Thursday, February 26, 2015

The General Assembly Passes the State Budget

This afternoon the House and Senate passed House Bill 1400, the compromise version of the FY2015-2016 budget. The conference report includes $193 million for the teacher retirement fund, $52.8 million for the state share of a 1.5% salary increase for funded SOQ instructional and support positions, $200,000 for expedited retakes, $366,000 for professional development for principals and teachers that work with high-needs students, $1 million for the expansion of the Virginia Kingergarten Readiness Program, and $250,000 to support the expansion of Virtual Virginia. It also includes budget language that directs the Department of Human Resource Management (DHRM) to conduct a comprehensive review of public employee health programs in the state and provide a detailed report to the House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees by October 31, 2015. As part of the review, DHRM will conduct an actuarial review of the impact on the state, local school divisions, and local governments on the impact of including local school division in the state employee health program.
This year’s budget process has gone much smoother than last year and the vote even came ahead of the normal adoption schedule. Moments ago, Governor McAuliffe released the following statement on the General Assembly’s passage of the state budget.
“Virginians should be proud of the manner in which their leaders worked together across branches of government and party lines to pass a balanced budget that invests in a key priorities for a new Virginia economy. I want to thank Chairmen Jones, Stosch and Colgan for their partnership throughout a budget process that has been marked by bipartisan leadership and cooperation.

“At the beginning of this session, I asked the General Assembly to pass a budget that closes our revenue shortfall while enhancing economic development, investing in expanded health care services, protecting education and giving state employees a raise. I am pleased that the budget passed by the House and the Senate honors all of those priorities and I look forward to reviewing in detail in the coming days.”

Now that the budget has passed, the House and Senate are busy finalizing all of the legislation that is currently in conference. It is expected that they will complete their business tomorrow and adjourn Sine Die. We are busy combing through the remaining bills and will provide you a post-session update in the coming days.

Thank you again for all of your support and advocacy efforts over the past two months.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Update on HB2238 - Parental Choice Education Savings Account

We have good news to share from the General Assembly. Late this afternoon the Senate took a final vote on HB2238, the legislation which created the Parental Choice Education Savings Account that would allow parents of students with disabilities, some of whom may never have been enrolled in public schools, to receive 90% of the state SOQ per pupil funding. The bill failed on the Senate floor on a vote of 18-18-1 with Lieutenant Governor Northam breaking the tie with a no vote.

Thank you to all of you who called, emailed, and visited your senators. Your advocacy efforts kept the heat on and helped us to defeat the bill.

Retirements at the General Assembly

As the General Assembly winds down their work, several legislators have announced that they will not seek re-election. Today, Delegates Tom Rust and Mamie BaCote and Senator Jeff McWaters announced that they will not seek re-election.

Previously announced retirements include Senators Colgan, Stosch, Watkins, and Puller and Delegate Ed Scott. With their exit, the General Assembly is losing over 150 years of legislating experience.

Since 2010, 57 new Delegates and 14 new Senators have been elected. If you go back to 2008, there are 63 new House members and 21 new Senate members. 

Check back later today for updates on the budget conference report and final actions on a number of bills on the House and Senate floor. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Speaker's Office issues press release on budget agreement - Final vote expected on Thursday

February 23, 2015

Contact: Matthew Moran
(804) 698-1228

House & Senate budget conferees announce conference report agreement, expect final vote on Thursday
~Includes a $129.5 million rainy-day fund pre-payment, eliminates $11.7 million in fees, funds comprehensive compensation package~

RICHMOND, VA – House and Senate budget negotiators reached an agreement on a budget conference report over the weekend and expect final votes to be held in both chambers as early as Thursday, General Assembly leaders announced today. The final budget conference report will be placed on members’ desks and posted online Tuesday morning, allowing for the 48-hour review period that House and Senate leaders established as a goal earlier this session.

The conference report includes a $129.5 million pre-payment to the state’s rainy-day fund, eliminates $11.7 million in fees proposed by Governor Terry McAuliffe and provides $153.5 million in funding for a comprehensive compensation package for state employees, state police officers, state-supported local employees, teachers and college faculty.

