Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Update on School Takeover Amendment

As we told you  here, Del Habeeb's school takeover constitutional amendment was amended last week to be far broader - allowing for the takeover of any school accredited with warning.  We asked you to contact your Senators to oppose this constitutional amendment and your efforts paid off!  HJ693 was re-referred from the floor of the Senate to the Privileges and Elections committee, where it is expected to die quietly (because that committee will not meet again before the end of the session).   

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

School Takeover Constitutional Amendment Amended and Reported by Senate Committee

Delegate Habeeb's HJ693 is a constitutional amendment that gives the General Assembly the authority to establish a statewide school division to take over failing schools.  This constitutional amendment is a Governor's bill and is an apparent recognition that the Governor's school takeover bills (HB2096 and SB1324) are unconstitutional. 

HJ693 was amended by the Senate Courts of Justice Committee today.  The original bill allowed the General Assembly to establish a statewide school division for the takeover of schools that have been denied accreditation for a number of consecutive school years. 

Delegate Habeeb appeared to realize today that his takeover bill, HB2096, was broader that his constitutional amendment (because the bill requires takeover when a school is denied accreditation for the first year and permits a takeover when a school has been accredited with warning for three years).  He offered an amendment to HJ693 that would allow the takeover of any school that is denied accreditation or accredited with warning, without any requirement that the school be accredited with warning for multiple years.  Under this amendment, the number of schools that could be taken over by the state increases dramatically. 

We strenuously opposed HJ693 and the amendment to it.  The Committee adopted the amendment on a 8-7 party line vote and the reported the bill on the same vote.   


Monday, February 11, 2013

Update from Senate Subcommittee on Public Education

The Public Education Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Education and Health took up HB 1926, a bill introduced by Delegate Morris which would have abolished the school board selection commission in the three counties still using that process to name school board members.  The subcommittee was made aware that just this past year a referendum held in Richmond County to change the method of appointing school board members failed with 68% of the vote supporting the school board selection commission.  The subcommittee first adopted a substitute carving Accomack and Richmond Counties from the bill and leaving only Southampton County, which Delegate Morris represents, in the bill.  However, after excellent testimony from the Superintendent and School Board Chairman from Southampton, the subcommittee refused to recommend that the bill be reported by the full committee.  The bill will come before the full committee on Thursday, where we hope it will die.  

Educator Fairness Act Advances

This morning the House Education Committee considered the Senate version of the Educator Fairness Act (SB1223) which is identical to the HB2151.  A teacher’s union based in Northern Virginia asked the House committee to amend the bill, which it refused to do.  The committee then voted to report the Senate bill to the full House of Delegates.  Later in the day the full Senate took up the House version of the Teacher Fairness Act.  There was an attempt on the floor to amend the bill.  The amendment failed 18-22.  The bill then passed the full Senate.  The next step for the House version is to be presented to the Governor for his signature in a couple of weeks.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Post-Crossover Summary

This session VSBA has been working with nearly 200 bills that are directly or indirectly related to K-12 education.  We have had a number of significant successes in defeating or amending unfavorable legislation and in passing favorable legislation.  Below is a summary of some of the VSBA’s most significant successes thus far this session.  As you will read below, however, there is much work still to do. 
Defeated Legislation

Sen. Obenshain and Del. Lingamfelter introduced constitutional amendments, HJ684 and SJ302, respectively, to give the Board of Education the authority to establish charter schools.  Currently, only local school boards can establish charter schools.  VSBA opposes taking that authority away from local school boards and vesting it in any other body.  These constitutional amendments were supported by the Governor and we strongly opposed them on behalf of the VSBA.  The House version failed in subcommittee on a vote of 11-11.  The Senate version failed on the floor of the Senate on a vote of 20-19-1 (constitutional amendments require 21 votes in the Senate).   
There were virtual schools bills sponsored by Del. Dickie Bell (HB1555) and Sen. Barker (SB1300) that were very problematic.  HB1555 would have established a statewide virtual school and would have required the state and local SOQ funds for any student enrolled in the school to be transferred to the state virtual school.  The bill was supported by virtual education providers.  We actively opposed the bill and it ultimately died in House Appropriations.  SB1300 did not establish a statewide virtual school but it would have required a school division that did not offer a virtual program to transfer the state and local SOQ funding for any student who enrolled in another division’s virtual program to that other division.  We opposed the bill and worked with the patron, who ultimately requested that the bill be stricken. 
Senator Miller’s SB993 would have required school divisions to provide 30 minutes of physical activity per day for students in grades K-8.  While well intentioned, the bill would have placed a significant burden on school divisions in terms of staff and facilities.  In addition, it would have been difficult to include the additional 30 minutes into the school day without eliminating other programs.  We opposed the bill on behalf of the VSBA.  It was reported out of Senate Education and Health, but it died in Senate Finance.
Delegate McQuinn’s HB2171 was another well intentioned bill that would have imposed a significant and unfunded burden on school divisions.  The bill would have required school safety audits, which are currently required annually, to be performed bimonthly.  It would have also required school divisions to conduct bimonthly reviews of the written school crisis, emergency management, and medical emergency response plans for each school.  We opposed the bill because of the significant administrative burden that it would have imposed on already overburdened staff and the bill died in subcommittee.

