Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Virginia FOIA Council Meets

The Virginia Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Council met Tuesday, August 4, 2020 to elect a new chair and vice chair, appoint subcommittees, and to review legislation referred to the council during the 2020 session of the Virginia General Assembly. The meeting of the Council was held virtually under emergency provisions for public proceedings during the COVID-19 pandemic emergency.

Council members elected Senator Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton) Chair and Delegate Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) as Vice-Chair. 

The Council also reviewed HB321 (Levine) which was referred for review during he 2020 session of the General Assembly. Delegate Mark Levine was present and provided the Council with an overview and history of the bill. Delegate Levine explained that the legislation would allow members of public boards and commissions exemptions to attend a meeting electronically when a serious medical condition of an immediate family member exists. The legislation would permit a public body to conduct a meeting through electronic communication means if, on or before the day of a meeting, a member of the public body holding the meeting notifies the chair of the public body that he is unable to attend due to a serious medical condition of an immediate family member that prevents the member's physical attendance. The bill also limits such participation in an electronic meeting due to a personal 2 matter to either two meetings per calendar year or 10 percent of the meetings held that calendar year, rounded up to the nearest whole number, whichever is greater. 

Senator Locke thanked Delegate Levine for his presentation and informed Council members that the legislation would be reviewed further at its next meeting.

To review the agenda of the FOIA Council meeting, please click here. If you have any questions about the actions taken during this meeting, please contact VSBA Government Relations Specialist J.T. Kessler at jason@vsba.org.







State Superintendent Waives Accreditation for the 2021-2022 School Year

RICHMOND — Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane today exercised emergency authority granted to him by the 2020 General Assembly to waive annual school accreditation for the 2021-2022 academic year. Schools will be assigned a rating of “Accreditation Waived,” the same rating assigned schools for 2020-2021 under a waiver issued in April.

Accreditation ratings are based on performance during the previous school year. The statewide closure of schools in March in response to the coronavirus pandemic resulted in the cancellation of spring Standards of Learning testing. Student performance on SOL tests in English, mathematics and science are key metrics under the state Board of Education’s school accreditation standards.

Without spring 2020 SOL results, there is insufficient data for the Virginia Department of Education to calculate accreditation ratings for the 2020-2021 school year. And because year-to-year growth in English and growth in mathematics are also accreditation metrics, VDOE won’t have sufficient data to calculate ratings for 2021-2022 either, because even if students are able to take tests next spring, the department won’t have baseline data from 2019-2020 for measuring growth.  

In April, Lane appointed a task force comprising division superintendents, testing directors, educators, the vice president of the state Board of Education and representatives of education professional organizations to study the impact of the COVID-19 shutdown on the commonwealth’s school accountability system and make recommendations on accreditation determinations for 2021-2022. Waiving accreditation until there is sufficient baseline data to measure student growth was one of two options recommended by the task force.

“Waiving annual accreditation for a second year will allow our schools to focus on assessing the impact of the shut down on students, academically and on their social and emotional well-being,” Lane said. “It will also allow school divisions to make decisions about resuming in-person instruction or reverting to virtual learning that prioritize the health of students and staff, without the added pressure of the possible impact on accreditation. If tests are administered during the upcoming school year, the focus should be on evaluating the impact of the pandemic on student learning and establishing a new baseline for measuring student growth.”

The Virginia Department of Education’s Office of School Quality will continue to support schools implementing improvement plans based on their accreditation ratings for 2019-2020.


Thursday, July 30, 2020

Senate Republicans Unveil HEALS Act

Senate Republicans unveiled a new COVID-19 pandemic response plan with a total funding level of approximately $1 trillion. It addresses public education in a variety of ways. The proposed legislation includes $105 billion for education including approximately $70 billion for K-12 education. However, two-thirds of the funding is only available to districts with approved re-opening plans that must be submitted to and approved by the Governor.  Republican leaders are referring to the comprehensive legislative section focused on appropriations as the HEALS Act (Health

The legislation in its current form has significant opposition but it will be used as a starting point for negotiations with the Democrats. It is expected it will change significantly as it moves through the legislative process. However, we wanted to highlight the proposal's major education components and their potential impact on local school districts. 

Education Stabilization Fund 

The total legislative package contains $105 billion for education (K-12 and higher education combined) overall. The funds are available through September 30, 2021 and allocated as follows: 

  • $1 billion for outlying areas and the Bureau of Indian Education
  • $2 billion for governors
  • $69.6 billion for K12
  • $29.1 billion for higher education 
  • Maintenance of Effort.
  • NAEP Funds and Administration Funds

Private Education Provisions

The HEALS Act includes provisions for the school choice program that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has proposed for Education Freedom Scholarships

Homework Gap

The legislation does not address the homework gap leaving this critical issue students across the nation are facing unresolved in this current proposal. Addressing the digital divide in education is an allowable use under the funds but this will create a competitive environment with many other important programs and will not adequately resolve the issue.

