Friday, January 17, 2020

General Assembly, City Prepare for Monday…

January 17, 2020

As you may have heard, the Virginia State Police are expecting between 50,000-100,000 gun rights advocates to be in Richmond for a rally Monday. Unfortunately, there has been credible information that some radical and potentially dangerous groups intend to participate, and there have even been death threats made against some of our legislators. The Governor has declared a temporary State of Emergency, and we have heard that there will be a huge security presence at the Capitol Monday. There was real tension in the building this morning.

The VEA lobbyists will not be at the Capitol or in the city on Monday. Committees will be meeting, but legislative leaders have granted grace by allowing many bills to go by for the day or only hearing “non-controversial” ones. Yes, those actually exist. I know of no education lobbyist who will be going to the Capitol. Members of the General Assembly received a safety briefing this morning, and the Governor is expected to additional guidance later in the day. I pray for all the legislators and staff Monday and that we are over-preparing for what may happen.

I am also praying for two amazing groups of advocates who have their lobby day on Monday and refuse to back away from all this. Supporters of Gun Violence Prevention, including Every Town for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, will be at the Capitol Monday, along with our good friends, the New Virginia Majority. NVM fights for the rights of underrepresented and underserved Virginians in areas such as immigration reform, voting rights, social and racial justice, and equity in education.

Today, I was reminded that even when we disagree on policy, we can still be respectful and kind. Yesterday afternoon, Senator Mark Peake was on the wrong side of the vote on our three big due process bills, but he asked a question about the 2012/2013 legislation. I was there to answer but wasn’t called on by the Chair. That was perfectly fine as she knew that his question was, in fact, rhetorical: He asked if we were rolling back everything in the 2013 bill. We were not, and this morning I printed the 2013 legislation and highlighted all the areas that remain. I also printed the 2012 legislation, and was talking with his aide when he saw me and said hello. I told him I wanted to follow up on his question. He was very grateful, invited me into his office, and we had a really good conversation. He asked a lot of questions and was very appreciative that I took the time to get him the information he asked for. I told him I always will. He patroned a bill for us last session, so he knows me. He said, “I know you will always be honest with me and always follow up.” Don’t get me wrong, he will still vote against all three of our bills, but we had a civil conversation and we have a good relationship.

My second reminder came as I was walking down the stairs in the legislator’s office building. Delegate Kirk Cox, the former Speaker, was right behind me. I turned to say good morning and ask how he was doing, and we had a great conversation the whole way down the stairs. We didn’t talk policy or politics, we just checked in with each other. As he was turning to go to his caucus he looked back and said, “It was good to run into you. Take care of yourself. Come see me if you need anything.” Again, he will vote against much of the legislation we support this session, but we are all still human beings and can act with grace and kindness. Majorities will come and go, our influence will be better some years than others, but can always extend grace. We must if we ever hope to change the current political environment in our Commonwealth and country.

So, for today, I will leave you with the former Speaker’s words. It was good to run into you today. Take care of yourself. Come see me if you need anything.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Yes, Elections DO Matter. 3 VEA Bills Pass Subcommittee

January 16, 2020

Elections matter for teachers, too!

In a late subcommittee meeting delayed by the Senate's debate on guns, 3 of VEA's priority bills passed and will head to the full committee!

One bill returns teacher probation to three years, a second removes the language that allows a teacher to be dismissed based on one negative performance evaluation, and the third restores the three person panel in grievance proceedings. All of these polices were implemented when there was full Republican control of the VA government. Now the pro-public ed majority WE helped elect is on its way to reversing reversing the horrible legislation that was put on teachers in 2012! Our patrons were awesome! Senator John Bell carried the three person panel bill, Senator Barbara Favola carried the one evaluation bill, and the remarkable Senator Mamie Locke carried our restoration of the three-year probation bill. She took the time to remind the committee that the actions of the General Assembly were nefarious. She reminds the committee that during that session, a member of the General Assembly stood on the floor of the Senate and called teachers lemons. That Senator is still serving, but it is a new day in Virginia!!

In earlier action, Virginia's Senators debated three common-sense gun violence prevention bills. In the end, the Senate passed bills to restore universal background checks and the limit on gun purchases to one a month, along with one that grants local governments the authority to ban guns from their municipal buildings. That last one might seem odd, but Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means that localities only have the rights specifically granted to them by the General Assembly. After the mass shooting in Virginia Beach, some members of its City Council wanted to ban guns from all their municipal buildings. Without action of the General Assembly, they couldn’t do that. This bill will change that for all localities. It doesn’t mean guns are banned in all municipal buildings; it means that local governments can ban them if they choose to. Gun violence prevention was a big issue this election cycle and, clearly, Virginia voters want change. The ones made today remind us, once again, that elections do matter.