Amended Legislation
Often problematic legislation has so much support or momentum that we cannot defeat it.  This is especially true when, as now, the same party controls both houses.  This also happens most often with hot issues, such as bullying and school safety.  Below are some of the bills on which we worked for significant amendments because we did not believe they could be defeated.
The Governor’s Educator Fairness Act (HB2151 and SB1223) sponsored by Del. Dickie Bell and Sen. Norment is something that we have worked on the last two years.  As you may recall, last year the Governor introduced legislation that would have eliminated continuing contracts for all teachers.  That legislation also had some good provisions relating to teacher evaluations and nonrenewals.  While we did not support the legislation as originally drafted last year, we worked with the Administration to improve it.  That legislation failed and the Governor brought back many of the same concepts in this year’s Educator Fairness Act.  We have continued to work with the Administration to improve the bills.  One significant piece of the bill that we proposed and support is the streamlining of the grievance procedure.  Another favorable provision in the bill that we proposed is defining incompetence to include one or more unsatisfactory evaluations.  Both bills passed their respective houses with widespread, bipartisan support.      
Del. Dickie Bell and Sen. Hanger brought, for the second year in a row, legislation that would require IEP teams to consider certain factors when developing IEPs for deaf and hard of hearing students.  (HB1344/SB1097)  We opposed the legislation last year and again this session because, among other reasons, it would have caused a conflict with the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act.  Because there was widespread, bipartisan support for the legislation this year, we decided to seek an amendment to make the changes permissive rather than mandatory.  Our efforts were successful and both bills were amended to change the “shalls” to “mays.”
Del. McClellan’s HB1871 is a bullying bill that included some very problematic provisions.  As originally drafted the bill included provisions requiring the school board to prohibit employee-on-employee bullying.  We believe this part of the bill was unnecessary because harassment and discrimination among employees is already prohibited and school boards are required to have procedures for reporting and investigating harassment and discrimination.  This portion of the bill was duplicative at best and, at worst, could have been used by employees to elevate petty disputes among co-workers or disagreements with supervisors to incidents that would have to be investigated.  This would bog down already over-burdened administrators with needless investigations.  Because the bill contained some other provisions regarding bullying among students and was likely to pass, we worked extensively with Del. McClellan and Sen. Favola (the patron of an identical Senate bill that was ultimately stricken) as well as other stakeholders to get significant amendments to the bill.  All of the troubling language regarding bullying among employees was stricken from the bill and replaced with a simple requirement that school boards educate employees for the need to create a bully-free environment.  The amended bill is far less problematic than the original bill.   
Del. Greason’s HB1941 and Sen. Stanley’s SB1207 are the Governor’s bills that establish an A-F grading system for schools.  These bills were hotly opposed by VSBA and other organizations, including VASS.  The bills were amended a number of times by the Administration in an attempt to assuage the opposition.  The original bills directed BOE to develop an A-F grading scale.  As explained by the Deputy Secretary of Education, the original plan would have resulted in a “bell-curve,” with most schools receiving a C.  The amended bills direct the Board of Education to develop a grading scale that includes student growth.  This will allow a school that is making improvements to receive a higher grade than it would have received under the original bills.  The Senate version was further amended to remove provisions requiring immediate grading of schools, postponing the assignment of grades until 2015, to allow the BOE time to develop the grading system and include student growth.   While we will continue to oppose these bills, the amended versions are far improved over the original bills. (We understand, however, that the Governor may try to apply an A-F grading system in the interim through administrative action.)       
Passed Legislation
While it seems as if most of our time is spent opposing legislation, there were a number of bills that VSBA actively supported.  Here are a few such bills that were passed by the house of origin and are headed to the other house.
Del. Habeeb’s HB1388 changes the deadline for notifying principals, assistant principals, and supervisors of reassignment from April 15 to June 15.  VSBA actively supported this bill, which conforms the process for principals, assistant principals, and supervisors to what was done for teachers last year and is more consistent with the new evaluation systems which are dependent upon student academic achievement data, which is not available until after April 15.  This bill passed the House with no opposition.     
Del. Greason’s HB1467 would allow school boards to set the school calendar and would eliminate to post-Labor Day opening requirement.  We actively supported the bill and it was passed by the House 72-28. 
HB1866, sponsored by Del. Robinson, restores discretion to school boards and administrators in student discipline matters involving weapons.  Currently, school administrators are required to recommend expulsion for any offense involving a firearm.  The term firearm is defined to include many weapons (such as slingshots and knives) that are not truly firearms.  The current law requires a recommendation of expulsion even in cases in which the circumstances may not warrant such an extreme sanction.  This bill simplifies the definition of firearm so that only offenses involving a true firearm (e.g. a weapon intended to expel a projectile through an explosion) carry a mandatory recommendation of expulsion.  School boards are still free to prohibit other weapons and to expel students for bringing other, non-firearm weapons to school.  We worked with the patron and other stakeholders on the language of the bill before it was filed and we actively supported it.  The bill was passed by the House 99-0.  
Still to Do
We have accomplished much this session, but there is still work to be done.  Of the nearly 200 bills we were working, about 85 remain in play following crossover.  Below are a few of the most significant bills remaining.
The Governor’s school takeover legislation, which establishes the Opportunity Educational Institution, passed both the House and the Senate in slightly differing versions.  Sen. McDougle sponsored SB 1324 and Del. Habeeb sponsored HB2096.  We have advised the General Assembly in strong terms that both bills are unconstitutional.  In addition, both bills would require any local school division that has a school taken over by the Institution to transfer to the Institution the state and local per pupil funding for each student in the school.  This would include not only local SOQ required funding, but all local aspirational funds as well.  Both bills also permit the Institution to take over and use school buildings and facilities, but require the local school board or local governing body to pay for all capital repairs and renovations that the Institution deems appropriate.  The Senate version of the bill includes what is known as “The Clause,” an appropriations clause that provides that the legislation shall not become effective unless there is a corresponding appropriation of funds.  The Senate Finance Committee removed the Governor’s budget amendment that provided funding for the legislation.  It remains to be seen whether the funding will be in the final budget bill.  We have strongly opposed these bills on behalf of the VSBA and we opposed funding to effectuate these bills.  We will continue to work to defeat this school takeover legislation and to ensure that, if passed, the legislation is not funded.       
In an apparent recognition of the fact that his school takeover bills were unconstitutional, the Governor also introduced constitutional amendments that authorize the General Assembly to establish a statewide school division to take over schools that have been denied accreditation.  We strongly opposed these constitutional amendments.  After his SB1324 passed on the Senate floor, Sen. McDougle asked to have his constitutional amendment passed by and, therefore, it failed without a vote by the full Senate.  Del. Habeeb’s constitutional amendment, HJ693, was passed by the House 58-37.  We will continue to oppose HJ693 and will work to defeat it in the Senate.  

