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.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Lobby Day a Smashing Success!

January 27, 2020

Wow! We showed up today and made our voices heard! Thank you to all of our members who got up early, stood in very long lines, and took the time to meet with your legislators today. I am hearing from so many members of the General Assembly how amazing Virginia’s educators were today. This is how we demonstrate our power and hold legislators accountable.

It is my honor to serve you all.

Some big news today. If you didn’t hear, the ERA passed in Virginia and we will become the 38th state to ratify. I know some of our members were able to be in the gallery to watch the debate and final vote. Congratulations to all the advocates who have worked this issue for all these years. You have heard me say it before, elections matter!

We started the day at 7am in the House Education Subcommittee on the SOLs/SOQs. Delegate Aird’s HB1316 that will fully implement the SOQs as issued by the VA Board of Education passed on a 7-1 vote. The bill will head to the House Appropriations Committee as implementation will include over $405 million a year. These are all much needed programs and the VEA fully supports the bill and the budget amendment to fully fund the legislation. It is time for the General Assembly to do the work the VA Constitution directs them to do and ensure that all students in the Commonwealth have a system of high quality public education. The newly issued SOQs puts VA on the path towards that Constitutional obligation. Also in the subcommittee were bills that will implement the portions of the SOQ revisions that Governor Northam included in his budget. This includes HB1508 from Delegate McQuinn that will change the staffing ratios in the SOQ on school counselors. The Governor funded the state’s share of one school counselor for every 250 students. This is the ratio recommended by the National Association of School Counselors and we look forward to finally being able to support not only our students post-secondary needs, but also their mental health needs by having the school counselors we need in our public schools. The other SOQ bill was Delegate Guzman’s HB975 that will improve the staffing ratios for teachers who work with our English Language Learners. This has been an issue our members who work with ELL students have been raising for years. We both bills reported and were referred to the Appropriations committee.

After the subcommittee and full committee, it was time to rally. Turn out was ever better than we expected. You all rocked your red, your signs were on point, and your voices were loud. Congratulations on your work today. Keep it up. You heard the patrons of the bills today tell you that for the SOQ bills, today was the first step. You will be getting information from the VEA. In the next few days on actions you need to take to make sure that the final budget does, in fact, Fund Our Future.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Are You Ready For Monday?

January 24. 2020

Today was a typical Friday at the General Assembly. Onto the floor early, lighter committee afternoons, and emptying hallways at the Pocahontas building. The difference today was the increase in frantic texts and emails from legislators and their aides as education bills are finally being placed on committee and subcommittee dockets. There are only two full weeks before cross over which is when each body must complete work on legislation that originated in that body. As of today, the House has only passed 16 bills of the more than 1600 filed in House. I’m not a math person, but that’s less than 1%. The next two weeks will be very, very busy.

Monday is HUGE day for public education at the Capitol. Yes, it is our Lobby Day (more on that later) but Monday is also a packed-full day for the House Education Committee. If you are going to be in Richmond on Monday and your schedule allows, try to get into one of the three House Education Committee meetings.

Monday’s Schedule:
7am- House Education Subcommittee on SOLs/SOQs chaired by VEA member Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg. All of the House Education Committees will meet in the House Shared Committee Room in the Pocahontas building.

This docket is packed with important bills, including those that the VEA initiated. I know it’s early, but come if you can. Subcommittee is more interesting, as this is where bills get a full vetting and in-depth hearing. Click here to see the list of bills that will be heard during that meeting.

9am- Full House Education Committee chaired by Delegate Roslyn Tyler.
This docket is filled with bills that have already been through a subcommittee hearing. The bills are heard as subcommittee reports with far less testimony. Click here to see that agenda.

4pm- House Education Subcommittee on K-12 chaired by Delegate Lamont Bagby.
This subcommittee is also stacked with bills. I expect this sub to go well into the night. You can click here to see that agenda.

Hopefully you have appointments with your legislators already set up, but if you have time, come by the House Education Committee.

