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.