Interestingly the Dillon Rule is part of the issue with any repeal of the ban on collective bargaining by public sector employees. Simply repealing the ban, in a Dillon Rule state, won’t allow public sector employees the right to bargain. The General Assembly will also need to grant local governments the authority to do. As you read the collective bargaining bills, remember that.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Virginia Finally Passes ERA; Excellent Chairs Named to House Ed Subcommittees

January 15, 2020

The ERA passed the Virginia House of Delegates today! On a vote of 59-41, Virginia is headed to becoming the 38th state to ratify the ERA. Announcing passage, the Speaker of the House, the first woman to ever be Speaker in Virginia’s 401-year history, announced, “For all the women of the Commonwealth and for all the women here today, the motion passes!” It was a goose-bump moment for sure, and the House gallery was packed with advocates who’d fought for this for so long. Actual tally vote was not yet available when this was written, but we’ll post that tomorrow. If you don’t’ think election matter, this should prove that they do.

The House Education Committee met this morning to hear an update from Dr. James Lane, the State Superintendent of Instruction. The House Education Chair, Delegate Roslyn Tyler, also names her subcommittees, which is very important at the General Assembly. Subcommittees are where all vetting of bills happens—it’s where they get an extensive hearing. In the House, bills can move on or die on a subcommittee vote. Interestingly, in the Senate even bills that “die” in subcommittee all come to the full committee, but with a recommendation to kill them. The House gives more power to the subcommittees.

In a great piece of news, Delegate Lamont Bagby, a very good friend to the VEA and to our public schools, and a former public school teacher and administrator, will chair the subcommittee on PK-12. VEA member and classroom teacher Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg will chair the subcommittee that will review all bills dealing with the Standards of Learning (SOLs) and the Standards of Quality (SOQs). So, we will have a current classroom teacher leading the review of all bills that effect the SOLs. What a concept, right??!! The final subcommittee is Post-Secondary and Higher Education, which will be chaired by Delegate Mark Keam. The VEA will have some bills in that committee as we continue to work though dual enrollment issues, student loan and student debt, and teacher education programs. Delegate Keam will be an outstanding chair for that sub.

This afternoon the House Finance Committee heard some amazing presentations on school funding from some real experts. You can learnmore about them at the committee web site.

Presentations include a great overview of K-12 funding from Kent Dickie, State Superintendent of Budget; an analysis of the current revenues from Jim Regimbal, Fiscal Analyst with First Cities; a review of the equity challenges of the current funding methodology from Chris Duncombe, Policy Analyst from The Commonwealth Institute; and finally a review of the implications of the state funding methodology on local school divisions from Michael Malloy, Director of Government Relations, Fairfax County Public Schools. I encourage you to take a look at all these presentations for a summary of the challenges we face when we look at fully funding the needs of all our students.

A VEA-initiated bill, SB167, will be heard tomorrow in the Senate Education and Health Subcommittee. This proposes removing the use of only one evaluation in the definition of incompetence. Incompetence is one of the many reasons a teacher can be dismissed. An unsatisfactory evaluation should lead to support and professional development. It should not lead to a teacher being labeled “incompetent” and fired from a job. We feel very good that we’ll get this bill passed. More to come tomorrow.

A Big Start to the Day

Jan 14, 20120

The day started early and in a big way. At 7:30 a.m., the House Privileges and Elections (P&E) subcommittee reported (passed) the Equal Rights Amendment. This is the subcommittee that has blocked this legislation in past sessions. The House of Delegates has always been the roadblock to passage, but with a change in majority, the Democrats are moving quickly to finally pass the ERA.

The full Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee also met this morning to get the December revenue updates and to hear reports on the Governor’s introduced budget. It was exciting to see some of the newly appointed members, including our good friend and champion Senator Jennifer McClellan. She will also serve on the subcommittee on K-12, a big win for us. All of the requests for funding go through this committee and its members serve as budget conferees. Aside from getting some optimistic updates on revenues, there was a lot of discussion about gaming in Virginia.

