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.