Friday, January 31, 2014

The new Senate Public Education subcommittee

This morning Senator John Miller chaired his first Senate Public Education subcommittee. The members of the subcommittee include Senators Miller, Howell, Newman, Locke and Smith. The docket only consisted of four bills: SB131, SB588, SB637 and SB672.

SB131 and SB637 relate to school division waivers to open prior to Labor Day. SB637 was rolled into SB131 and reported from the subcommittee. It allows any school division which had a “good cause” waiver from the Board of Education for the 2011-2012 school year to continue to keep that waiver.

SB588 reported unanimously from the subcommittee with a substitute. It will allow school boards to review and modify a student’s long-term suspension or expulsion. This bill was put in because there is some confusion among school boards regarding whether school boards have the authority to modify disciplinary decisions.

SB672 will allow the Board of the Virginia School for the Deaf and Blind (VSDB) to create criteria and procedures for all out-of-state students to attend VSDB. There will be a tuition charged to these out-of-state students. This bill was at the request of the VSDB and reported unanimously from subcommittee.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Report from Elementary and Secondary Subcommittee

In the final committee meeting of the day, the Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee considered several bills of interest. 

HB 198 (Landes) was amended, at VSBA's request, to be identical to Senator Garrett's SB 441, which clarifies that in cases of weapons and drug offenses, the school board may, but is not required to expel the student.  The bill was recommended for reporting.

Del. Dickie Bell, the subcommittee chairman, had two bills considered this evening.  First, HB 207, which requires the BOE, local school boards and school board employees to encourage students to explore scientific questions and theories was recommended for reporting and referral to Courts.  Second, his HB 221, relating to the costs of providing educational services when a student is placed in a residential facility was recommended for reporting and referral to Appropriations.

Del. Rob Bell had HB 449,  which originally would have prohibited school divisions from disclosing personally identifiable information from student records to federal government agencies and commercial entities without first notifying the parents and allowing them an opportunity to opt out of the disclosure.  This bill was problematic for several reasons, including that federal agencies, such as the Office for Civil Rights and the Department of Justice, have the authority to enforce and investigate violations of a number of federal laws.  These investigations often require the disclosure of certain student records.  We worked with Del. Bell to develop substitute language which merely prohibits the disclosure of personally identifiable information out of student records unless required by federal law or regulations.  The substitute was recommended for reporting.  

Del. Robinson's HB 613 relating to violations of the compulsory attendance law was recommended for referral to Courts. 

Del. McClellan's HB 720, which requires school boards to adopt policies to set aside a place in each school for mothers to express breast milk was recommended for reporting.  Her HB 726, which would require, among other things, that school boards provide students an education while suspended, was recommended for reporting and referral to Appropriations. 

Update from Senate Education and Health

The newly constituted Senate Education and Health Committee acted on a number of education related bills this morning.  Below is a summary of the most pertinent of these bills:

SB 155 (Miller) was amended to require students in grades K through 5 to have at least 20 minutes per day or 100 minutes per week on average of physical activity. For students in grades 6 through 12, the bill requires a program of physical activity with a goal of 150 minutes per week.  It is important to note that the bill requires a program of physical activity rather than physical fitness.  The bill also specifies that physical activity includes recess.

SB 240 (Carrico) would have made it a misdemeanor for a principal, assistant principal or supervisor to refuse to release a student to the custodial parent.  The VSBA and many other groups opposed this legislation.  The bill was carried over to 2015.

SB 291 (Carrico) which would impose certain evaluation requirements, including evaluation by a Teacher of the Visually Impaired, for students with visual impairments was reported and referred to Senate Finance. 

SB 324 (Miller) would delay implementation of the A-F legislation until October 1, 2017 and would impose certain requirements on BOE;s development of the grading criteria.  This bill reported on an 8-7 vote. 

SB 441 (Garrett) was amended, at VSBA's request, to clarify that in cases of weapons and drug offenses, the school board may, but is not required to expel the student.  The bill was reported unanimously. 

SB 499 (Hanger) would delay the takeover of any public school under last year's OEI legislation for one year, so that no school could be taken over by OEI until after the 2014-2015 school year.  This bill reported in a vote of 8-6-1. 

