Monday, January 31, 2011

Updates from Monday at the GA

There is a lot going on at the GA as we approach cross-over next week.  Here is a quick look at what happened on Monday:

Del. Dickie Bell’s bill (HB 1435) to require school boards and Virginia colleges and universities to give foreign language credit for American Sign Language courses was reported out of the House Committee on Education on an 18 to 1 vote. 

Del. Cleaveland’s school opening bill (HB 1483), which permits a waiver to the post-Labor Day opening requirement for a school division that is completely surrounded by school divisions that open prior to Labor Day, was reported by the House Education Committee on a vote of 13 to 8.

HB 1493 (Del. Greason) mandates that the Board of Education require that every career and technical education program for which there is a national or industry certification (automotive, culinary, and printing) be certified.  The bill was amended in committee to make the effective date July 1, 2012.  According to testimony from the bill’s supporters, only about 40 of the approximately 120 automotive CTE programs in the state currently carry the industry certification.  While we applaud those programs that obtain national or industry certification, we fear that the requirement imposed by this bill, particularly in the current budget climate, will lead to the closing of many CTE programs.  The bill was reported by the House Education Committee.

Del. Kory’s HB 1548, which, as amended, requires school principals to notify a student’s parents of policy violations that are likely to lead to a suspension, was reported  by the House Education Committee.

SB 810 (Sen. Obenshain) would delay the implementation of certain Standards of Accreditation.  We supported this bill as originally drafted.  The patron offered an amendment which exempted the implementation of financial responsibility (so that the SOAs related to financial literacy would have to be implemented beginning July 1, 2011).  The Public Education Subcommittee of the Senate Education and Health Committee adopted the proposed amendment.  We, along with many others, expressed our opposition to this amendment.  While we believe that the financial literacy curriculum is important, we cannot support the implementation of this curriculum until the necessary funding is available.  The subcommittee reversed its decision on the amendment and the recommended the bill as it was originally drafted for reporting. 

Sen. Barker introduced a bill (SB 1031) to allow school boards to carry over unexpended funds from one fiscal  year to the next.  This bill was opposed by VACO.  We, along with VASS, VEA, and others, supported this bill.  The bill was recommended for reporting by the subcommittee.  


Sunday, January 30, 2011

Important Bills Coming Up This Week - Physical Education, Vouchers, and Paraprofessional Training

Two significant physical education bills are winding their way through their respective houses of introduction, HB 1644 (Del. O'Bannon) and SB 966 (Sen. Northam).  Both would require school boards to provide 150 minutes a week of physical education (not health) to every elementary and middle school student.  Advocates for the bills argue that this should not cause a problem because if we do not have enough physical education teachers, we can use regular classroom teachers to provide the phys ed.   You and your superintendent need to determine whether your school system can comply with this requirement should it pass.  In discussing it, please remember that we only get funding for 1 resource teacher per 1,000 elementary school students and no funding for resource teachers in middle school.  Phys ed teachers are considered resource teachers, along with music, art, foreign language and library personnel.  Complying with this requirement may mean the demise of your resource teachers and the subjects they teach.  You might also consider how you will provide elementary teachers with the state mandated 30 minute planning time per day.  When the mandate was passed it was argued that the teachers could do their planning when the resource teachers to the class.  Something has to give.

Among the significant bills we expect to come up this week are Delegate Jimmie Massie's school voucher bill (HB 2314) and his bill requiring 80 hours of training for paraprofessionals (aides) who work with students with autism (HB 1720).  Both bills are being touted as having no fiscal impact. The voucher bill will draw tax revenues away from the general fund of the state budget.  The school systems will have to pick up the tab for the aide training. Even if the courses are made available for free, which is not free from doubt, we still must pay for substitutes for the aides while they take the courses or pay the aides overtime for taking the courses.  This is no free lunch.

Highlights from the Second Full Week of the General Assembly Session

We are now 19 days into the 45-day session.  Things really heated up this past week at the GA as we count down to crossover on February 8.  Below are highlights on some of the most important bills we are following this session.      

