Thursday, August 27, 2020

Paid Sick Days Moves Forward in the House, Sales Tax Revenue Problem Must Be Addressed

 August 26, 2020

Wednesday the House Committee on Labor and Commerce advanced Delegate Elizabeth Guzman’s Paid Sick Days bill (HB5116) on a 13-9 party line vote. The VEA is part of the Virginian’s for Paid Sick Days Coalition fighting to pass legislation to require all workers to have paid time off when they or a family member is sick. Today the House Democrats stood with workers once again when they passed this bill.

As VEA President James Fedderman said, “VEA members know that without access to paid sick days, many parents are left with no option when their children get sick. Educators often work with students who have come to school sick because their parent had to make an impossible choice—lose vital wages (and possibly their job) to stay home with their child, or send them to school in spite of the illness. It is well past time to give all working parents the peace of mind of paid sick days. If we want to keep our communities and our schools healthy, the General Assembly must pass paid sick leave for all workers.”

This legislation is very narrow and sunsets (ends) when the state of emergency related to COVID-19 expires, but it is a huge step forward in making Virginia a better place for workers.

Still, the bill faces a challenge in the Senate where the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor killed the bill last week. The VEA applauds Delegate Guzman and the entire House Democratic Caucus for standing with workers who are literally facing life and death decisions during this pandemic. More on the Virginians for Paid Sick Days coalition here.

In other news, please make sure to send an email to your legislators to let them know about the impact the sales tax revenue shortfall will have on every school division in Virginia. This is a huge, unexpected cut to the school budgets for the upcoming school year. No school division was prepared for this cut and none of them can absorb the cuts especially as they face all the challenges of returning to instruction in the face of a global pandemic and state of emergency. Click here to act now. .

A Deeper Dive

I know this is a complicated issue, so I wanted to see how I could make it easier to digest. I am grateful to my team at the VEA with their help on this. You all know I like a food analogy. Think of the entire costs of the SOQ programs (we call those, in general, Direct Aid to Public Education) as a pie. The state determines how much the whole pie costs. By law, a portion of all sales taxes collected in VA go towards that price tag. After the sales tax revenues are applied to the cost of the Direct Aid pie (in green below), the state shares the responsibility of paying for the rest of the costs with the local governments (blue part of the pie). The state pays 55% of the remaining cost after the sales taxes are applied, and the localities pay 45%.

Schools built and adopted their 2020-2021 school year budgets based on these figures. Unfortunately, sales tax collections are down. By law, because revenues overall are down, the budget must be reset or reforecasted to reflect these losses. One of the big areas of lost revenue is in sales tax collection. When there is less sales tax money, there is less to apply to the Direct Aid pie. When that happens, more of the costs of the Direct Aid pie falls to the state and localities to pick up. Remember they do that at a 55/45 split. So, funding that school divisions thought was coming to them as the green part of the pie is now coming as the blue part of the pie. Instead the state will pick up only 55% of the costs. Here is a graphic to show you what I mean:

We are getting less of the green, so more of the pie will be blue (split costs). To fix this we need a one-time state investment of just over $95 million to fill the whole left by the tax revenue losses. If legislators do not adopt this budget amendment, every single school division in Virginia will be facing cuts. Period. There is no way around it.

Act NOW and tell your legislators to support Delegate Cliff Hayes budget amendment 145 #6h to hold our public schools harmless from the lost tax revenues. Click here to send your email. 


Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Sales Tax Issue Would Hit Localities Hard; Send Our Action Alert Now

Daily Report August 25, 2020

The Governor introduced a revised 2020-2022 Biennial Budget in response to the economic downturn caused by COVID-19. This budget cuts most of the new spending that was unalloted just a few months ago. For our public schools, this included the nearly $490 million of new spending over the biennium. The Governor was clear that there will be an opportunity to make changes again during the regular General Assembly session in January if the economy picks up, but revenue shortfalls made these difficult decisions necessary.

The VEA believes there are ways to make additional investments in K-12 even when we face the current economic crisis. In fact, we know that for schools to open safely and with equity, they need additional funding to offset the costs of providing equitable virtual instruction or safe in-person instruction. Both options in the age of COVID force difficult decisions for this General Assembly. The VEA believes these investments must be made.

The House of Delegates members have posted their budget amendments to the revised budget introduced by the Governor. We appreciate the amendment by Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy to unallot all the nearly $490 million the new K-12 spending including funding for additional school counselors. She is the only member of the House to introduce an amendment to reverse the cuts proposed by the Governor. We are also grateful to see Delegate Kaye Kory’s effort to redirect $4.7 million each year of state support for School Resource Officers to school mental health professionals. Her amendment does nothing to stop any school division from deploying SROs in their schools, it simply shifts state funding to our public schools for mental health professionals.