SB 599 (Cosgrove) relating to student data and cloud computing was passed by indefinitely and will be referred by letter to JCOTS.

SB 636 (Hanger) which directs BOE to review the SOL assessments  and develop a plan to reduce the number of assessments by 25 % by the 2015-2016 school year.  The bill was reported. 

House Education Reform Subcommittee: A-F grading, school calendar and electronic textbooks

This morning the House Education Reform Subcommittee met to discuss a variety of bills ranging from A-F school grading and electronic textbooks to local control of the school calendar.

HB318 (Kory) would abolish the A-F grading system. This bill was laid on the table and will not move forward. Additionally HB553 (Krupicka) would change A-F grading from a single letter grade to five letter grades starting in the 2015-2016 school year . This bill was laid on the table. HB618 (Mason) would delay A-F grading for three years and HB1262 (Miller)would delay A-F for three year and outlined factors that needed to be included in the grades. Both of these bills were tabled. However, HB1229 (Landes) was reported from the subcommittee. This bill delays the A-F grading system from October 1, 2014 to October 1, 2015 unanimously passed the subcommittee.

There were several local control of the school calendar bills again this year. HB35, HB42, and HB386 were all tabled and rolled into HB333. HB333 makes local school boards responsible for setting the school calendar and determining the opening date of the school year. Additionally, HB577 was reported. This legislation is different than most of the school calendar bills. It will allow a division Superintendent and local school board to set the school calendar for any school within the division that has failed to achieve full accreditation status or any division if more than 15 percent of the schools within the division failed to achieve full accreditation status. HB610 was reported by the subcommittee. It will allow a local school board to set their school calendar and opening date. However, the division must close schools from the Thursday before through Labor Day or Friday before through the Tuesday after Labor Day. Finally, HB34 was tabled by the subcommittee. This bill would prohibit high schools from starting programs of instruction prior to 8:00a.m.

There were two bills dealing with electronic textbooks, HB742 patroned by Delegate Kory and HB936 patroned by Delegate Surovell. HB742 requires that all local school board’s textbook contracts and purchase orders include printed textbooks, printed textbooks with electronic files or electronic textbooks version in grades kindergarten through grade 12. Currently it is only required in grades 6 through 12. Additionally, it requires the Department of Education to report annually to General Assembly on the level of broadband connectivity of each local school board and the ability for each student to access electronic textbooks at school and at home. HB936 prohibits school boards from using electronic textbooks in their residence unless the school board adopts a plan to ensure that by July 1, 2017 every student will have access to a personal computing device and access to the internet. Both HB742 and HB936 were carried over for the year for the committee to discuss in the interim.

New Public Education Subcommittee Announced

Senator Lucas, the new chair of the Senate Education Committee just announced the membership of the subcommittees.  The Public Education Subcommittee will now be chaired by Senator Miller and the members  are Senators Howell, Newman, Locke, and Smith.  

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Thursday's Heavy Agenda

Tomorrow (Thursday, January 30) should be an interesting and very busy day at the General Assembly for VSBA and the other education groups.  The day will start with the 7:30 a.m. meeting of the Reform Subcommittee of the House Education Committee.  That subcommittee will consider all of the bills dealing with A-F school grading, the Labor Day/school calendar bills,  three bills dealing with electronic textbooks, the school board member training bill, and several others.  Click here for more information about that subcommittee meeting tomorrow morning.

Then, starting at 8:30 a.m. the Senate Education and Health Committee - with a new chair (Lucas), different members, and a Democrat majority - will meet.  Not only does the Committee have a very full agenda but it will also be interesting to see how the newly constitute committee operates after yesterday's shakeup in the Senate.  The Committee is scheduled to take up a number of important education bills including bills relating to a physical activity requirement, withholding a student from a parent, students with visual impairments, students with diabetes, charter school enrollment, A-F school grading, student discipline, Opportunity Educational Institution, full day kindergarten, student data privacy, and SOL assessment reform.  Click here to see the full agenda for this meeting.

