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.