responding to patrons tracking you down to see where we are on the bill. Fatigue is always a factor the last weeks of session, but those of us in this work know that until the gavel goes down Sine Die, you need to be ready for anything.

Monday, February 17, 2020

House and Senate Release Budgets

February 17, 2020

Yesterday, the money committee in the House and Senate each revealed their budget proposals for the 2020-2022 biennial budget. The VEA staff is digging into all of the numbers and our analysis will be out very soon, but for someone who has seen this process play out for well over a decade, there are a few things I wanted to highlight.

Both the House and the Senate add additional money to the PK-12 budget that the Governor introduced. So, they increased his increases. The House and Senate both prioritized state support for salaries, and they also both supported raising the minimum wage in VA. I realize that there is a whole lot of attention on teacher salaries, but many of our support personnel are working for $7.25 an hour. If we only focus on teacher salary, we are failing to recognize the importance of our ESPs earning a living wage. We need to raise up the good work the new majority has done this session for our ESPs.

Let’s talk about salary for a minute. I realize there are many who are disappointed with the House and Senate salary increase proposals. We need to put this into perspective. Both the House and Senate have money for salary (or a bonus) in each year of the biennium. The House calls for 2%/2% and the Senate for 3%/4%. That is a good sign that there will be salary dollars in both years of the final budget that will come out of conference. If the 2020-2022 biennium does include salary in both years, it will be the first time in over two decades that the state has included state support for salary increases in four consecutive years. We are still digging into the data, but I will guess that the last time there were four years of salary incentives was during the late 80’s. I will confirm that once we pull all the data, but, at a minimum it’s been 20 years. We must acknowledge the state’s commitment to turning the tide.

The other important component is the fact that the incentives on salary are just that, they are incentives for local school divisions to implement salary improvements. Without local support, these incentives aren’t utilized. The state cannot raise salaries, only local school boards and local governments can do that. We know that many of our small and rural divisions will not be able to use the incentives because they can’t afford to pay for their local share or for the full share of all the positions that aren’t currently required by the state. Keep in mind, localities only receive incentives to raise salaries on positions required in the Standards of Quality. That’s why yesterday’s proposals to increase counselors and ELL teachers are so important. They mean there are more positions included in the SOQs and more positions for which the state will support incentives for salary increases. Again, we need to look at the proposals in whole.

Here’s what we know we need in Virginia. We need significant new revenues, earmarked for PK-12. The VA Board of Education recommended almost $1 billion in new spending for SOQ improvements. Without new revenues, that money isn’t there. When you listen to the full budget proposal, you hear all of the other important programs supported with state dollars. Don’t get me wrong, K-12 has been shortchanged, but so has higher ed, transportation, social services for Virginians most in need, mental health services and beds, community support programs, health care, and support for fair elections and a fair count in the census. There are many, many state priorities that Virginia cannot afford with current revenues. It is time to look at Virginia’s antiquated tax structures and systems. There are ways to bring an additional $1 billion in new revenues to our General Fund. We just need to put pressure on the General Assembly to take action. Of course, the Democrats are worried about losing the majority if they prove to be “tax and spend”, but without some type of significant change, we will continue to see incremental steps, not the systematic changes we need to state support for our public schools.

We cannot react to the budget using only a salary lens. Please don’t get me wrong, the VEA asked for 5% in each year of the biennium, so we will continue to press legislators to do more on salary incentives. However, we need to decide, do we want them to cut at-risk add on dollars to do that, do we want to cur school construction or enrollment loss funds to do that? There is a lot that legislators will need to work out, and there are decisions that we will need to make as we are asked what items we want in the final budget.

I encourage everyone to not be short-sighted. I also encourage everyone to get ready next session to push for revenue increases so that Virginia can actually fund the needs of the Commonwealth.