Since the Governor introduced his revised budget, a new, universally impactful issue has come up for our public schools. The significant reduction in sales has resulted in more of the overall cost of funding the SOQs to be paid by the state and locality rather than by sales taxes. Those costs covered by sales tax now go into the larger pot of K-12 direct aid and are funded at the state/local split of 55% state/45% locality. The issue here is that local school divisions build budgets for the 2020-2021 school based on tax revenues that are now not coming in, and instead they are responsible for 45% of the cost of those programs. This is wholly unexpected, and school divisions are facing significant shortfalls in their current year budgets without state support to offset the losses. These losses are estimated to be $95.2 million in the first year of the biennium and $93.6 million in the second. Delegate Cliff Hayes has a budget amendment to cover the losses for the first year. His amendment does not cover the second year as that will need to be evaluated during the regular January session. The VEA intends to work hard to support this budget amendment.

VEA just activated an Action Alert on the state budget to address the sales tax issue and protect funding for local school divisions. Please act now by sending an email to your legislator.  


Monday, August 24, 2020

State Support to Vote Safely and Adding Juneteenth as a State Holiday


Daily Report -- August 24, 2020

State Support to Vote Safely and Adding Juneteenth as a State Holiday

Today the General Assembly money committees took up bills to specify how Virginia will handle absentee ballots this Election Day. As you may know, during the regular session the General Assembly passed no-excuse absentee voting. That law became effective July 1 and, because of the health and safety concerns related to COVID-19, Virginia is preparing for a very large increase in the numbers of people that request an absentee ballot for the General Election on November 3. This issue is making national news, and there has been much dialog about the safety of mail-in ballots.

Today the money committees took steps to protect both voters and our democratic process. SB5120 from Senator Howell and the identical HB5103 from Delegate Sickles passed on party-line votes—all Democrats voted yes; all Republicans voted no. These bills lay out commonsense steps that the VEA supported to make absentee voting as easy and safe as possible.

The bills clarify how ballots will be certified by each general registrar, including how a voter will be notified if there are any issues with their ballot. The bills also allow voters to make corrections to errors on their ballot and to omit the witness signature on their ballot without penalty of the ballot being invalidated. The bills also require the placement of ballot drop-off locations at the general registrar office and each voter satellite office. On the day of the election, there shall also be an accessible drop-off location at each polling place in operation for the election. All drop-off locations shall include necessary security requirements. Additionally, the bills set aside $2 million for pre-paid return envelopes for all absentee ballots. This is another important measure that the VEA supports. We believe that all citizens should be able to vote easily, even when there is a public health crisis. We supported efforts to expand access to absentee ballots during the regular session and we are happy to see these bills move forward.

In another important move, HB5052 from Delegate Lamont Bagby, Chair of the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, unanimously reported from the Committee on General Laws. This bill codifies the Executive Order signed by Governor Northam to make Juneteenth a State Holiday. During testimony on the bill, Delegate Marcia Price urged anyone who cannot knowledgeably explain why Juneteenth should be a state holiday, to learn about it.  As someone who went to Virginia public schools for all but 1 year of my K-12 education, I was never taught about Juneteenth. There is no better example of the whitewashing of our history then that. When you know better, you do better. I encourage all of you to listen to Delegate Price and do better. If you don’t know about Juneteenth, please learn about it here.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

VEA-Initiated Bill on COVID Transparency Passes Unanimously

Special Session -- August 19, 2020

The Senate has gotten off to a quick start this Special Session. This morning, under the efficient leadership of the Chair, Senator Louise Lucas, the Senate Education and Health Committee heard 22 bills. One of them, Senate Bill 5083, was initiated by the VEA and patroned by Senator Jennifer McClellan and Senator Ghazala Hashmi.

Through orders by the Governor, all public schools in the Commonwealth are required to submit a plan to the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) outlining the provision of new instruction to all students in the 2020-2021 academic year, regardless of phase or the operational status of the school at the time. Additionally, per an Order of Public Health Emergency from the State Health Commissioner, all public and private schools are required to submit to the VDOE a plan outlining their strategies for mitigating public health risk of COVID-19. The VDOE has the authority to require the local school divisions to post their instructional plans on the division’s web site so that the plans are publicly available. However, because the requirement that schools submit a health and safety plan came from an order of the Health Commissioner, the Department of Education does not have that same authority for the school health and safety plans. While many school divisions will likely post their health and safety plans, they are not currently required to do that. SB5083 fixes that problem.

SB5083 requires all public schools to post their heath and safety plans where they are easily accessible on the division’s web site. These plans require the school divisions to lay out their policies on face coverings, social distancing, cleaning and sanitizing procedures, screening of students and staff, and isolation procedures. The VEA thinks it is important for school employees and parents to be able to review these plans, and SB5083 will make sure there is full transparency. In more good news, SB5083 passed the full committee unanimously, which is a good sign that we will meet the 4/5 vote to keep the emergency clause. If a bill passes with the emergency clause, it becomes effective upon passage. Obviously, we have schools that are already back in session, so getting these plans posted is a time-sensitive issue.

