Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tax Credits

Today the Senate approved the House tax credits bill (Delegate Massie), after conforming it to the Senate version (Senate Stanley) on a vote of 21-20. The vote of the members of the Senate was evenly divided 20-20 and Lt. Governor Bolling cast the deciding vote in favor of the bill. Unfortunately, tax credits for donations for scholarships for students to attend private schools will become a reality.

Budget Update

The House adopted its budget last week. The Senate rejected its budget and voted today to reject the House's budget. Consequently, we have no budget at this time. Regardless, you can access a comparison of the budget adopted by the House and the budget reported by the Senate Finance Committee, but rejected on the floor of the Senate, by clicking here and here. We think these comparisons will be helpful to you at some time before July 1. House Bill 29 is the so-called caboose bill amending the budget for the current biennium. House Bill 30 is the budget for the 2012-2014 biennium.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Some Good New and Some Bad News

The last several days have been a mixed bag at the General Assembly. Today the House Finance Committee reported the Senate tax credit bill by a vote of 12 to 8. It will take a major miracle for this bill not to pass the House. Unlike Delegate Massie's tax credit bill which has passed the House, the Senate tax credit bill sponsored by Senator Stanley has a lower threshold for students who qualify for a scholarship, 200% of poverty versus 300% in the House bill. The Senate bill also includes special education students in addition to low income students. The Senate bill allows individuals as well as corporations to get the tax credit. Lastly, the Senate bill allows $25 million in tax credits versus $10 million in the House version. The House version is before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday morning. We would not be surprised if the committee amended the House bill to make it identical to the Senate version.

Both houses of the General Assembly have passed their own versions of a bill amending the charter school law. While we are far from happy with the final product, we were able to get both bills amended to make them less objectionable. The bills as introduced would have required a school board to let a charter school use or purchase any vacant or unused buildings or land owned by the school board. The revised bills now make the use or purchase property a matter of negotiation between the school board and charter school. However, both of the bills still have a requirement that the charter school receive 90% of the per pupil local and state SOQ funding. The Secretary of Education testified that all charter schools in Virginia receive more than 90%. It is entirely possible, therefore, that 90% will become both the floor and the ceiling of charter school funding. The charter school bills are in conference so we are still at risk that additional harmful provisions can still be inserted into the final version.

We are still working hard on the bills relating to the funding of full-time virtual school funding. As originally drafted the bills would have required a school system that does not contract with a vendor to provide a virtual school program to send the state and local SOQ funds up to $6500 to another school division that provides a virtual school education to one of its students. We are happy to report these bills are undergoing substantial revisions that lessen the effect of these bills. However, these bills are still alive in some form and these can change at any time.

On the good news front, a much needed bill is receiving favorable treatment in the General Assembly. A bill sponsored by Delegate Bulova provides that student records can be self-authenicated by school personnel. I know what you are thinking - what does this have to do with the price of eggs. Ask any of your principals about how much time is lost because a school employee has to sit in the court house waiting to be called just to testify that the copies of the student records which have already been turned over to the attorneys, normally in a custody case, are true and correct copies of the originals. This bill will eliminate the need for a school board employee to go to court to authenicate records.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Strange Days at the GA

This is a strange time in the General Assembly.  A time when a bill that has been sailing through the General Assembly with little or no opposition is killed in committee or on the floor.  Killing the bill normally has nothing to do with the merits, but is caused by a totally unrelated issue.  While this strange time occurs each session to a lesser or greater extent, this year may be particularly bad.  There are several issues that are causing straight party-line votes.  For example the "personhood" bill and the bill that would require ultrasounds before an abortion, to name just two.  These party-line votes will probably increase in the next few days because of the stalemate in the Senate over the budget.  The Lt. Governor cannot break a tie vote on the budget and it takes 21 votes to pass the budget.  The Democrats are threatening to vote as a block against the budget unless the Republicans agree to some power sharing arrangement.  The Democrats position on the budget and the redistricting of Senate districts by the Democrat controlled Senate last year have the Republicans smarting.  Therefore, we are seeing a lot of party-line votes that are either passing or killing bills that normally would have bipartisan support or opposition.

This phenomenon was exhibited today during the Senate Education and Health Committee meeting.  A number of bills were passed by the bare minimum of 8 (Republican) yeas against 7 (Democratic) neas.  The House version of the Governor's teacher contracts bill was one such example.  Just a few days ago the Senate defeated the Senate version of the bill on the floor by a vote of 20 (Democrats) to 18 (Republicans).  Had two Republicans voted for the bill, the tie would have been broken by the Lt. Governor (in favor of passage).  The two Republicans who abstained from voting may have done so for strategic reasons.  Regardless, in light of the budget impasse, it is likely that the contracts bill will become a caucus issue for both parties, resulting in the bill's passage by the tie-breaking vote of the Lt. Governor.  

Tensions are running high in the Senate, so it behooves all of us to stay tuned to the Senate floor debates.
Repeal of the Labor Day law and the bill that would allow home-schoolers to play high school athletics are both on the docket for the last regularly scheduled meeting of Senate Education and Health next Thursday.  The fate of the Labor Day bill is really in doubt.  Therefore, every superintendent and school board member needs to call or write his or her Senator expressing support for the bill. 