Then at 4:00 p.m. the Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee of the House Education Committee will meet.  The subcommittee will consider bills on student discipline, special education programs, employee lactation support, among others.  Click here to see the agenda. 

Stay tuned for updates as tomorrow unfolds. 

Update From House Education Committee and Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee

House Education Committee

This morning the House Education Committee reported one bill of interest, HB 1096 (Filler-Corn).  This bill requires BOE to amend its guidelines for school division policies and procedures on concussions in student-athletes to include a "Return to Learn Protocol." This protocol would require school personnel to accommodate a gradual return to academics and to be alert to cognitive and academic issues that student-athletes who have experienced a head injury or concussion may experience.

Elementary and Secondary Subcommittee of the House Education Committee

The Elementary and Secondary Subcommittee considered and acted on a larger number of bills today.  The subcommittee recommended HB 484 (Kory) for reporting on a vote of 4-3.  This bill would prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes on school property, school buses, and at school-sponsored activities. 

The subcommittee also recommended HB 751, 752, and 754 (Rust) for reporting.  HB 751 makes it permissive for school boards to expel students for certain drug offenses.  Current law requires school boards to expel students for these offenses but then allows school boards to impose another sanction if warranted by special circumstances.  Under this legislation, a school board may still expel a student for drug offenses, but is not required to do so.  HB 752  removes the possession of a pneumatic weapon on school grounds from the list of weapons offenses that carry a mandatory sanction of expulsion (unless, again, special circumstances exist).  This bill still allows school boards to prohibit the possession of pneumatic weapons and to expel students for violating such a policy, but expulsion would no longer be required in these cases.  VSBA supports both HB 751 and 752 because these bills give local school boards flexibility to decide appropriate disciplinary sanctions and to avoid the confusion of the "mandatory" expulsion that was not actually mandatory.

HB 754 would permit the school board or a committee thereof to change a disciplinary decision made by a Superintendent or designee or hearing officer in certain circumstances.  It is VSBA's position that school boards can already take such actions.  The patron of the bill and the subcommittee indicated that they thought this bill would clarify existing law.

Del. Rust's HB 753 was recommended to be referred to the Courts committee.  That bill would make inadmissible in delinquency proceedings any oral or written student statement made to a school employee if the students parent or guardian was not present during the questioning. 

Del. Wilt's student survey bill, HB 778 was carried over at his request.  That bill would have prohibited school boards from administering surveys or questionnaires requesting sexual, mental health, or medical information; information on student health risk behaviors, controlled substance use, or other information "sensitive in nature" without informed parental consent.

The subcommittee also heard Del. Wilt's HB 786 which would prohibit school boards from dismissing any employee for bringing a firearm on to school property in certain circumstances, such as when unloaded and in a closed container, trunk, or in a gun rack.  Under current law, possession of firearms in these circumstances is not illegal but it can be prohibited by a local school board at the school board's option.  This bill would take away from school boards the ability to chose whether to prohibit or allow firearms onto school property in these circumstances.  HB 786 was recommended to be referred to the Militia and Police Committee.

HB 993 (BaCote) was recommended to be reported and referred to Appropriations.  This bill would require every person seeking initial licensure or renewal of a license to complete study in human trafficking.

HB 1110 (Toscano) was recommended for reporting.  This bill deals with circumstances in which a student is placed in a group home or institution, not solely for school purposes, outside his school division.  The bill would require the school division in which the child previously resided to reimburse the school division in which the child was placed in a group home or institution for the cost of educating the child.

HB 221 (Richard Bell) would require that when a student is placed in a residential facility due to medical necessity, the student be immediately enrolled in an education program comparable to that which was provided in public school in which the student was previously enrolled.  The bill further provides that the residential facility can provide the education program and then the school division of residence must reimburse the residential facility for the cost of providing such education program.  VSBA opposes this bill because it will require school divisions to pay for services over which the school division has no control, no decision-making power, and no oversight.  In most cases, a school division can provide an education program to a student in a residential facility in a much more cost-effective manner than the residential facility. 