The VEA will follow the gaming debate very closely this year. As you may know, all proceeds from the VA Lottery go to support important K-12 programs. As new gaming initiatives have come into Virginia, we have seen a drop in VA Lottery proceeds. We know this is a direct result of the new gaming, including what are being called “gray machines,” which are unregulated and untaxed games of skill that you may have seen pop up at convenience stores and gas stations. We expect to see legislation this session to start regulating and taxing such games. In fact, Governor Northam included this in his introduced budget. The corporations that own these machines have said they are happy to be regulated and taxed, because they want to stay in Virginia. They know that to stay, they will need to accept the state’s authority. The VEA would like to have all gaming in Virginia under the umbrella of the VA Lottery. That will then require that all gaming proceeds go to K-12 education. That is important. When Virginians voted to designate all VA Lottery proceeds to K-12, they were all that existed in the “gaming world” in the Commonwealth. I am sure that Virginians wanted the lottery proceeds to “do good,” which is why they were directed to our public schools. We will fight to make sure any gaming revenue goes to K-12. Expect a whole lot of updates on this topic this session. Interestingly, the chair of the Senate Finance Committee, Senator Janet Howell, and the Senate Minority Leader, Senator Tommy Norment, have both introduced legislation to ban the gray machines in VA. We will certainly see a debate on this whole issue this session. It will also need to be settled before a budget is developed as there are tax and revenue implications to all of this.

This afternoon has been spent meeting with legislators to make sure they all know which bills are VEA bills. Last night the VEA Legislative Committee took positions on about 150 bills and we are making sure legislators know where we stand on all of them. There are also bills that are well-intended but may have some unintended consequences, so we are talking with patrons to try and improve language on those bills. Of course, there is lots of work with partners on bills, too. The VEA Legislative Agenda is very broad, so we work with partners on bills that deal with voting rights, racial and social justice issues, LGBTQ non-discrimination policies, gun safety, student loan debt relief, and raising the minimum wage. Obviously, K-12 public education is our priority, but we will support a wide range of issues again this session.

Tomorrow the House Education Committee will meet and announce subcommittee assignments. For the last two sessions, the sub committees (“subs” for us at the Capitol all day) in House Ed have been called #1, #2, and #3. That allowed some odd assigning of bills. This session the chair, Delegate Roslyn Tyler gave the subs actual names: PK-12 Public Education, Post-Secondary and Higher Education, and SOLs/SOQs. I think this breakdown will make sure there is balance in the subs.

Today was far quieter at the Capitol than yesterday when the NRA was here. Monday, January 20 State Police are preparing for 50,000-125,000 gun rights advocates heading to Richmond. They are coming in strong for their Lobby Day. While we won’t get 50,000, we need to show up in big numbers for the VEA Lobby Day on January 27. What is your plan to attend? Who are you bringing with you? We need to show up and make sure legislators know we are still here and we want our public schools funded. You can learn more about Lobby Day at our web site and you can RSVP here:

Make your plan now.

Monday, January 13, 2020

2,746 Bills Filed But Who's Counting?

The bills just keep coming. I can’t even guess how many bills will be filed by midnight on Friday when all must be in the system. Right now, 2,746 bills have been filed. That is a whole lot to follow!

In good news, the House has itself organized and has started committee meetings. The new House Education Committee met this morning and heard a very interesting report from VCU’s Wilder Center for Public Policy. Here’s the link. Overwhelmingly Virginians believe our schools are underfunded. Doesn’t matter party or zip code. They all agree. This is a significant change over past years. Clearly the Red 4 Ed movement is driving public opinion. Virginia is with us.

Legislators are with us, too. VEA Fund-recommended Delegate Jay Jones (D) and Senator Todd Pillion (R) wrote a great op ed about the need to join together to fund our schools. The piece focused on how similar the needs are for so many of our students, no matter where they live.

Senator Jennifer McClellan (D) and Delegate Lashrecse Aird (D) have both filed bills to fully implement and fund the revised Standards of Quality issued by the VA Board of Education. Those bills include over $1 BILLION in new money each year for K-12. We will need to fight hard to get that funding approved.

You know a good way to join the fight? Attend VEA’s Lobby Day and Fund Our Future Rally on January 27 in Richmond. Click the link at the top of the VEA web site to learn all the details, but make sure you sign up here:  We need to show our legislators that we are not going away. There will be money to put toward our public schools. Today, the Governor announced that the latest revenues are well ahead of forecasts. This money must be invested in K-12. Show up on Lobby Day and demand that schools be properly funded.