The two versions of the budget would give school boards approximately the same amount of additional money, but from different sources.  Consequently, it is conceivable that we could get even more money if the budget goes to conference.  (This assumes that the Senate will adopt a budget.  See above.)  There are at least a couple of notable differences in each budget.  The Senate gives some money for cost of competing in the first year of the biennium, while the House budget gives money for inflation in SOQ personnel costs.  The House budget also adopts a higher assumed rate of return for VRS which has the effect of reducing the contribution rate by 1%, 10% versus 11%.  This will reduce the VRS contribution by school boards by approximately $80 million.  The House budget is being debated on the floor today and more will follow.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Budget Update

Today the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee presented their respective budgets.  Click here to read about the proposed House budget amendments.  Click here to read about the Senate budget amendments.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Each house must finish work on its own bills by Tuesday of next week, except the Budget Bill. This is the so-called "crossover." Therefore, this past week was rather hectic and many important education bills were acted on in committee and on the floor.

The Governor's Charter School Bills (HB 1173 - Lingamfelter and SB 440 - Obenshain) are making their way, in slightly different forms, through both houses. While VSBA was successful in getting the bills amended to make them a little less objectionable, they still contain the requirement that a school board give the charter school 90% of the school board's state and local SOQ funding. This was touted by the administration as a "best practice" without any evidence to back it up and despite the testimony of the Secretary of Education that existing charter schools in the state receive in excess of 90%. At present, the amount of funding is negotiated between the school board and the charter school.

Another set of Governor's bills relate to the funding of Virtual Schools. The bill introduced in the House of Delegates (HB 1272 - Dickie Bell) was recommended to be "laid on the table" by a House Appropriations' subcommittee. This is a polite way of killing a bill. The subcommittee also recommended that the language in a competing bill (HB 696 - Filler Corn) be incorporated in the budget. That bill provides that if a resident student enrolls in a virtual school in another school division, state funding will be based on the local composite index of the school division in which the student resides. The bill is intended to rectify what the administration has called a $500,000 over-funding by the state. The other virtual school bill sponsored by the Governor (SB 598 - Newman) has gone through many redrafts, each one worse for school boards than the previous one. The latest redraft would require a school board that has not contracted with an online vendor to have a virtual school to send its state and local SOQ funding to the school division offering the virtual school program. This is a blatant attempt to force school boards to contract with an online vendor or send its money to a school board that does contract with an online vendor. To make matters worse, the revised bill contains language guaranteeing that the $500,000 over-funding of virtual schools will remain in place. We expect this bill to be further amended before it leaves the Senate. We have tried to point out to the Senate that having a bill like this is like putting the cart before the horse. The state has not determined what constitutes a basic virtual school program and the staffing standards that should be applicable to such a program. Based on the testimony of online vendors in favor of this legislation, it would appear that the Senate bill as drafted is intended to benefit those vendors at the expense of localities that either do not presently see a need for a virtual school or have put together their own school with their own employees.

The Governor's teacher/principal contract bills (HB 576 - Dickie Bell and SB 438 - Obenshain) narrowly made it out of their respective committees, but they are expected to pass despite staunch opposition from the VEA and other groups. The bills as originally introduced would have shortened the probationary period for all teachers and principals and would have abolished continuing contracts for all current and future teachers and principals and replaced them with annual contracts. VSBA was instrumental in redrafting the bill so that it, among other things, lengthens the probationary period from 3 to 5 years (to which there is no objection), maintains continuing contract for those who have it at the time the bill becomes effective, and provides for 3-year term contracts for those who are in a probationary status when the bill becomes effective. We suspect that there may be further attempts to amend the bill as they wind their way through the other house.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Charter School Bill Before Senate - Contact Your Senator TODAY

Contact your Senator TODAY and urge him or her to vote against SB 440. This bill would require, among other things, public school boards to give charter schools at least 90% of the state and local share of the Standards of Quality per pupil funding.

The General Assembly has never required that a set percentage or amount of funding be sent by a school board to any other type of school, including Governor’s schools and other regional programs. Charter schools should be treated no differently.

In testimony before the House Education Committee, the Secretary of Education stated that currently charter schools in Virginia receive in excess of 90% of state and local per pupil funding. It would appear that SB 440 is intended to fix a problem that does not exist. If passed, SB 440 may well cause a problem in that 90% will become not only the floor but also the ceiling for charter school funding.

Under the current law, the amount of funding provided to a charter school is a matter of negotiation between the school board and the charter school. Those negotiations take into account many factors that may impact funding, such as whether the school board will provide transportation for charter school students, the programs offered at the charter school, and the make-up of the student body at the charter school.
Ninety percent of per pupil funding is an arbitrary figure that bears no relation to the actual costs of operating a charter school. Indeed, the cost of operating a charter school, or any other school, depends upon many variable factors, including the student population, the programs offered, and the facilities used. One charter school may need more than 90 % of state and local per pupil funds while another charter school may need less funding to operate efficiently. Further, there is no evidence to support 90% funding or funding of any particular percentage.

In addition, many charter schools have access to additional types of funding not available to regular public schools. Requiring school boards to give an arbitrary amount of funding to charter schools without regard to the needs of the particular charter school or other funding available to the charter school is not good policy.

Ask you Senator to vote NO on SB 440.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Labor Day Bill Passed by House

The House voted 76Y-23N to pass HB 1063 (Tata) to repeal the King's Dominion law and allow local school boards to determine when to start the school year. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Update on the Labor Day Bill

HB 1063 (Tata), which would repeal the King's Dominion law and allow school boards to determine when to start school, was debated on the floor of the House today on second reading.  After a long debate, Del. Bob Marshall attempted to amend the bill to include a provision that would have required the Secretary of Finance to report to the General Assembly on the impact of the bill on the revenue of the Commonwealth.  The amendment was defeated and the bill was engrossed and passed on to third reading.  The bill should be voted on by the House tomorrow. 

Continue to urge your Delegates to support HB1063!