HB 1128 (Rasoul) permits two or more school boards to create cooperative CTE programs by written agreement.  School boards can do this under existing law.  This bill would require that such agreements be in writing and also clarifies that a school division that provides CTE under such an agreement may charge tuition to students participating from other school divisions. The bill was recommended for reporting.

HB 1242 (O'Quinn) would require a school board tie breaker to be elected in the same manner as the school board.  Under current law, school boards may choose to appoint a tie breaker.  School boards are not, however, required to have a tie breaker under current law.  Under this bill, the school board would retain the authority to choose whether to create the position of tie breaker but then the method of selection of the tie breaker would be by election.  This bill was recommended for reporting. 


SOL Assessment Reform

SOL Assessment Reform

On Tuesday, the House Subcommittee on Education Reform met at 7:30a.m. in the Capitol. The Chair of the committee, Delegate Tag Greason convened the subcommittee to hear all eleven SOL assessment reform bills. The bills were divided into four topics: expedited retakes, data revision and release, reducing the number of assessments, and substituting industry certifications for SOL assessments. No action was taken on any of the bills, but the subcommittee heard testimony on each topic. Del. Greason has requested that the patrons develop, over the next week, a single bill that will serve as the vehicle for SOL reform.

In his opening remarks Delegate Greason outlined his priorities for SOL reform. They include:

1) A reduction in the number of tests from 34 to 25 or 26. This will allow school divisions to give teachers additional flexibility and increase time for instruction. He did emphasize that even if an assessment is removed, that will not deemphasize instruction for that course.

2) Improving the quality of the tests to shift from multiple choice to more critical thinking, problem solving and real application of knowledge.

3) Implementing authentic assessments to replace our current SOL assessments. This will allow school divisions to accurately measure student growth.

VSBA will continue to work with Delegate Greason and all the members of the Education Reform subcommittee.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Senate Reorganization

With the seating of Senator Lewis, the Senate is again evenly divided but now with Democrat Lt. Governor Northam casting the tie breaking vote.  As a result, the Senate Democrats took control of the Senate today and, among other things, re-shuffled Committee membership and chairmanships. 

The new makeup of the Senate Education and Health Committee is as follows: Lucas (Chair), Saslaw, Howell, Martin, Newman, Edwards, Locke, Barker, Miller, Smith, McWaters, Black, Carrico, Puller and Favola. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Week 1 Legislative Update

We just wrapped up a busy first week of the General Assembly. Committee and subcommittees are in full swing and we’re working with several legislators to improve their bills. Many of you visited Richmond this week or communicated with us about various pieces of legislation. We always appreciate your information, contacting your legislators and making those face-to-face visits to the Capital.

Monday afternoon the Senate Public Education subcommittee met for the first time. Many pieces of legislation were passed including several bills relating to the Standards of Learning (Senate Bills 144, 270, 305, 306, 325 and 389), A-F grading and concussion policies. Senators John Miller and Bryce Reeves are both carrying bills that deal with A-F grading. Senator Miller’s bill delays the implementation of the A-F grading system to October 2017 and outlines specific factors to include in the grades. Senate Bryce Reeves bill requires the Board to receive stakeholder input and public comment on the A-F grading system. Both Senators are working together to create one bill that incorporates aspects from both their bills. Sen. Carrico has legislation related to student religious expression. The purpose of the bill appears to be to protect the right of students to engage in religious expression. We believe that some of the provisions in the legislation, if passed, may lead to lawsuits against School Boards. Indeed, the primary opponent to the legislation is the ACLU which, as we well know, will file suit against a School Board.

Early Tuesday morning, the new Education Reform subcommittee met for the first time. The docket included several bills relating to concussion policies and teacher probation and dismissal. VSBA defeated House Bill 316 that would roll back some of the provisions in the Educator Fairness Act, passed last year. That legislation was strongly supported by VSBA, VASS and the VEA. House Bill 36 was rolled into House Bill 410 which would require non-interscholastic youth sports program utilizing public school property to establish policies and procedures regarding the identification and handling of suspected concussions in student-athletes based on either the local school division's policies and procedures or the Board's Guidelines for Policies on Concussions in Student-Athletes, or follow the local school division's policies and procedures regarding the identification and handling of suspected concussions in student-athletes.