Liability

The legislation includes schools in its liability coverage. State tort liability laws are essentially eliminated under the legislation for issues arising from COVID-19 and replaced with a federal cause of action in which the plaintiff must prove their case through a clear and convincing evidence standard which is a higher standard than the normal one. Plaintiffs will need to prove that the defendant was not making reasonable efforts to comply with applicable government standards and /or guidance and was engaged in gross negligence or willful misconduct.


Friday, July 10, 2020

Reopening of Schools


As promised, the Virginia School Boards Association continues to monitor the Federal and State response to the COVID-19 pandemic to keep our members informed regarding policies that may impact school divisions across the Commonwealth. Yesterday, President Trump and Secretary DeVos demanded schools reopen in the fall with full-time five day a week learning. Both have made public statements that federal funding may be withheld from schools that do not reopen.

On its own, the Administration does not have the power to simply cut funding designated for public schools that has been appropriated by Congress, but they could try and put rules in place around pieces of the COVID-19 emergency funding through the CARES Act that could restrict funds through an interim final rule. It is likely that a court challenge would ensue if these actions were taken by the Trump Administration.

VSBA is in contact with the legal advocacy and government relations team at the National School Boards Association and has been informed they are exploring the options around such a rule and the potential legal challenges. 

It should be noted that the Administration has other methods to restrict funds in any new legislation passed by Congress. They could ask Congress to tie funding levels in new legislation to whether schools reopen. The President could threaten to veto any legislation that does not have such a provision. The legislative language would likely offer a carrot and stick approach if it were included in a bill.

Similar pressure has been used by Congress in the past. One of the best examples is the National Minimum Drinking Age Act passed in 1984 that tied state drinking ages with highway funding. The legislation required states to raise their ages to 21 by October 1986 or they would lose 10% of their federal highway funds-every state complied. This history raises the possibility that there could be strings attached to a funding bill. But I think the odds of a proposal with strings like that attached to it passing Congress are not high-particularly as more outbreaks pop up and concerns by parents and others increase.

It is not likely that House Democrats would agree to these provisions and the pressure on both parties to pass additional legislation is likely going to increase as the emergency worsens.

VSBA is in frequent contact with the Virginia Congressional Delegation on matters related to COVID-19 and the challenges school divisions in the Commonwealth face as they plan for reopening. We are working with our federal and state association partners to advocate for the necessary resources and local flexibility in developing reopening plans that meet the needs of their individual communities.

Please do not hesitate to contact VSBA Government Relations Specialist, J.T. Kessler, at jason@vsba.org or 434-295-8722 if you have questions regarding the Federal and State response to school reopening. As always, VSBA will keep you informed on the latest updates from Washington and Richmond as they develop.



Tuesday, June 16, 2020

House Appropriations Receive Revenue Report

Members of the House Appropriations Committee met virtually Monday and heard from Commonwealth Secretary of Fiance, Aubrey L. Layne, Jr., regarding the May revenue report for Fiscal Year 2020. Layne told committee members that May is generally a month where Virginia sees an increase in tax collections because individual income tax is due May 1. However, with Governor Northam extending the income tax payment deadline to June 1, it will be necessary to asses the June collections to get a better picture to the close of FY 2020.

Layne added that the COVID-19 pandemic, and the economic shutdown to mitigate the spread of the virus, did negatively impact the final months of the fiscal year. He added that revenue collections will be less than $billion below the official forecast made to lawmakers earlier in the fiscal year.

Highlights from Secretary Layne's report include:

Net Individual Income Tax (70% of general fund revenues):  Through May, collections of net individual income tax fell 3.6 percent from the same period last year, trailing the annual estimate of 1.3 percent growth.  Performance in each component of individual income tax is as follows: 

Individual Income Tax Withholding (62% of general fund revenues):  Collections of payroll withholding taxes fell 13.0 percent in May.  Two fewer deposit days accounted for a large part of the decline; however, there was a broad-based decrease in the number of firms paying.  Tax withholding collections decreased 4.4 percent during April and May combined.  Year-to-date, collections have grown 3.1 percent, trailing the annual estimate of 4.7 percent growth.   

Individual Income Tax Nonwithholding (17% of general fund revenues):  May is typically a significant month for collections in this source, with final payments for tax year 2019 and the first estimated payment for tax year 2020 both due at the beginning of May.  This year, the payment date has been extended to June 1, so it is unclear how many payments have been delayed.   

