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.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Small and Rural School Divisions Make Their Case

February 13, 2020

Today the Coalition of Small and Rural School Divisions held a press conference to highlight the needs of the small divisions in Virginia. As I have been telling our members, small and rural school divisions aren’t limited to the far Southwest. In fact, 76 of the 132 school divisions in Virginia belong to the coalition. We have small and rural school divisions up and down the Shenandoah Valley, in Southside VA, in Tidewater, and on the Northern Neck. Virginia must look at funding methodologies that support the unique needs of these divisions and address the issues these divisions face (as they have declining student population) while still working to offer a system of high-quality public education.

We all know that state funding for our public schools still lags the 2008 levels when adjusted for inflation. Local governments have picked up more and more of the costs to run our schools. Divisions that can do more, do just that. The small and rural divisions are far less able to fill these funding gaps, and their students pay the price. Every single local government in the Commonwealth is funding above what is required. They are doing more than their fair share, but the state continues to fund less, on a per-pupil basis, in our high-poverty districts. Today coalition representatives were here to highlight some very specific funding they would like to see the General Assembly include in the budget. Along with fully funding the Board of Education’s Equity Fund, as issued in their revised Standards of Quality, they would like to see two finding streams restored.

Since the great recession, both the enrollment loss funding and the school construction funding through the Literary Fund have been cut. Both funding streams are vital to our small and rural school divisions. We must work harder to restore this funding. The enrollment loss funding, which had provided $10 million a year prior to the recession, is vital to these small divisions as they work to maintain programs for their students. When state funding is allocated on a per-pupil basis, a loss of 50-60 students can have a significant impact on divisions. Today, the superintendent of Cumberland County Public Schools talked about her struggle to cut her budget after 40 students left the division. She had to look at cutting positions and increasing class sizes. If she did that, she would lose her K-3 class size reduction money the state provides, to she is in a lose-lose position. The General Assembly must include enrollment loss funding in the biennial budget.

Our small and rural school divisions also struggle to modernize and update their infrastructure and buildings. Just as with the enrollment loss funding, the General Assembly backed off supporting school construction costs during the recession. Virginia has a mechanism for supporting school construction, but the General Assembly has hijacked those dollars for other items. The Literary Fund was established in the VA Constitution to leverage very low-cost bonds for new schools across the Commonwealth. However, instead of building schools, the money is used to pay for school equipment and for deposit into the Virginia Retirement System for teacher retirement. School divisions no longer view the Literary Fund as a construction funding source. We need to restore the Literary Fund to its original purpose--to provide low-cost loans to school divisions to repair, modernize, and build new schools. Today the superintendent of Bristol City Public Schools talked about his schools not being accessible for students with physical disabilities. When students in Bristol break a leg, the school division must sometimes transfer the student to a different school so that they can actually go to school. It is 2020. We can do better.

This Sunday, the House and Senate money committees will announce their budgets for the 2020-2022 biennial. We must see significant funding for our most in-need divisions and students, no matter where they live. Our kids are counting on them.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Right to Work and Collective Bargaining

February 12, 2020

Contrary to popular misconception, collective-bargaining rights and right-to-work laws are not the same thing. Collective bargaining rights dictate whether employers must, may, or cannot recognize an employee organization as a union or bargaining agent. Teachers are always free to organize but if employees want to negotiate a binding contract (also called a collective-bargaining agreement, or CBA) with their employer, the employer must recognize them as a union and enter into a CBA. Fourteen states leave the decision up to the district, and five states prohibit collective bargaining in education. Virginia is currently one of those five that prohibit it totally.

The second part of collective bargaining are the laws that determine the scope of bargaining (the provisions that must, may, or cannot be a part of any binding contract). In some states, these laws stipulate that base wages, hours of employment, and terms and conditions of employment (things like teacher leave, class size, and extracurricular duties) must be bargained. But laws may also explicitly prohibit some items such as teacher evaluations, discipline procedures, dismissals, layoffs, performance pay, transfers and reassignments, and the length of the school year. Determining the scope of your bargaining power is important and something we will need to dig into if we are able to repeal the ban on collective bargaining in the Commonwealth.