Thursday, February 7, 2013

House Bills Sail Through Senate Education and Health

The Senate Education and Health Committee reported a number of relatively non-controversial bills this morning.  Below is a summary.

HB1344 (Bell) permits - but does not require - IEP teams for students who are deaf and heard of hearing to consider certain factors when developing the IEP.  The bill was amended on the House side to make it permissive rather than mandatory.  The bill was reported unanimously.

HB1388 (Habeeb) changes the deadline for notifying principals, assistant principals, and supervisors of reassignment from April 15 to June 15.  The bill was reported unanimously.

HB1406 (Bell) requires school boards to provide information regarding eating disorders to parents of students in grades 5-12.  The information can be provided in paper or electronically, including by posting on the school system's website.  The bill was reported unanimously. 

HB1864 (Robinson) clarifies that while principals are required to report certain offenses to law enforcement, law enforcement is not required to file delinquency charges in all such cases.  It also directs the BOE and the Department of Criminal Justice Services to develop a model cooperative agreement between schools and local law-enforcement agencies for dealing with school-based offenses.  The bill was reported unanimously. 

HB1866 (Robinson) simplifies the code sections dealing with mandatory expulsions for firearms offenses.  Currently, the definition of "firearm" includes many weapons  and items (like knives and slingshots) that are not actually firearms.  The bill those other weapons and items from the definition of firearm.  School boards can still have weapons policies prohibiting these items and can still expel students for such violations.  Under this bill, however, those violations would no longer carry a mandatory recommendation of expulsion, thus restoring discretion to administrators and school boards to determine what offenses merit expulsion.  The bill was reported unanimously.

HB1889 (LeMunyon) makes teacher performance indicators and other data used by the school boards to judge the growth or quality of a teacher confidential.  Currently, this information may be disclosed pursuant to FOIA.  The bill was reported unanimously. 

HB2066 (Peace) would allow school boards flexibility to assign librarians, guidance counselors, and school-based clerical personnel according to local need, so long as the school board employs the total number of each type of employee required by the SOQ on a division-wide basis.  Currently, school boards must assign these personnel based on the number of students and level of school (elementary, middle or secondary) regardless of the actual needs of the schools.  The bill was reported unanimously.  