Lobby Day Click here for all the details:

You have you plan all ready and appointments all set, right?. Arrive to the Pocahontas building early on Monday as the line to get in could be as long as 45 minutes to an hour. All visitors need to go through security and be screened. You can bring drinks and snacks in with you. Be patient as the state police and General Assembly security at the door are really lovely and helpful. They are working to keep us all safe. I know lines are no fun, but it’s what we have to do.

If you have an appointment with a legislator and you “get their aide instead” please know it is because there are so many committees on Monday and all legislators are on committees and presenting their own bills in front of others. Unlike Congress, the General Assembly does not have any down time during the day when legislators are free to be in their offices for appointments. Legislative Aides are highly knowledgeable professionals who work closely with their member of the General Assembly. I promise, a meeting with an LA is just as good as with a Delegate or Senator (except maybe for photo ops).

There is a coffee vendor on the 5th floor of the Pocahontas building. It’s not great coffee and it is expensive. That is the only place to get coffee in the building! There are vending machines on most floors, but not coffee. You can bring coffee in with you, so I recommend that.

There is a very large, very good cafeteria across the street from the Pocahontas building on the 3rd floor of the Sun Trust building that is open to the public. There is a very small lunch spot in the Capitol, but it gets very crowded.

There will be no screening to enter the Bell Tower area where we will hold our rally. Please remember, though, you can only have hand-held signs, nothing on post. Also remember there are no signs allowed in committee meetings.

Everyone who attends one of our Lobby Day briefings will get a packet of materials, but in case you aren’t able to make one of those, or you want to study up, here are the talking points and bill numbers for Monday:

ISSUE #1: Collective Bargaining for Public Sector Employees
  • Virginia is one of only three state in the country that explicitly ban public sector workers from collectively bargaining for fair pay, better working conditions, and the resources they need to do their jobs
  • Having a seat at the table will ensure that school employees have a genuine voice in the learning and working conditions in their schools.
  • In other states with collective bargaining, educators and school districts have negotiated agreements that have lowered class sizes, provided for extra resources for students, and addressed school health and safety issues.
  • Collective bargaining also offers an avenue for addressing poor pay, erasing teacher shortages, and making sure we attract and retain the very best to our classrooms.
ASK: Vote YES on SB1022 (Boysko)/HB582 (Guzman) that will repeal the prohibition on public sector employee collective bargaining and establish a framework and structure to support collective bargaining.

ISSUE #2: Fully Implement and FUND the Standards of Quality (SOQs) as issued by the VA Board of Education
  • Virginia ranks 40th in the nation in the amount of state funding it allocates, per student, to our public schools, yet we are the 12th wealthiest state in the country.
  • Since the Great Recession, state funding for our schools has actually declined 8 percent, in inflation-adjusted dollars, even as the number of young people attending them has grown.
  • Every student, regardless of race, ethnicity, family income, or zip code, should attend well-staffed public schools where they have instructional, social, and emotional support to be successful.
  • The SOQ revisions updated staffing ratios for school counselors, social workers, mental health staff, nurses, assistant principals, and teachers for English language learners, among other staff, who faced with overwhelming student caseloads.
  • The Virginia Board of Education also included a new fund that combines existing state funds for the At-Risk Add-On program with the SOL Prevention, Intervention, and Remediation program and add an additional $270 million in new state funds in the two-year budget. Divisions are directed to spend funds in schools with the greatest concentration of poverty and will report to the Virginia Department of Education to ensure resources are going where need is greatest.
ASKS: Vote YES on SB1316 (McClellan)/HB728 (Aird) to fully implement the revised SOQs and support the budget amendments (Item 136 C.5.k. McClellan/Aird) that reverses the Support Staff Cap as recommended by the VA Board of Education.