House Education Committee and Subcommittees
HB 2525 (Dels. Keam and Hugo) was passed by indefinitely by the Teachers and Administrative Action subcommittee of the House Education Committee on Thursday. HB 2525 was identical to SB 840 which was killed in the Senate Education and Health Committee last week. Both bills, which we opposed, would have greatly expanded the ability of parents, including parents of children who do not attend the public schools, to bring court actions to challenge school board decisions.
Three generally applicable school opening bills, HB 1433 (Del. Greason), HB 1543 (Del. Kory), and HB 2008 (LeMunyon) were considered by the Teachers and Administrative Action subcommittee on Thursday. All three bills failed. Two more specific school opening bills, HB 1480 (Del. Cleaveland) and HB 1537 (Del. Merricks), each relating to a particular school division or divisions, also failed. HB 1483 (Del. Cleaveland), however, which grants an automatic waiver for any school division that is entirely surrounded by school divisions that have been granted a waiver to open prior to Labor Day, was recommended for reporting by the subcommittee. All of the school opening bills were fiercely opposed by the tourism and hospitality industries.
A bill that would have allowed school divisions to substitute "supervised instructional time" for recess in order to make up for days instruction time to inclement weather (HB 2241 - Del. Torian) also failed in subcommittee.
HB 1548 (Del. Kory) was amended in subcommittee. The bill, as amended, would require school principals to notify the parents of a student who violates school board policy if the violation is "likely" to result in suspension or the filing of a compulsory attendance petition. (Before the amendments, the bill would have required parental notification every time a violation was entered on a student's scholastic record.) The bill, as amended, was recommended for reporting by the Students and Day Care subcommittee.
Del. Englin's HB 1575 on bullying was tabled by the subcommittee so that the issues could be studied. HJ 625 (Del. R. B. Bell), a study resolution regarding antibullying, was recommended for reporting by the House Rules subcommittee on studies.
HB 1550 (Del. Englin), which would have required textbook publishers to be certified by the Board of Education, was passed by in the full House Education Committee.
HB 2077 (Del. Landes) would amend the Code sections regarding secure testing to make it a violation of test security to exclude from testing students who are required to be assessed. Currently, test security violations include allowing unauthorized access to the tests, copying or disclosing the contents of the tests, altering the tests or responses, making an answer key, or making a false certification regarding test security. These violations could result in, among other things, civil penalties up to $1,000 per violation. The bill was amended to make clear that students enrolled in the public schools could not be subject to civil penalties.

Senate Education and Health Committee

SB 1320 (Sen. Obenshain) regarding charter school employees was passed by indefinitely by the Senate Committee on Education and Health.  See our post here for more about this bill.

SB 946 (Sen. Howell) regarding video monitoring systems for school buses was reported by Senate Committee on Education and Health.  See our post here for more about this bill.  

SB 967 (Sen. Northam) requires every school division to implement a family life education curriculum.  Under current law, school boards may, but are not required to, teach Family Life.  This bill would take that choice away from local school boards.  We will continue to oppose this bill.

House Courts of Justice 

In its original form, HB 1775 (Del. Gilbert) would have required schools to inquire about the immigration status of students’ parents and then report that information to the Secretary of Education.  The Secretary would then report annually to the Governor and General Assembly the number of students whose parents were not citizens or lawful residents and the approximate cost of educating those students.  The Immigration Subcommittee of the House Committee on Courts of Justice adopted an amendment in the nature of a substitute which substantially changed the bill.  The bill, as amended, requires school boards to report to the Board of Education the number of students enrolled in ESL courses and the number of students who were enrolled without birth certificates.  The bill, as amended, was recommended for reporting by the subcommittee.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Updates from the House Education Committee and the Senate Public Education Subcommittee

As expected, HB 1720 (Del. Massie), which requires school boards, among other things, to provide 80 hours of training for aides assigned to teachers of students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, was reported out of the House Education Committee and referred to the House Appropriations Committee today. We will continue to oppose this bill.

HB 2395 (Del. Rob Bell), which would have required the VHSL to permit home schooled students who meet certain requirements to participate in interscholastic athletics, was passed by indefinitely in the House Education Committee today. The Committee referred the issue for study by a special subcommittee to be composed of members of the House Education and the Senate Education and Health Committees. The Senate Committee must still agree to have its members participate in the study.

SB 1320 (Sen. Obenshain) would have, among other things, allowed charter schools to employ unlicensed teachers. Under this bill, up to 25% of charter elementary school teachers and up to 50% of charter middle and high school teachers, could be unlicensed. We opposed this bill. The Public Education Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Education and Health voted to recommend to the full Committee that SB 1320 be passed by indefinitely. 