On another note, the VEA appreciates Senator Dick Saslaw for very quickly making a motion to kill Senator Amanda Chase’s voucher bill. For some reason, Senator Chase seems to believe that if any public school doesn’t open for full-time instruction, schools should send all of the state funding for each student to the parents to use for childcare. Defunding our public schools during a pandemic is atrocious. Period.  The end.

There were other interesting bills that came to the Senate Education and Health today:

SB5004 from Senator Kiggins would require that every school in the Commonwealth employ a Registered Nurse. This has been a top priority for the VEA for years, so we were happy to see this bill pass through the committee, but it was referred to the money committee where its fate doesn’t look good.

SB5068 from Senator Peake allows any school board to waive the required student health screenings and safety drills that are currently required by law. During the pandemic, these requirements become difficult to impossible, so this is a good bill. It also passes unanimously and has the emergency clause.

SB5069 from Senator Ruff will protect schools from losing per-pupil funding by allowing the use of the Average Daily Membership (ADM) numbers from the highest watermark during the state of emergency. This bill will ensure that lower enrollment numbers now won’t result in an even bigger hole in school budgets next school year.

SB5094 from Senator Dunnavant requires each school board to provide to each teacher in the local school division up to 14 days of paid leave, in addition to any other paid leave to which such individual is otherwise entitled, that may be used in the event that the teacher has or has been exposed to COVID-19. The bill passed nearly unanimously with a referral to the money committee. It will have a tough time there, honestly.

SB5100 also from Senator Dunnavant would provide excused absences for students diagnosed with COVID-19 or who live in a household with someone diagnosed with COVID-19. This bill also passed today.

The budget is still up in the air. Send your legislator an email RIGHT NOW to maximize K-12 funding.

Later today the Senate Committee on Commerce and Labor will meet where we will see worker’s compensation bills and the Paid Sick Days bill that the VEA supports. The committee meeting will go late, so I will report on that one tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Special Session Begins, We Must Press K-12 Funding

Special Session
August 18, 2020

Governor Ralph Northam has called the General Assembly back to session starting today. His order calling them back is for three specific purposes: review and amend the 2020-2022 Biennial Budget, COVID-19 response, and police reform. We would expect to see legislation only in those areas. While each member of the VA House and Senate have a three-bill limit, that could still result in over 400 bills. As of this afternoon, there are only about 65 bills filed, although I know many more are coming. 

The VEA has been very clear on our priorities as it relates to budget. Our members have been sending emails to their legislators urging specific budget action. That action includes:

  • Maximizing all federal dollars for K-12. These resources must be invested in the essential services our students and schools need regardless of a virtual or in-person reopening.
  • Restoring the nearly $500 million in new K-12 funding that was unalloted during the Reconvene Session.
  • Using all available state resources to protect all K-12 spending.
  • Maintaining the full funding of rebenchmarking.
  • Providing up to $600 million in emergency flexible funding to support the unique needs associated with reopening during a pandemic. Some of these needs include:
  • Up to $270 million for substitute teachers. 
  • Procurement of PPE and other health and safety supplies for all school divisions.
  • Broadband access initiatives and resources to close the digital divide. 

This morning, the Secretary of Finance and the Governor delivered the news we were dreading -- nearly all the unallotted dollars will be cut. These are all the unallotted funds, not just the funds for K-12.

It is time to make your voice heard and contact your legislator NOW. Click here to send your email. The money committees are getting to work now on the budget. Make sure they know they must prioritize K-12!

Aside from budget action, the VEA has initiated legislation to require each school division to post their COVID-19 heath and safety plan on their web site. Per an order from Virginia’s Health Commissioner, all schools, public and private, are required to submit these plans to the VA Department of Education. However, the DOE cannot require the plans be posted publicly. The VEA believes that to ensure a safe return to school, parents and educators must know what is contained in these plans. According to the order, these plans must include policies and procedures for the use of face coverings; health screenings of staff and students; physical distancing measures; enhanced hygiene practices for staff and students; isolation of symptomatic cases; cleaning and disinfecting procedures and other topics as outlined in the Phased Guidance for Virginia Schools. No school should open if these plans are not made public. The VEA is grateful to our patrons. Senator Jennifer McClellan will carry our bill in the Senate, Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy in the House. More to come as these bills progress. 

This session the VEA will also be working with the Virginians for Paid Sick Days Coalition to make sure all workers have at least 40 hours of paid sick leave a year. We are fortunate as school employees that this is a benefit we already enjoy, but so many of the families we serve do not have this benefit. As VEA President James J. Fedderman said during the Coalition press conference on Monday, “Educators often work with students who have come to school sick because their parent had to make an impossible choice -- lose vital wages (and possibly their job) to stay home with their child, or send them to school in spite of the illness. It is well past time to give all working parents the peace of mind of paid sick days.” Click here to learn more about the Coalition's work.

We expect that Special Session may last a few weeks because of how session will work- virtual committee meetings and in-person floor sessions. We will keep you updated as session continues.