Right-to-work laws stipulate that no union can require membership as a condition for employment. These laws also dictate that should employees choose not to be members, the union cannot charge them involuntary agency fees in lieu of membership dues.  A state that requires collective bargaining can also be right-to-work.

For public sector employees like school employees, the Janus decision in 2018 made Right to Work moot. The Janus ruling declared that, for public sector employees, compulsory union membership, or any agency fees paid to the recognized bargaining unit, were unconstitutional. Repealing Right to Work in Virginia would not change that. But repealing Right to Work would strengthen unions in Virginia, and that would be good for public sector unions even as we operate under the Janus ruling.

Shaw, Dara Zeehandelaar, Ph.D. “A Primer on Right-to-Work and Collective Bargaining in Education.” The Fordham Institute, 12/12/2012.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Cross Over Looming with So Many Bills Still Left

February 10, 2020

Today the House and Senate have each spent the entire day on the floor working their way through hundreds of bills that have made it through the committee process and proceeded to the floor for consideration. In each body, the bills must be considered three times, so with just about 30 hours until each body must complete action on the bills that originated in that body, the floor session is a marathon. As I have mentioned in previous posts, there are nearly 40 percent more bills this session than in the last long session of 2018. Legislators are being very careful to move the bills along, but to not go too quickly as every bill that is on the floor will have an impact in Virginia. This long process will continue tomorrow, when the House and Senate have until midnight to finish work.

On Wednesday, we start the second half of session. All the bills that passed their body of origin will move to the other body to go through the whole process again. Luckily, most of the bills that the VEA either initiated or represent our top legislative priorities have a House and a Senate version. That allows us to know what happened in the other body and prepare for that. Three of our top bills passed each body with identical language. That’s really good, as those bills should be considered early after crossover, and legislators who already passed their version of the bill will be informed that the version before them is identical to the one they already passed. The three bills we have that are in this posture are: restoring teacher probation to three years, removal of one unsatisfactory evaluation as a definition of incompetency, and removing the mandatory reporting to law enforcement by principals of some disciplinary violations. Those bills should move quickly through the second half.

We only have a Senate version of bill that would restore the option of a three-person panel, so the House will hear that for the first time soon. The House has been very favorable to our bills to reverse the due process harm done in 2013, so I feel good about this bill passing the House.

Two of our bills did not fare well in the first half of session. Our efforts to reduce the SOL tests to the Federal minimum have been carried over to next year. Legislators are concerned that there is not a state-wide assessment to replace the SOLs. We have work to do to educate members of the General Assembly that our goal is NOT to replace the SOL tests with other state-wide standardized tests, but instead to build meaningful, locally developed performance assessments that will meet all of the criteria established by the Board of Education. Our test culture has swallowed up many members of the House and Senate. If you are passionate about the need to reduce the number of SOL tests, I urge you to work closely with your elected officials to get them to understand what we are trying to do. There is a lot of teaching that needs to happen for these bills to move forward anytime soon.

Our bills to allow school employees to participate in the state employee health insurance plans fared the worst of the bills we initiated. Both passed unanimously out of the committees that reviewed the policy. (If you don’t know what I mean by that, read Friday’s daily report.) Both bills were referred to the money committees, although there was no established fiscal impact. We worked with the administration and the DHRM to add all the language they wanted so that these bills could pass. At least the Senate Finance Committee heard the bill, kind of. They put it in a block of bills to carry over to next year. They took no testimony on the bill, but at least it made it to the docket and there was a vote on it. The House version of the bill reported 20-0 out of Commerce and Labor with a referral to House Appropriations. The Appropriations Committee Chair never put the bill on a docket, so it was never heard. We call that “pocketing” a bill. It is the Chair’s prerogative to hear a bill or not, but this is the first VEA bill I have worked that was pocketed. I was very disappointed so put it very mildly.

Of course, our other big bills are the Collective Bargaining bills. The House version will cross over since it already passed, and the Senate version should (fingers crossed) pass tomorrow. Thank you to all our members who are keeping the pressure on with phone calls and emails to our Senators. The word on the street is that pressure from educators is what is keeping the Senate in line on this bill.