ISSUE #3: Increase Salaries for SOQ Positions/Increase Minimum Wage
  • Virginia ranks 32nd in the county in teacher salary. We are $8500 BELOW the National Average. 
  • Virginia must provide state support for salary increases every year until we are at, or above, the National Average if we are ever to meet the goal established by the General Assembly.
  • Our Educational Support Personnel (ESPs) are the backbone of our public schools, and many of them do not make a living wage.
  • Virginia must increase the minimum wage for all workers so that our dedicated ESPs can continue to serve our students and our public schools while also being able to pay their bills, feed their families, and earn a respectable salary.
  1. Support budget amendments in include a 5% salary increase in the first year of the biennium ($241.5 million).
  2. Vote YES on SB73 (Locke)/HB395 (Ward) that will increase the minimum wage in Virginia to $15 an hour for all workers.
 ISSUE #4: Restore Due Process to Teachers
  • In 2013, the General Assembly took action to roll back due process for teachers because of a false narrative that it is hard to fire a teacher.
  • Rollbacks included extending probation for teachers from 3 years to up to 5 years. Classified state employees only serve a one year probations, so even 3 years is a very long time. SB98 (Locke)/HB365 (Carroll Foy) restore teacher probation to 3 years.
  • In 2013 a definition of teacher incompetency was added to the that included ONE, single unsatisfactory performance evaluation as a standard and as a reason a teacher can be fired. SB 167 (Favola)/HB570 (Guzman) removes the very punitive definition form the Code. The bills DO NOT remove “incompetency” as a reason to fire a teacher, they just remove the punitive use of one evaluation.
  • In 2013, the use of a three person panel in teacher dismissal cases was stripped from the Code denying teachers a fair hearing before a school board. SB377 (Bell) restores the OPTION of using a three person panel.
ASKS: Vote YES on legislation that will restore fairness and due process to teachers in their employment contracts with school divisions. Vote YES for SB98/HB365. Vote YES on SB167/HB570. Vote YES on SB377.

The VEA is working more than 400 bills this session, but these are the ones we really need you to highlight on Monday. So get your RED on, get rest now, pack your patience, and get ready to tell your story!

See you Monday!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Getting Closer to Restoring Due Process Rights!

January 23, 2020

In great news, all three of our due process bills (SB98, SB167, and SB377) passed the full Senate Education and Health Committee on party line votes of 9-6. Thank you to everyone who called committee members, and to Senate Democrats, who have made these bills top priorities. We ran around this week to answer any questions and to firm up all the votes, and it worked. There were questions from opponents, but we will be getting one-pagers on the bills to the entire Democratic Caucus so that they’re all ready when the bills move to the floor for debate Monday. The House versions of the bills will he heard next week, and we are very hopeful that the House Democrats will also be with us.

Here are some highlights from our one-pager:
These bills that are top priorities for the VEA. Together, they reverse actions that stripped teachers of their due process rights made by the Republican-controlled 2013 General Assembly and Governor Bob McDonnell. 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.

SB98 (Senator Mamie Locke):
This bill removes language allowing school divisions to extend teacher probationary periods to five years, which allows teachers with up to five years of experience to be fired without due process. A probationary period for teachers had, for decades prior to this change, been three years.

Virginia is one of only a handful of states that can deny a teacher’s due process for up to five years, an excessively long period of time. School leadership should be able to determine within three years if a teacher is a good fit for their school and division. Three years also allows for the full implementation of a thoughtful and effective mentoring program to support any new teacher.

Opponents will say that if a teacher “shows promise” after three years, but the school division isn’t certain he or she is a good fit, they will have to fire them. That is not true. After three years, a teacher who “shows promise” can be given a continuing contract and can be fired at any point, but is granted due process. This isn’t about helping a third-year teacher; this is about not wanting to grant due process to a teacher in the fourth or fifth year.

SB167 (Senator Barbara Favola):
This bill doesn’t seek to change the reasons for which a teacher can be fired. It simply removes the current definition of incompetency. The VEA worked with the VSBA to reach agreement on this approach.

Incompetency, as defined in this section of Code, does not give local school divisions the flexibility to support teacher performance while also determining, on a case-by-case basis, if the teacher is, in fact, incompetent. It also includes language not germane to the definition since a school division cannot employ a teacher who fails to meet the endorsement qualification. 

A teacher who receives one unsatisfactory evaluation, especially one that relies heavily on student test scores, should not automatically be considered incompetent.