In other exciting news today, Senate Commerce and Labor advanced VEA’s SB234 (Chafin-R). This bill would allow school employees to participate in the state health insurance plan. The Senate has been friendly to this legislation before; the stumbling block has always been House Appropriations. But this session  we will be facing a whole new Appropriations Committee with friendly legislators, so I am hopeful. The state actually covers the state share of the prevailing costs for health care premiums for all SOQ funded positions. The VEA will be building the case that any state “expense” that may be incurred (even though two actuarial studies failed to prove there would be increased costs) can be offset by the SOQ dollars. We will see. We have a House version of the bill patroned by Delegate Kilgore (R), so we will know what the House will do before crossover.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

Day Two: House Committees Anyone?

The General Assembly usually gets of to a slow start, but today was really odd. The Senate blasted out of the gates and started hearing full bill testimony at 8:30 am this morning in the full Senate Education and Health Committee. This caught all the education lobbyists off guard, as there was no committee meeting listed as of 7 pm last night and no docket of bills. Word started getting out at about 9:30 pm through email alerts. The VEA actually got a text from one of our bill patrons as one of our bills was to be heard in the full committee. All assumed the full committee would meet simply to name the new subcommittees so bills could be referred. Nope, bills were heard. We had ours go by for the day so that we could work with the other education groups to get agreement on the language but lots of other bills were heard.

The most exciting part of the quick start in the Senate this morning was the naming of the Chairs of the Subcommittees. This is an incredibly important role as the real work on bills, the “sausage making,” happens with these small committees. There was genuine surprise when Senator Ghazala Hashmi was named as Chair. We have a strong working relationship with the Senator as our PAC worked very hard to get her elected. The VEA Fund made big investments in her campaign, her mail program, and on TV ads. Our members knocked doors and made phone calls. This is when that work pays off. This is also why we must always engage in elections. The VEA is in the enviable position of having a good relationship with the new chair and the Commonwealth in in the fortunate position of having this incredible legislator as the Chair.

One the other side of the Capitol, we had the exact opposite start in the House of Delegates. No meeting, no bills, and no testimony, because they did not pass rules or appoint committee members yesterday. They wanted to bask in the history of the day, but it does put things on hold until these important votes are taken. At about 2:30 pm today the House adopted rules and appointed committees, so the work will begin tomorrow with committee meetings in the House.

The only thing that isn’t moving slowly is budget amendments. Those are all due by noon tomorrow. We will have a budget amendment to put a 5% salary increase into the first year of the budget. As you may remember, the Governor did not include any salary increase in the first year of the Biennial Budget (School Year 2020-21), but a 3% increase in the second (School Year 2021-22). Contact your legislator now and let them know you want state support for a 5% increase in year one of the budget. If you don’t know who to call, you can click here to find out.

Fridays are always shorter days at the General Assembly so that legislators can get back home to their districts for the weekend, but next week will get quite crazy. Right now, there are 150% more education bills filed then were filed in 2019, and bills can file for another whole week. You can always visit the General Assembly bill tracking site to look at all the bills filed and to follow bills you care about. Click here to take a look.

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Welcome to the 2020 General Assembly Session

History was made today in Virginia. For the first time in the 401-year history of the House of Delegates, a woman was elected Speaker! VEA Fund-recommended and long-time friend of public education, Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, is now Madame Speaker.

The new Speaker nominated another woman as Clerk of the House, Suzette Denslow, also sworn in today. Adding to the history was the group of staff from the Clerk's office that sits on the dais—all women. I bet that picture will be on the front page of every newspaper in the Commonwealth tomorrow.

The Democrats have a 55-45 majority in the House.

Over in the Senate new leadership was also sworn in, but as the Lt. Governor presides over the body, it wasn't as dramatic. We are still delighted to have another good friend, Senator Louise Lucas, sworn in as the President Pro Tempore. Senate Clerk Susan Clarke Schaar will continue to serve in that role.

The Democrats have a 21-19 majority in the Senate.

It was a great day for the women of the Commonwealth!

Today involved a lot of ceremonial business, but tomorrow we will get to the real work of session. Committee assignments are expected, and bills will start being heard. Please make sure you follow along this session on the blog and stay engaged throughout session. There is a lot of work to get done during this long session, the biggest of which is the 2020-2022 Biennial budget.

For now, we enjoy the day and celebrate electing a Pro-Public Education Majority in Virginia!

The Governor will give his State of the Commonwealth Address tonight at 7pm. You can watch online and on your local PBS channel.