HB2068 (LeMunyon) requires early intervention services in reading and math to certain students.  The bill was reported unanimously.

HB2076 (Stolle) provides that a local school board that initiates a charter school application is not required to first seek comment and review from the Board of Education.  The bill was reported 10-2. 

HB2083 (Cox) which creates a Strategic Compensation Grant Initiative Fund to provide incentive grants to improve teacher and student performance.  The bill was reported and referred to Finance on a unanimous vote. 

HB2084 (Cox) will allow the Teach for America program to operate in Virginia.  The bill was reported unanimously.

HB2098 (Tata) allows BOE to grant waivers from state regulations for up to five years in order to allow a school board to increase the quality of instruction and to improve student achievement.  The bill specifically allows BOE to grant waivers from the staffing standards in a particular school, so long as the staffing standards are met division-wide.  In other words, the bill would allow a waiver giving the school board flexibility to place staff according to need rather than solely according to the staffing standards.  The bill was reported and referred to Finance on a vote of 11-2.

HB2101 (Ramadan) requires BOE to develop guidelines from High School to Work Partnerships.  The bill reported unanimously. 

HB2144 (Landes) would allow BOE to grant a two year waiver from the third grade science and/or history SOL assessment for schools with an adjusted pass rate of less than 75% on the third grade reading SOL assessment.  If such a waiver is granted, science and history would still be taught but the SOL assessment would not be required.  The bill was reported 11-4.

HB2151 (Bell)  is the Governor's Educator Fairness Act.  The bill was reported 11-2. 

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Governor's School Takeover Bill Passes the Senate

SB1324 (McDougle), the so-called Opportunity Educational Institution bill, which would allow the state to take over failing schools was passed by the Senate this afternoon.  The bill initially failed on a vote of 19-21, with Senator Blevins voting against the bill.  The bill was reconsidered within minutes, Blevins changes his vote, the Lt. Gov. broke the 20-20 tie, and the bill passed. 

A-F Grading Bill Passes Senate on Party Line Vote

SB1207 (Stanley), the Governor's A-F school grading bill, was passed by the Senate this morning on a vote of 20-20 with the Lt. Gov. breaking the tie.  The bill was amended on the floor yesterday to remove the provisions requiring immediate grading of schools.  You can read the amended bill here.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Updates from the Money Committees

Earlier this afternoon the House Appropriations and the Senate Finance Committees reported their respective versions of the amendments to the current budget.  Among the highlights of those actions are the following:  The House Committee recommended $53.7 Million for the state share of the 2% salary increase for instructional personnel calculated on an effective date of August 1, 2013.  School boards can take advantage of this pay increase so long as they provide their share of the pay increase no later than January 1, 2014.  The House Committee also recommended $9.1 Million as the state share of a 2% pay increase for support personnel effective January 1, 2014.  The House Committee would prohibit the use of the mandated VRS salary increases as the local match to get the state share.
The Senate Committee recommended $76 Million for the state share of the 2% salary increase for instructional and support personnel effective July 1, 2013.  In order to be eligible for the state share a school board will have to certify no later than June 15, 2013, that salary increases of 2% on average have been provided for the 2013-2014 school year.  School Board’s that give increases of at least 1% but less than 2% will get a prorate reduction of the state share.  The Senate also prohibits using the mandated VRS salary increases as the local share.

The House Committee recommended $6.1 to restore one-half of the COCA for support positions that was eliminated in the Governor’s budget.  The Senate would only restore COCA by 9.83%.
The House supported the $600,000 in the Governor’s budget for the Opportunity Educational Institution, which is the Governor’s proposal to take over failing schools.  The Senate Committee deleted the $600,000 in the Governor’s budget and did not recommend any language relating to the Opportunity Educational Institution.  However, the Senate did instruct JLARC to study what other cities and states have done with regard to low performing schools, including the takeover of such schools and converting them to charter schools.  If passed, JLARC would have to issue its report in November, 2013.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Governor's School Takeover Legislation Advancing

Yesterday morning the Senate Committee on Education and Health reported and referred the Senate version of the Governor’s takeover legislation to the Senate Finance Committee.  Last evening that committee reported the bill with “the clause” tacked on it.  The “clause” is a provision that makes legislation effective only if there are funds to pay for it.  Several members of both the Education and Health and Finance Committees expressed some concern over the sweeping nature of the bill and placed the “clause” on it to ensure that it would still be revised.  This morning the House version of the bill was before the House Appropriations subcommittee on Public Education.  Yet another version (the fourth at last count with a promise of more versions to come) was introduced.  It made clear that if the state takes over poorly performing schools, not only will the federal and state funds follow the student, but all local funds, including aspirational funding, would follow the student as well.  The full Appropriations Committee is expected to report the bill at its meeting this afternoon.  This takeover bill is perhaps the most intrusive piece of legislation K-12 education has ever faced.