Tomorrow, I hope to summarize some of the legislation that is part of our 2020 Legislative Agenda that is moving on after crossover. There has been lots of good work by the General Assembly this session, so I am trying to get over having a bill pocketed. Check with me when session is over to see if I have let it go.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Where We Stand

**UPDATE: Our collective bargaining bill in the House, HB582, passed in the House today. Thanks to Delegate Guzman and all who supported this historic legislation! More details coming...

We are inching closer to crossover, as both the House and Senate must complete work on all their bills by Tuesday night. Since all bills need to go to the floor of the body of origin for three reads, one on each consecutive day (although that rule can be waived), bills really need to be completed by Friday. Days leading to crossover are very, very long. Today we started with the 8 a.m. Senate Education and Health Committee, where there was a docket of bills that lasted 3 hours. The legislators head to the floor for debate on bills that are on the daily calendar. The floor sessions are lasting 3-4 hours, followed by afternoon committee meetings. Today, the Senate Finance Committee is having a special meeting at 4:30 with nearly 70 bills on the docket, each of which needs a full hearing. The bills that make it out of that committee should all go directly to the floor tomorrow.

Monday and Tuesday will mainly be full days on the floor for the House and Senate. I’ll be following the votes there, doing a deep dive into what bills survive to crossover, and organizing our bills in preparation for the second half of session.

This is a good time to give you an update on the VEA bills.

HB582/SB939 (SB1022) Collective Bargaining
I gave a full update yesterday, so not much new to report other than the House bill is on the floor calendar today (Thursday) for third read and a final vote. Anything can happen. When the bill is called, the summary of the bill is read and the Speaker will simply say, “Shall the bill pass?” Then the vote board opens and we can see the votes. We expect no Republicans to vote with us, and we’re hopeful the Democrats are all with us. One member of the Republican caucus is out with the flu (Delegate Glen Davis), so we expect the bill to be 55-44. If that isn’t the vote total, it means the Speaker may have assigned a “vulnerable” Democrat a vote to help them in 2021, while not killing our bill. This happens all the time and is good floor strategy. The Labor Coalition is pushing the Speaker to hold the whole caucus so we can send a powerful message to the Senate. We need 51 votes to win. The Senate bill (SB939) is in the Senate Finance meeting today.

SB98/HB365 Restore the 3 Year Probationary Period for Teachers
We have identical bills in each body and each bill has passed the body of origin with bipartisan support, and each will cross over. This is a big deal because bills that are identical to ones that have already passed one body are “fast-tracked” in the other. These bills will (should) pass!

SB167/HB570 Remove One Unsatisfactory Evaluation in Definition of Incompetency
These bills are in the same posture as the probation bills, although they have less bipartisan support. That will make no difference as they cross over because as each bill was amended, we worked with the patrons to make sure they were identical. These bills will (should) pass!

SB377 Restore 3 Person Panel
We do not have a House version of this bill, but it did pass the Senate with bipartisan support. The House has been very favorable to our due process bills, so while this bill will not be fast-tracked, it should be in good shape.

SB234/HB107 Allow School Employees to Participate in the State Employee Health Insurance Program
These bills have each passed the policy committees, but there is concern that they will have a budget impact, so both were referred to the money committees for hearings. The Senate bill is up in the 4:30 Finance marathon and the House version will be up tomorrow in House Appropriations. I have real concerns about these bills.

HB1277/SB847 (SB390) Reduce SOL Assessments to the Federal Minimum
Our Senate version of this bill was rolled into SB390 since they were similar. Both the House and Senate versions have been carried over to the 2021 session. Legislators are concerned there isn’t enough state oversight of any locally developed performance assessments and don’t think local school divisions will actually teach the content. We will work with DOE during the off-session on this issue. The debate on the VEA Convention floor was very similar to the debate at the General Assembly. Unlike the debate we had, legislators aren’t educators, so they don’t realize all the accountability school divisions face, SOL test or not. We will keep working this issue.