SB377 (Senator John Bell):
This restores the three-person panel as an option for school boards in teacher grievance cases. Current language only allows for these hearings to be before the school board or in front of a hearing officer appointed by the school board. That stacks the odds against the teacher and allows the school board to very quickly and easily fire a teacher. We know that many of the hearing officers are biased against the teacher and are, sometimes, former superintendents. This has been a legislative priority of the VEA for years. Interestingly, when we try to find teachers who had a bad hearing with either a school board or hearing officer, we struggle to find stories. Overwhelmingly what we hear is that teachers facing dismissal or other discipline simply resign when they realize the court is stacked against them. Even worse, since 2016 we have seen a significant increase of cases where a teacher who is dismissed is automatically referred to the VA Board of Education for license revocation. The stakes are too high to not make sure teachers get a fair hearing.

VEA Lobby Day and Rally

We are just a few days away from our Fund Our Future Lobby Day and rally. Make your plans now to be in Richmond! Click here to see theschedule and here to let us know you are going to be there.

Budget Amendment Hearing Makes for a Very Long Day

January 22, 2020

This morning the House Subcommittee on PK-12 added a meeting to the schedule, as they have so many bills they need to hear before cross over. Most subcommittees only meet once a week, so getting through 70 bills in only three meetings wasn’t going to work. The Chair of the Sub, Delegate Lamont Bagby, is apparently a morning person, as he convened his subcommittee at 7am today. The most interesting action in the sub was around lock down drills in schools. The first bill will decrease the number of lock down drills required at all schools (HB402/Keam) and the second will require parental notification of lock down drills 24 hours before the drill (HB270/VanValkenburg). As educators, we know that these lock down drills are traumatic for many students and staff. By reducing the number and letting parents know they are happening, we hope that some of this trauma can be reduced. The VEA supported both bills.

Also, early today all the budget amendments offered by members of the House and Senate were made available for review. While Governor Northam introduced his 2020-2022 Biennial Budget in December, the General Assembly uses that as a starting point and propose amendments to the House and Senate money committees. We have lots of good friends, on both sides of the aisle, who have budget amendments to address the VEA’s request to the Governor that were not included in his introduced budget.

Senators McDougal, Vogel, and McClellan all have submitted amendments to fund a 5% salary increase in year one of the budget. Getting money in year one is so important, as there will be additional amendments next year and likely additional revenues. You can’t go back and change a zero once you are in year two of the budget. We must see money for salary in the first year. We are grateful to the members of the Senate who offered these amendments.

In the House, Delegate Mugler proposes a 4.5% increase in year one and year two. This amendment is a companion to her HB233 that requires that teacher salaries in Virginia be at or above the national average by July 1, 2025. It is her intention that the state fund its share of a 4.5% salary increase every year until we meet the national average standard. Delegate Kilgore’s amendment raises the second year salary increase to 5% but leaves 0% in year one. We appreciate his efforts, but we need to see money funding in year one.

I have only finished going through the House budget amendments that aren’t specifically salary, and there is lots of good news. Delegates Aird (D) and Leftwich (R) each have budget amendments to reverse the support staff cap and restore the funding as recommended by the VA Board of Education. Quite a few members of the House have “language only” amendments to require the development of a plan to lift the support staff cap and provide the state funding. That is not what we are looking for, but it is good to see this much action on the support staff cap; it is really good news. Maybe this thing won’t be permanent after all.

Delegate Aird also has an amendment that is co-patroned by Delegates Bagby, Bourne, Plum, Price and Rasoul to fully fund the revisions to the Standards of Quality as issued by the Board of Education. Delegate Aird’s two amendments total $2 billion in new money for K-12 as recommended by the Board. The assembling of co-patrons on this amendment lets us know that this is clearly a priority of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus (VLBC), and I am certain the VLBC members in the Senate have the same amendment. I just need to dig through them.

Another important amendment is from Delegate Krizek. He has an amendment to fund the Employee Labor Relations Board as we implement public sector collective bargaining in Virginia. It is expected to cost $1.5 million each year to operate and staff the new Board, but without this framework and structure, we would have to count on local governments and school boards to bargain in good faith and to handle grievances and arbitration internally. That is better than what we have now since we are currently prohibited from collectively bargaining, but we need the money allocated in the final budget so that we can have an Employee Labor Relations Board.

Later today the House Appropriations Committee will hold a hearing where every member who has a budget amendment will come and present that amendment. It is a very, very long afternoon as there are a couple of hundred House amendments. No action will be taken during the hearings. Frankly we won’t know outcomes until we see a final budget in March, but these amendments let us know that our legislators have heard us.