Speaking about the budget agreement, House Appropriations Committee Chairman S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) and Senate Finance Co-Chairman Walter A. Stosch (R-Henrico) said, “Since the end of last summer’s budget stalemate, we have sought to develop a new sense of collaboration and candor in the budget process. We worked together to adopt a supplemental budget last fall, taking unprecedented action to protect our state’s AAA bond rating during a period of deep uncertainty. We began our discussions very early in the process this year, meeting frequently with leaders in our chambers and seeking to reach agreement and consensus wherever possible. The results of these efforts could not be more positive. The budgets released by each chamber were as closely aligned as either of us can ever remember and our conferees have produced a conference report ahead of schedule. The conference report will be placed on legislators’ desks and posted online by Tuesday morning and we expect final votes to be taken as early as Thursday. It is our hope that this agreement can gain broad, bipartisan support in both chambers.”

“I applaud Chairman Jones, Chairman Stosch, Leader Cox, Leader Norment and all of the House and Senate budget conferees for their diligent efforts to complete a conference report ahead of schedule,” said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). “I especially want to thank Chairman Jones and Chairman Stosch for the leadership they have demonstrated throughout this process. They have produced a conservative, responsible spending blueprint that wisely includes a rainy-day fund pre-payment, eliminates unnecessary debt obligations and onerous fees proposed by the Governor and invests in our state police officers and teachers. The House will take up the conference report on Thursday, after the 48-hour review period I ordered earlier this session.”

Senate Majority Leader and budget conferee Thomas K. Norment (R-James City) declared, “This budget agreement demonstrates that Virginia’s Republican majority is a governing majority. Since last summer, the House and Senate under Republican leadership have ended a six-month long budget stalemate, taken decisive action to eliminate a budget shortfall and now delivered the final amendments to the current spending plan ahead of schedule. We are working efficiently and effectively, and the results speak for themselves. This is a sound spending plan that includes no new taxes on hard-working families, invests in higher education and provides well-deserved pay raises to state employees, state police officers and our teachers.”

The conference report includes a $153.5 million comprehensive compensation package, funding the state share of a 1.5% teacher pay raise, a 2% college faculty pay raise, and a 2% across-the-board pay raise and compensation adjustments for years of service and to address salary compression for state police and state employees.

“Virginia is fortunate to have thousands of committed state employees whose day-to-day work is integral to the efficient and effective operation of government,” said Senator John Watkins (R-Chesterfield). “This conference report provides them with a well-deserved pay raise and includes funding to address compression for senior employees. It is my hope that this budget shows we are just as committed to them as they are to Virginia.”

“Our state employees work tirelessly to serve their fellow citizens and too often go without the recognition or reward they deserve,” said Delegate John M. O’Bannon (R-Henrico). “Virginia is consistently recognized as one of the nation’s best managed states, no doubt due in large part to the effectiveness of our state employees. The comprehensive compensation package included in this conference report is an effort to recognize and reward them for their hard work.”

The conference report agreement funds the state share of a 1.5% teacher pay raise and deposits $193 million to the teacher retirement fund. This is the second teacher pay raise funded by the General Assembly in the last three years. The conference report also includes $42 million in additional funding for higher education, including $19.8 million to incentivize enrollment and $10.1 million for higher education.

“Supporting our teachers, strengthening our schools and making college more affordable have been central objectives of the General Assembly this year. These goals are clearly reflected in the conference report,” said House Majority Leader and budget conferee Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights). “The final budget makes significant investments in higher education, providing an additional $42 million for our colleges and universities, including $10.1 million in new financial aid funding. These efforts demonstrate our clear commitment to strengthening our education system at all levels.”

“As we have worked to reform and strengthen our public school system over the last three years, our emphasis has been ensuring student success in the classroom,” said Delegate Tag Greason (R-Loudoun). “The General Assembly recognizes that the success of our students in the classroom starts with our teachers. The 1.5% teacher pay raise included in our budget, combined with additional funding for professional development and teacher training, is part of a concerted effort to give back to the professionals who give so much to our students.”

The conference report also restores $30 million in funding to local governments cut by the supplemental budget, includes a 2% pay raise for state-supported local employees and deposits $193 million into the teacher retirement fund.