SB729/HB257 Remove the Mandatory Principal Reporting to Law Enforcement
We joined the VA School Boards Association in supporting these bills this year. This is a school-to-prison pipeline issue. Police and the courts have lots of discretion on how to deal with students who face non-felony charges. The only people who don’t are principals. They must refer the student to law enforcement every time. These bills give principals discretion. Both bills are crossing over with bipartisan support and will (should) pass!

HB1344 Clean Up Bill to Our Teacher Reprimand Bill from 2019
This is a technical clean up bill to make sure that the Board of Education can use a reprimand in all license cases. Our bill last session passed, but that section of the Code is messy and the way our bill was drafted, the BOE can only give a reprimand in test violation cases. This bill passed the House unanimously, so we expect a favorable outcome in the Senate.

As you can see, this has been a very busy session so far. Monday and Tuesday will be welcome days to regroup for the second half of session where all eyes turn to budget. Lots of work left to do.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Collective Bargaining Update

I am sure you are wondering why there wasn’t a report yesterday. The reason is simple--things at the General Assembly started to blow up and all focus had to be on taking care of the Collective Bargaining bill. You have probably seen all the alerts and requests for you to call your member of the House of Delegates. It’s because the Senate made some pretty dramatic (not great) moves on their version of the bill, and it shook House members.

On Monday, the Senate rolled the big collective bargaining bill (SB1022) into Chairman Saslaw’s SB939. His bill simply allows local school employees to collectively bargain with their employers if there is a passage of a local ordinance that describes how the bargaining arrangement will work. It is a very permissive bill but does remove the ban on bargaining for local employees, including school employees. It is not what we want, but it is what we always knew we might get as a first step. That move by the Senate rattled House Democrats, who were prepared to vote on their version of SB1022 because they realized the Senate was not going to take the same vote.

There has been enormous pressure on all the Democrats to oppose the bill. Who would oppose, you ask? Management, that is who. Virginia School Boards Association, Superintendents Association, Association of Counties, Virginia Municipal League, First Cities, The Chamber of Commerce, Leadership from ALL of our public colleges and universities; basically, anyone who would have to recognize an employee association (UNION). The pressure has been very, very strong. We knew the “bad guys” would oppose us, and we knew that they would say exactly what hey are saying: taxes will go up, Unions are bad, Virginia doesn’t need this, this is bad for business. They have been on message and have been able to rattle our votes.

The VEA has been working as part of the Labor Coalition since the election and we know we are on the right side of this issue. In really good news, the House bill was debated today and advanced to its third and final read. The vote should be tomorrow, but we need to keep the pressure on our friends on this one.

The opponents to this bill will not let up for the next 24 hours. We MUST put the pressure on. Keep calling! Here’s a page with the info you need for the calls..

Monday, February 3, 2020

Things Are Moving Fast! Cross-Over Is Just Eight Days Away

February 3, 2020
We are eight days from crossover and things are starting to move very quickly. Sub and full committees are wrapping up their work so that all bills can be on the floor for debate. For the next few days, legislators will spend hours and hours on the floor taking up all the bills that have passed through the committee process and have moved to the floor.

A few of the VEA-initiated bills have hit roadblocks, but overall, we seem to be on path to have a good legislative session. The roadblocks are on our bills to reduce the SOL test to the Federal minimum as established in the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) and our bills to allow local school employees to participate in the state employee health insurance plan.

Our House SOL bill (HB1277 O’Quinn) was carried over to next session. It wasn’t killed, but members of the House Education Committee want to get more information about the impacts to the local school divisions on how they would implement a locally run assessment program. The Senate bill (SB390 McPike/Pillion) will go to the Senate Education and Health committee on Thursday after passing the subcommittee last week. Even if we can get the bill out of the Senate, we know what fate the bill will face in the House.

Our health insurance bills ran up against concerns from the administration and the Department of Human Resource Management. They have asked that we amend our bills to allow all local employees of any political subdivision to participate if the governing body (Board of Supervisors or City Council) decide that is what they want to do. Limiting it only to school employees becomes complicated for our local governments. The other amendment was requiring that any local government who decided to join the state employee plan commit to remaining in the plan for three years. This is not ideal, but without the amendments, the bills were dead on arrival to committee. Both the House bill (HB107/Kilgore) and the Senate bill (SB234/Chafin) are in the money committees this week.