Thursday at 8am the three important VEA bills are up in the full Senate Education and Health Committee. You can read about the bills in yesterday’s blog, but if your Senator is on the committee, call them and urge them to vote YES on SB98, SB167, and SB377.

Here are the names of the Committee members. You can click on their name to get their office phone number:

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

It’s Tuesday, and That’s a Good Thing

January 21, 2020

In good news, there were no acts of violence reported by the Unified Police Command that worked the Gun Rights Lobby Day yesterday. The city was shut down and the streets were filled with heavily armed (shot guns, assault weapons, handguns), masked, body armor wearing, Nazi symbolled, gun rights folks. Reporters say that about 8 in 10 were not from Virginia. I appreciate that they didn’t shoot anyone or run anyone over with a car, but to deem the gathering “peaceful” is an assessment loaded with white privilege. If you think I am overstating that, ask what would have happened if 20 people of color were walking the streets with masks, body armor and assault weapons. How would law enforcement have responded? Trayvon Martin was shot and killed while going out, unarmed, to buy Skittles. He had on a hoodie. No mask, no body armor, no Nazi symbols. We must stand up together. I appreciate the comments of Delegate Chris Hurst from the floor today. #NoRightToRemainSilent

This afternoon the VEA will stand in support of HB1383 in the House General Laws Subcommittee on Gaming. If you think that seems like an odd place for the VEA to be fighting for a bill, you haven’t been following the uptick in gaming in Virginia. Since legislation passed in the last two sessions opening Virginia to new “games of skill” and casinos, we have seen a significant decrease in VA Lottery ticket sales. This is important because all proceeds from the sales of lottery tickets are directed to K-12. The increase of gaming in VA has driven folks away from playing the lottery, lowering the proceeds. The biennial budget introduced by the Governor included almost $30 million to back fill programs that are usually paid for with Lottery revenues.

HB1383 will allow Lottery tickets to be purchased on-line. Evidence shows that this action will increase lottery sales and proceeds. The VEA believes we need to fight to protect and increase Lottery revenues. We will say exactly that this afternoon in committee. I understand that lottery proceeds allow for the supplanting of General Fund dollars and that many lottery programs should be funded through the SOQs, but when we see decreases in revenues for K-12 we must look for solutions. HB1383 is one of many gaming solutions the VEA will be pursuing this session. The VEA will also support legislation to regulate and tax all those new “games of skill” and legislation to bring all gaming under the umbrella of the VA Lottery. That will make sure that all gaming proceeds go towards K-12. We know we need to increase revenues for K-12, and this is one way we can do that.

Some estimates are as much as $125 million of new revenues if we can get all gaming proceeds directed to K-12. These are important bills that the VEA is working. Obviously, we are also fighting hard for over $1 billion of new state investments in K-12 through adoption of the revised SOQs as well as funding for state support for a 5% salary increase for SOQ positions, but we need to look at new investments as well.

In other news, three bills that restore due process protections for school employees passed the small Senate Education and Health Subcommittee on a 3-2 party-line vote last week. Those bills will all be heard on Thursday at 8am in the full committee. There are 9 Democrats and 6 Republicans on the full committee, so I expect the bills to pass, but I want to make sure all the members on the committee know how important these bills are. If your member of the VA Senate is on the full committee, please contact them ASAP and let them know to vote YES on SB98 (restore probation to 3 years for teachers), SB167 (remove the definition of incompetency that includes one unsatisfactory evaluation as the standard), and SB377 (restores the option of a three person panel in teacher dismissal cases). All three of these bills were an effort of the Republican-controlled Government (House, Senate, Governor) to make it easy to fire teachers. These bills are top VEA legislative priorities. Here are the members of the full committee, you can click on their names to get their phone numbers and email addresses:

Wednesday is another long day in the House Education Committee. There is a 7am subcommittee on PK-12, and the full committee at 9am. More on that action tomorrow.

VEA Lobby Day

Have you made your plans to attend? Click here to see the schedule. Click here to RSVP that you are coming.

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.