“The House and Senate worked hard to mitigate the cuts to local governments during the budget shortfall,” said House Appropriations Committee Vice-Chairman Steve Landes (R-Augusta) and Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Augusta). “We are pleased to announce today that the conference report fully restores $30 million in funding to local governments, provides state-supported local employees with a pay raise and makes a significant investment in the teacher retirement fund, which is very important to local governments. This is a responsible budget that works for local governments.”

Budget Conference Report Highlights
  • Spends ~$1 billion less in general funds than originally adopted two-year budget
  • Does not raise taxes
  • Pre-pays $129.5 million for 2017 rainy-day fund deposit, restoring balance to ~$429 million
  • Eliminates $11.7 million in fees proposed by Governor McAuliffe
    • Restaurant Inspection Fee
    • VDACS Inspection Fee
    • Weights & Measures Fee
    • Underground storage cleanup deductible
    • Saltwater License Fee
  • Eliminates $33 million in debt proposed by Governor McAuliffe
  • Provides $43 million in funding in order to accelerate funding at 90% of VRS certified rates for the state employee retirement plans.
  • Pays cash for all college capital projects
K-12 Education
  • State funding for 1.5% teacher pay raise, including support staff
  • Overall increase of $60 million for K-12 education compared to Governor McAuliffe’s budget proposal
  • Deposits an additional $43 million into teacher retirement fund compared to Governor McAuliffe’s budget proposal, bringing the total deposit to $193 million
  • Provides 2% across-the-board raise for state police and state employees, including compression for senior classified employees
  • $4 million to rollback cuts to state police overtime
  • 2% pay raise for state-supported local employees
  • 1.5% teacher pay raise, including support staff
  • 2% college faculty pay raise
  • Total compensation package is $153.5 million
Local Government
  • Restores $30 million in funding cuts adopted by the supplemental budget to address shortfall
  • 2% pay raise for state-supported local employees
  • Deposits $193 million into teacher retirement fund, saving localities over $30 million in required teacher retirement costs
Higher Education
  • Includes an additional $42 million for higher education, restoring 94% of cuts adopted by the supplemental budget to address shortfall
    • $19.8 million to incentivize enrollment
    • $10.1 million for financial aid
    • $5 million for research
  • 2% faculty pay raise
  • $1,000 per student incentive to encourage colleges and universities with low graduation rates to accept transfer students
  • $132 million for capital construction projects at James Madison, Virginia Tech, Longwood, Radford, Virginia Commonwealth University and Danville Community College.
Healthcare Safety Net
  • ­­­­$132.9 million for healthcare safety net
  • Funding to provide targeted services to ~22,000 seriously mentally-ill patients, including a prescription drug benefit
  • Nearly doubles operational funding for free clinics – total of $6 million in funding
  • Funds behavioral health community services including three new PACT teams and six new drop-off centers
  • Increases funding for children’s psychiatry and crisis services
Other Items
  • $27 million in funding for the Governor’s Opportunity Fund; earmarks $4 million for Jefferson Lab Ion Collider efforts
  • Authorizes bonds to construct two new Veterans Care Centers, one in Northern Virginia and one in Hampton Roads
  • $9 million for housing & homelessness
    • $8 million deposit into the Housing Trust Fund
    • $1 million for rapid rehousing efforts, including $500,000 specifically for veterans
# # # 

VSBA ACTION ALERT - Contact your Senators on HB2238

This morning, House Bill 2238 was reported from the Senate Finance Committee with a reenactment clause. This legislation, sponsored by Delegate LaRock, would allow parents of students with disabilities, some of whom may never have been enrolled in public schools, to receive 90% of the state SOQ per pupil funding which would be placed in a Parental Choice Education Savings Account. Those state funds could then be used by the parent to send the student to private school, for homeschooling, or to pay for certain other services for the child. There is no requirement that this state money be used to provide special education services for these children.