Today all eyes are on the House floor debate on HB582 which is Delegate Guzman’s collective bargaining bill. The members of the House will debate the merits of the legislation ahead of their vote tomorrow. We have a solid floor strategy in place and have worked with the patron on the right members of the House to speak in favor of the bill. We actually have two other big bills up for debate today that are, in some ways, related to collective bargaining. They are the House version of the two due process bills that have already passed the Senate. These bills will be debated before the debate on collective bargaining. HB365 from Jennifer Carroll Foy restores the probationary term of service for teachers back to three years. Republican William Wampler has signed onto that bill, so I am hopeful for bipartisan support. HB570 from Elizabeth Guzman removes the ability of a school division to use one unsatisfactory performance evaluation as a reason to declare a teacher incompetent and fire them. These bills, along with the collective bargaining bill, will be up for passage tomorrow.

UPDATE: The House Collective Bargaining bill went by for the day when there was an unexpected floor amendment proposed by a Republican. That delays the final vote for passage to Wednesday.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Important Revenue Gaming Bills Fail

January 30, 2020

When Governor Northam presented his budget, he “baked in” some money, meaning he assumed some new revenue bills would pass and so used those anticipated revenues for funding. Today one of his budget assumptions failed and K-12 education may pay the price.

You may have noticed all these game machines popping up in gas stations and convenience stores. These “games of skill” are called “gray machines.” That’s not because they’re gray; it’s because they operate in the gray area of the law, currently unregulated and untaxed. There are no rules, no requirements, and no one really watching. The governor believed the General Assembly would regulate and tax these machines. He also assumed that such machines would be under the authority of the Virginia Lottery. If so, any proceeds would go to K-12. The governor’s budget team estimated those proceeds to be $125 million a year.

Last night the governor’s bill in the House, carried by Delegate Lamont Bagby, died on a vote of 8-0 in the gaming subcommittee. The Senate version of the bill didn’t die but was rolled into a bill that bans the machines in Virginia. That legislative action blew a $125 million hole in the governor’s budget, which had planned for those millions to be used to backfill the per pupil allotment. The per pupil allotment is the only state funding that goes to the local school divisions with no strings attached, and is based on how many students you have enrolled. Divisions can use it for recurring and non-recurring costs. The money that was allocated for the per pupil allotment was actually redirected to increase the At-Risk add on. Now that backfill money is gone and there are no new revenues slated to go to K-12, which puts schools in a very tight spot. The VEA supports all the funding the Governor included in his introduced budget, but we have asked for significant additional funding. Killing this revenue stream will force the General Assembly to make some very difficult decisions. It will certainly sink some of the budget amendments offered by some legislators. This is a self-inflicted wound. We will have to see how they solve the problem.

House Collective Bargaining Bill Moves to the Floor

January 29, 2020

Wednesday afternoon, HB582, Collective Bargaining for Public Sector Employees, passed the House Appropriations Committee and will head to the floor for first read Thursday, debate on Friday, and final passage Monday. We know that the conversations you had with your legislators on Monday helped firm up the votes we needed. Now we need to keep the pressure on. Make a follow up call to your member of the House of Delegates and tell them why school employees need collective bargaining. Keep the pressure on!

The Labor Coalition met today to talk through which Senators needed to hear more from us and we talked floor strategy. Thursday, VEA President Jim Livingston, will be walking the halls of the Pocahontas building getting in front of key members of the VA Senate. He will also be thanking members of the House and making sure they know how much the VEA supports this legislation. We expect the Senate bill to be heard on Monday in the full Senate Labor and Commerce Committee.

Also headed to the floor Thursday are the House versions of our due process bills. After the bipartisan passage of our bills in the Senate, we feel good about the outcome in the House. These are big bills that, I hope, don’t get lost in the collective bargaining excitement. Watch for HB365 from Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy and HB570 from Delegate Elizabeth Guzman.