Collections in nonwithholding were $500.1 million compared with $764.9 million in May of last year, a decline of 34.6 percent.  This decline was anticipated and consistent with our projections.  Year-to-date, collections fell by 22.6 percent, trailing the annual estimate of a 4.3 percent decline.   

Individual Income Tax Refunds:  The Department of Taxation issued $182.0 million in refunds in May, compared with $144.6 million in May of last year, an increase of 25.9 percent.  For the filing season, TAX has issued 2.3 million refunds, about the same number as last year.  On a fiscal year basis, TAX has issued $1,695.9 million in refunds through May compared with $1,643.4 million through the same period last year. 

Sales Tax (18% of general fund revenues):  Collections of sales and use taxes, reflecting April sales, fell 12.5 percent in May.  The month represents a full month of reduction in sales due to numerous store closings during the COVID-19 pandemic.  On a year-to-date basis, collections of sales and use taxes have risen 5.4 percent, trailing the annual estimate of 7.4 percent growth.   

Corporate Income Tax (5% of general fund revenues):  May is not typically a significant month for collections in this source, as final or extension payments are mainly due only from retailers who usually have a January 31 close to their fiscal year.  Such payments vary significantly from year to year.  Collections of corporate income taxes were $47.2 million in May, compared with receipts of $2.5 million in May of last year.  The main reason for the increase is that last year contained about $25 million in prior tax year refunds.  

To view the full report from Secretary Layne, please click here.

Friday, June 12, 2020

United States Senate HELP Committee Discusses School Reopening

The Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee heard from education leaders from around the country during a hearing to discuss plans to safely reopen schools on Wednesday, June 10, 2020. The hearing was conducted at a time the Senate is weighing how best to grapple with the continued effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on state and local budgets due to the economic shutdown. 

Last month, the United States House of Representatives passed the $3 trillion HEROES Act that included funds to assist state and local governments with their budgets. The Senate has yet to take up debate on the HEROES Act and according to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, the bill will not see any action until after Congress' July 4th recess.

Education leaders informed the Senate committee of the challenges they anticipate once they resume in-person classes. Senators were provided with information outlining the significant budget impact that reopening will have on school divisions. With deep budget cuts in state and local government programs, schools are grappling with reopening schools without the necessary resources to properly transition back to in-person instruction. Many districts are facing decisions regarding furloughs of employees and how best to provide services to students.

AASA, the School Superintendents Association, released estimates that districts would incur nearly $1.8 million in costs to meet federal health guidelines, from $640 for no-touch thermometers to $448,000 for additional custodial staff; that is just for an average school district of about 3,700 students. Additionally, the American Federation of Teachers on Wednesday released a cost analysis estimating that schools would need $116.5 billion for instructional staff, distance learning, before- and after-school care and transportation, while the National Education Association estimated that without federal relief, schools would lose 1.9 million education jobs.

If you have any questions about the topics discussed during the Senate hearing, please contact VSBA Government Relations Specialist, J.T. Kessler, at jason@vsba.org. To view the entire hearing, click here.


Thursday, June 11, 2020

May Revenue Numbers Released

General Fund revenue collections fell 20.6 percent in May, according to information released by the office of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. This number was slightly better than expected. This is primarily due to delaying the individual tax due date to June 1, and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on payroll withholding and retail sales. 

May is typically a significant month for revenue collections. In addition to regular collections of withholding and sales taxes, estimated and final payments for individuals were due May 1. This year, the Governor authorized any individual and corporate income tax payments due between April 1, 2020 and June 1, 2020 to be due on June 1, 2020. The extension applies to final payments and extension payments for taxable year 2019, and the first estimated payment for taxable year 2020. Therefore, June receipts will be required to properly assess total fiscal year revenues.

On a fiscal year-to-date basis, total revenue collections have declined by 1.2 percent, trailing the annual forecast of 3.1 percent growth. To attain the current official revenue forecast, June collections must be $3.3 billion, compared with $2.4 billion collected in June of last year.

Collections of payroll withholding taxes fell 13.0 percent in May. Collections of sales and use taxes, reflecting April sales, fell 12.5 percent in May. The month represents a full month of reduction in sales due to numerous store closings during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

On a year-to-date basis, collections of payroll withholding taxes—62 percent of General Fund revenues—increased 3.1 percent, trailing the annual forecast of 4.7 percent growth. Sales tax collections advanced 5.4 percent on a fiscal year-to-date basis, also trailing the annual forecast of 7.4 percent growth. On a fiscal year-to-date basis, total revenue collections fell 1.2 percent in May behind the annual forecast of 3.1 percent growth. Collections in June must total $3.3 billion to attain the forecast. Collections in June of last year were $2.4 billion, and June collections are anticipated to be greater than the previous year due to delayed tax payments due June 1.

The full report is available here