In HB2238, the parent signs a waiver that releases the local school division of all obligations to educate the student. Under IDEA and Section 504, the school division cannot be released from its obligation to provide a free and appropriate education. Regardless of a parent signing a waiver, local school divisions are ultimately responsible for the education of a child under federal law. Courts have held that this responsibility cannot be waived.
  • The bill also places a major administrative burden on local school divisions to collect, verify and audit receipts and invoices, submitted by the parent. School divisions are not provided and funds to perform these functions. Consequently, already limited funding will have to be used to perform these functions, which have nothing to do with the education of our students.
  • HB2238 only requires that the child has been identified as having a disability and is receiving or is eligible to receive special education services and has attended a public school for half of the school year. At that point, the parents may remove the child and apply for the funds regardless whether the child was receiving an appropriate education from the local school division. Currently, § 22.1-214 outlines a process by which a parent can dispute a program placement. If the school division is found to not have provided an appropriate education under current law, the local school division may be required to send the child to a private school to fulfill the IEP. 
  • While private school students, who are not receiving the Educational Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit cannot apply for the funds, homeschool students or students who claim religious exemption can apply by simply enrolling in a public school for half of the school year. 
  • Removing a few students from a local school division does not necessarily reduce overall operating costs, including the need for teachers, buses or other infrastructure. It simply raises the per pupil costs. 
HB2238 will be on the floor for a final vote on Wednesday. We ask that you please contact your Senator and urge them to vote NO on HB2238. You can find the contact information for your Senator here.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent action alert. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

House Education Committee update

This morning the House Education Committee held one of its final meetings of the 2015 session. The members took action on the last batch of K-12 education bills which will now go to the House floor for a vote. Below is a summary of actions taken at today’s committee meeting.

SB727 (Black) requires the Board of Education, in consultation with the SOL Innovation Committee to redesign the School Performance Report Card by July 1, 2016 so that it is more effective in communicating to parents and the public the status and achievements of the public schools and local school divisions in the Commonwealth. The bill also repeals the A-F school grading system created in the 2013 Session and amended in the 2014 Session. VSBA worked extensively with Senator Black and Delegate Greason on the substitute bill language that fully repeals the A-F school grading system and works with the Board of Education on a redesign of the School Performance Report Card. SB727 was reported with the substitute on a 21-1 vote.

SB821 (Miller) repeals the Opportunity Educational Institution. The bill reported on a 21-1 vote.

SB982 (Garrett) allows local school divisions to waive the requirements for students to receive 140 clock hours of instruction to earn a standard unit of credit upon providing satisfactory proof to the Board of Education. The bill reported on a 19-3 vote.

SB1105 (Miller) establishes the School Health Advisory Board to advise the General Assembly on health policy that affects elementary and secondary schools and students. This bill was reported and referred to the Appropriations Committee on a 17-5 vote.

SB1286 (McDougle) was reported unanimously from the committee. The bill requires each local school division to publish the annual school budget in line item form on its website. Current law does not require the published budget to be in line item form.

SB1383 (Black) prohibits a division superintendent or local school board from disclosing to the Department of Education or any other person or entity outside of the local school division information provided by a student or parent for the purpose of notifying the superintendent that the student will be receiving home instruction or for claiming a religious exemption from school attendance. The bill was reported unanimously from the committee.

Check back tomorrow for updates from the Senate Education and Health Committee where they will take action on 30 education-related bills. 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Update on HB1626

Today, the Senate took a final vote on House Bill 1626, commonly known as the Tebow bill. The bill prohibits school divisions from joining an athletic/interscholastic organization that doesn’t allow homeschool students to participate in public school athletics or interscholastic activities. In addition to the vote, Senator Garrett offered an amendment, which was accepted, that explicitly gives localities the option to allow homeschoolers to participate in interscholastic activities. The amendment, which is added to the end of the bill states, “Nothing in this section shall require a local school board to establish a policy permitting participation in interscholastic programs at its schools by students who reside in the school division receiving home instruction.” With the amendment, HB1626 passed the Senate on a 21-14 vote. Two democrat senators, Alexander and Lewis, joined most the republicans to pass the bill. Five senators did not vote on the bill including Senators Watkins, Stosch, and Norment. Senators Puller and Lucas also did not vote on the bill as they are absent for health reasons. HB1626 will now go back to the House for its approval of the amendment then onto the governor for him to sign, amend, or veto.

Thank you to all of you who called, emailed, and visited your senators. Your advocacy efforts kept the heat on the legislators and made a difference in the language of the bill. We will keep you apprised of any additional updates.