SB 946 (Sen. Howell) was reported out of the Public Education Subcommittee today. This bill allows school divisions to utilize video monitoring systems on school buses to detect drivers passing stopped school buses. This bill is permissive only. It does not require school divisions to use this new technology.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Highlights After the First Full Week of the GA Session

We are a week and a half - or twelve days - into the 45 day General Assembly Session.  We are following nearly 200 education related bills.  Below we have highlighted the status of several important bills that were acted upon this week.   
65% Solution – HB 1416 (Del. Loupassi) was narrowly passed by the House Friday on a vote of 48Y-46N.  The bill is identical to one that passed the House last year by a vote of 63Y-35N.  The bill would require school boards to allocate at least 65% of their operating budget to “instructional spending” and it would require the Board of Education to define what constitutes "instructional spending."  We will continue to oppose the bill in the Senate, where it was killed last year.     
Judicial review of school board actions – We reported earlier in the week that SB 840, which would greatly expand the ability of parents (even parents of children who do not attend the public schools) to bring court actions to challenge school board decisions, was not reported out of subcommittee.  The bill was killed by the full Senate Education and Health Committee on Thursday.  Interestingly, an identical bill was introduced in the House on Friday (HB 2525) by Dels. Keam and Hugo.  We will oppose the House bill just as we opposed the Senate bill. 
Failing to Stop at a School Bus – HB 1469 (Del. Surovell) was incorporated into HB 2043 (del. Anderson).  Both bills correct the unintentional removal of an operative word from the Code that caused some courts to dismiss charges for passing stopped school buses.  See our blog post on this topic here.  It may soon be unlawful in Virginia to pass a stopped school bus! 
Two bills introduced by Del. Kory, HB 1548 and HB 1583, were stricken at her request.  HB 1548 would have required principals to notify a student’s parents of every violation of school board policy entered in the student’s scholastic record.  HB 1583 would have required the Board of Education to make available the nutritional content of all food served in school breakfast and lunch programs.   
Required Training for Teachers and Aides Working with Students with Autism Spectrum Disorders - HB 1720 (Del. Massie) would require teachers who have primary responsibility for working with students with autism spectrum disorders to demonstrate proficiency in student behavior management.  In addition, the bill would require school divisions to provide 80 hours of training in student behavior management to any aide assigned to work with a teacher who has primary responsibility for students with an autism spectrum disorder.  This bill was reported out of the Teachers and Administrative Action Subcommittee of the House Education Committee with a recommendation that it be referred to the House Appropriations Committee.  A similar bill was reported out of the House Education Committee last year and was defeated in the House Appropriations Committee. 
Statewide Uniform Grading Policy – HB 2044 (Del. Anderson) would require the Board of Education to establish a statewide uniform grading policy.  The Students and Daycare Subcommittee of the House Education Committee recommended that the bill be passed by with a letter recommended that a study be conducted by the Board of Education. 
Fees for AP and IB Tests – HB 2082 (Del. Kory) would prohibit school boards from charging a fee for AP or IB tests, if such tests are required for academic credit.  The bill was passed by indefinitely by the subcommittee. 

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Two Virtual Charter School Bills Stricken and Other News from the GA

Two of the three virtual charter school bills (HB1680 and HB2313) introduced in the House as of today were stricken from the docket at the request of the patron, Delegate Dickie Bell.  We appreciate Delegate Bell’s willingness to listen and be responsive to our concerns with these bills.
Also of note today, the House Committee on Education voted to report Delegate Bell’s HB1885 which deletes references in the Code of Virginia to educational programs that either were never funded or do not exist and to bring other sections of the Code into sync with current practices.  Among those changes are changing references to “electronic classroom” in the Code to “Virtual Virginia” and also allowing school divisions to post proposed and approved budgets on their Web sites rather than in hard-copy, except upon request.   
Lastly, VSBA, PTA, VEA, VASS, VML and VACO held a joint press conference today to decry the lack of any mention of K-12 education in the Governor’s State of the Commonwealth address and the fact that K-12 education is not a priority for the Governor.  VSBA was ably represented at the press conference by our president, Jeff Bain, who made it clear that the association is opposed to the voucher legislation and the so-called pay for performance plan supported by the Governor.   

Monday, January 17, 2011

Judicial Review of School Board Action – Bill Not Reported out of Subcommittee

SB 840 (Sen. Petersen) was considered today by the Public Education Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Education and Health.  This bill would amend Va. Code § 22.1-87 (which provides for judicial review of school board actions) to allow the parent of any school-aged child eligible to attend a school directly affected by an action of a school board to challenge such school board action.  The bill was intended to allow parents to file a court action to challenge school closings but, as written, would also allow parents of children who do not even attend the public schools (i.e. private school or home schooled students) to challenge decisions of the school board.  The bill would also allow challenges to nearly every decision of a school board – from assigning principals and teachers to particular schools to setting class schedules and lunch menus.  We opposed this bill on these and other grounds.  There was no motion to report the bill out of the subcommittee.  Unlike the House, however, in the Senate the full Committee may still consider and act upon the bill.        