In subcommittee Thursday afternoon our SOL reduction bill, SB847 by Senator Pillion, will have its first hearing. In exciting news, Senator Jeremey McPike has a nearly identical bill. I am hopeful that we can get bipartisan support and finally pass a bill that so many Virginian’s want. I will update on those Thursday.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Collective Bargaining Clears House Committee, 3 VEA Priority Bills Pass Senate

January 28, 2020

Yesterday was a big day in Virginia for school employees. Three of VEA’s priority bills passed the Senate with bipartisan support, and Delegate Guzman’s HB582, which would establish a State Labor Relations Board and allow public sector employees to collectively bargain, passed the full House Labor and Commerce on a 12-9, party-line vote.

SB98 from Senator Mamie Locke restores teacher probation to three years. This legislation came directly from a New Business Item at the 2019 VEA Convention. This legislation reverses one piece of the damage done under the Bob McDonnell administration during their attack on due process for teachers. We were excited to see good friends on both sides of the aisle vote in favor of this legislation. It passed 25-15 and will head to the House of Delegates. We do have a House companion to the bill (HB365 Carroll Foy) that passed the House Education Subcommittee on PK-12 and will be in the full committee on Wednesday. Here is the vote from SB98, a YEA vote was the RIGHT vote:

YEAS--Barker, Bell, Boysko, Chafin, Cosgrove, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hashmi, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Morrissey, Petersen, Pillion, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Vogel--25.

NAYS--Chase, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Hanger, Kiggans, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Suetterlein--15.

Thank you to Senators Chafin, Cosgrove, Pillion, Vogel for breaking with the Republican Caucus to vote in favor of the bill.

SB167 from Senator Barbara Favola would remove the language in Code that allows for a single unsatisfactory evaluation to be used to declare a teacher incompetent and be fired. That language was also added in 2013 during the attack in teachers. Again, we had Republicans break from their caucus to vote with us on this bill. A YEA vote was the right vote:

YEAS--Barker, Bell, Boysko, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hashmi, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Morrissey, Petersen, Pillion, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Vogel--23.

NAYS--Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Hanger, Kiggans, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Suetterlein--17.

Thank you, again, to Senators Vogel and Pillion for voting with us on this legislation. The House companion bill (HB570 Guzman) is in the full House Education Committee after passing the subcommittee on a party-line vote.

SB377 from Senator John Bell restores the option of a three-person panel in teacher grievance cases. This option was stripped from teachers in the 2013 attack. Senator John Bell has a long history of working hard to reverse the 2013 action. As a member of the House of Delegates, John Bell filed this legislation every year even when the Republicans in the House would reprimand him. He is a true champion for us on this issue. Th bill passed the Senate on a 23-17 vote. A YEA vote was the right vote:

YEAS--Barker, Bell, Boysko, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Hashmi, Howell, Lewis, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Morrissey, Norment, Petersen, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Vogel--23.

NAYS--Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Hanger, Kiggans, McDougle, Newman, Obenshain, Peake, Pillion, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Suetterlein--17.

Thank you to Senators Vogel and Norment for voting with us!

The other huge news was HB582, Delegate Elizabeth Guzman’s Collective Bargaining for Public Sector Employees, was up in the full House Labor and Commerce Committee. Of the 21 members on that committee, 11 Democrats are co-patrons on the bill, so passage was certain. The bill was reported and referred to the House Appropriations Committee since there is a $1.5 million fiscal impact on the state. That funding supports the newly formed State Labor Relations Board. In other good news, Delegate Levine’s HB327, rolled into HB582. HB327 did not include a framework to support collective bargaining, so we were glad to see it rolled in. A YEA vote was the right vote:

YEAS--Ward, Sullivan, Kory, Keam, Lopez, Bagby, Heretick, Mullin, Bourne, Guzman, Ayala, Gooditis--12.

NAYS--Kilgore, Byron, Ware, Marshall, Wilt, Webert, Ransone, O'Quinn, Head--9.


NOT VOTING--Lindsey--1.

It is time to put pressure on the Senators who are on the Commerce and Labor Committee. We need them to support the Senate version of the bill (SB1022 Boysko). You can click on the names of the Senators to get their contact information. Calls are best. Tell them you are a public sector employee and ask them to SUPPORT SB1022.