65% Solution – Bill Reported out of House Education Committee

You may recall that last year, a version of the “65% solution” was passed by the House and then killed in the Senate.  That same bill was reintroduced this year by Del. Loupassi as HB 1416.  The bill requires school boards to allocate at least 65% of their operating budget to “instructional spending” and requires the Board of Education to define that term.  We opposed this bill, however, it was reported out of the House Committee today by a vote of 11 to 9.  (Last year the Committee’s vote was 13 to 8 in favor of the bill.) We will continue to oppose this bill.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

And they're off!

The 2011 session of the Virginia General Assembly began at noon today.  A couple things of particular interest to us occurred today.  First, Del. Roxann L. Robinson was appointed to the House Education Committee.  Then, in its first meeting of the session, the House Appropriations Committee received a budget briefing from committee staff.  Click here to see a copy of the presentation. 

The bills continued to pour in today as legislators return to Richmond.  Over the next few days, we will continue to highlight some important bills that we will be following this session.


Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Budget Briefing to the Education Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee

At its meeting today, the Education Subcommittee of the Senate Finance Committee received a briefing by staff on the Governor's proposed budget amendments for public education.  You can view the presentation here.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bullies and Bus Stops – More Highlights from Prefiled Bills

Two bills related to bullying have been introduced. The first, HB 1575 (Dels. Englin and Ebbin) provides a detailed definition of bullying, harassment, and intimidation and requires training for all instructional personnel on bullying, harassment, and intimidation prevention. It also requires that the bullying, harassment, or intimidation of any student be reported to the division superintendent and it requires that school boards include in the code of student conduct procedures to separate the perpetrator (i.e. bully) from the victim in a way that does not punish the victim. The second bill, HB 1576, also introduced by Delegates Englin and Ebbin, makes certain acts of bullying (defined more narrowly than HB 1575) a crime. The definition of bullying in this bill specifically includes bullying through the use of "information or communication technology," also know as cyberbullying.

Virginia Code § 18.2-370.5 prohibits violent sex offenders from, among other things, being on school property during school hours or during school-related and school-sponsored activities. A bill has been introduced (HB 1523 - Del. Landes) to extend that prohibition to any property, public or private, that is being used solely for a school-related or school-sponsored activity and to school bus stops, when children are waiting to be picked up or are being dropped off. Speaking of school bus stops, another bill has been introduced (HB 1596 – Del. Iaquinto) to extend "gang free zones" to include school bus stops during the time that students are waiting to be picked up or are being dropped off. The bill also adds public parks, libraries and hospitals to the list of "gang free zones." Similar legislation that also included community centers and recreation centers was introduced last year. (HB 682) That bill ultimately passed (Ch. 346), but not before it was amended to remove school bus stops, parks, parks, libraries, and hospitals from the list of gang free zones.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Grant's Tomb and Stopped School Buses - Highlights from Prefiled Bills

The 2011 session of the General Assembly is right around the corner. Proposed legislation is streaming in and we have identified a number of bills that we will be following this session. Over the next few days, we will highlight just a few of the education related bills that you will be hearing about during this year's session.

Everyone is familiar with the fiasco of the mistake-riddled history texts approved by the State Board of Education and used by a number of our school divisions. It should not come as a surprise, therefore, for you to hear that a bill has been introduced (HB 1550 - Delegate Englin) to, among other things, require publishers to employ content experts to review the textbooks, to list the experts who reviewed the textbooks and to pay for correcting any mistakes that may appear in the textbooks. This bill will afford welcome relief to our school systems that have come to rely on the current State Board approval process to ensure accurate textbooks. Now if we could just get the publishers to figure out when the war of 1812 began and who is buried in Grant's tomb!

You may have also heard about the Fairfax man who recently beat a charge of reckless driving for passing a stopped school bus. Currently, Va. Code § 46.2-859 says "A person is guilty of reckless driving who fails to stop, when approaching from any direction, any school bus which is stopped on any highway, private road or school driveway for the purpose of taking on or discharging children." The Fairfax man's attorney pointed out to the judge that when this code section was amended in 1970, the word "at," which originally appeared after the word "stop," was apparently inadvertently dropped from the statute. Thus, the attorney argued, the statute only applies to a person who fails to stop a school bus. The judge agreed with the attorney’s interpretation. Not surprisingly, a bill has been introduced (HB1469 - Dels. Surovell, Bulova, Kory, Sen. Petersen) to insert the word "at" at the appropriate place in the statute and to clarify that the statute applies to "[t]he driver of a motor vehicle." Remember this: while it is not currently unlawful (at least in one judge’s opinion) to pass a stopped school bus in Virginia, we do not recommend that you try it!

Remember to check back often over the next few days as we will be highlighting some of the other bills that we will be following this session.