On Wednesday, Secretary of Education-designate Anne Holton was interviewed by the entire House Education committee. She outlined many of the priorities that Governor McAuliffe outlined during his campaign including the important role of community colleges, paying our teachers more and the need to reform Virginia’s Standards of Learning and their assessments. Immediately following the full committee, the Elementary and Secondary Education subcommittee met. VSBA worked to defeat House Bill 462 that would require daily kindergarten program in each school division to average at least 5.5 hours, not including meal intermissions. Current law allows school divisions to provide half-day kindergarten programs. While most school boards provide full day kindergarten, there are a handful of school boards that do not. This bill would impose a significant cost of those school divisions that do not currently provide full day kindergarten, including the capital costs that would be involved in building more classrooms. The VSBA believes it should be a local option of the school board to offer full-day kindergarten.

Thursday morning the full Senate Education and Health committee met and took up the same bills heard in Monday’s subcommittee. Senator Miller’s Senate Bill 324 and Senator Reeves Senate Bill 382 relating to A-F grading were taken by for the week so that both patrons could continue to work on their legislation. All of the bills relating to the Standards of Learning, Senate Bills 144, 270, 305, 306, 325 and 389, all passed the committee and are now before the full Senate. Senate Bill 236 also passed the full committee even with major opposition. VSBA offered an amendment to the legislation that would authorize the Attorney General to advise and defend school boards implementing the legislation. This proposed amendment was not accepted by the patron or the full committee. VSBA is very concerned about the potential cost to local school boards resulting from this legislation and is continuing to work with the patron and other stakeholder groups.

Please continue to speak with your legislators on important bills and don’t forget to set-up your meetings for VSBA’s Day on the Hill Tuesday, January 28th. You can find out who your legislator is by visiting the Virginia General Assembly website.

That wraps up a very busy week in Richmond. We’ll continue to keep you updated on the work of the General Assembly.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Lots of changes in Richmond

January is always a time of change with the beginning of a new year and that trend stays true to what’s happening in Richmond. Lots of changes have occurred over the last few days including our Governor, Secretary of Education, and many committee leaders in the General Assembly. Governor Terry McAuliffe’s Inauguration was held on Saturday, Secretary of Education Anne Holton was sworn in yesterday and late last week many committee chairmanships and members of committees in both the House and Senate saw changes. I’ll give you a brief rundown of those changes.

The new chairman of House Education Committee is Delegate Steve Landes from Augusta County. Additionally, he reorganized the subcommittee structure to include three subcommittees: Elementary and Secondary Education chaired by Delegate Dickie Bell, Higher Education chaired by Delegate Jimmie Massie and Education Reform chaired by Delegate Tag Greason. In December, Speaker Howell named Delegate Chris Jones of Suffolk the new chairman of House Appropriations. On Friday, subcommittee chairman were named and that include Delegate Jimmie Massie of Henrico as the new chairman of the Elementary and Secondary Education subcommittee.

In the Senate, Senator Walter Stosch remains the chairman of Senate Finance and Senator Steve Martin as Senate Education and Health chairman. Senator Bill Carrico of Grayson has again been named chair of the Public Education subcommittee of Senate Education and Health, and Senator Tommy Norment remains Senate Finance Education subcommittee chair. Lt. Governor Ralph Northam was sworn-in on Saturday and will take the helm of the Senate today as President. In this role, he will preside over the Senate and can cast tie-breaking votes on legislation.

Continue to check the blog for more updates from Richmond and the General Assembly.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

The 2014 General Assembly Session begins

Today marks the first day of the 2014 General Assembly session. For the next 60 days, the 140 members of the General Assembly will debate thousands of bills ranging from mental health and public safety to education and taxation. With a new governor, administration and several new legislators, it’s sure to be an exciting two months.

Right now there are just over 1,200 bills that have been filed with the Clerk’s Office of the House and Senate, we expect to see many more coming online in the next few days. Some of the major themes we’re seeing in education include assessments, concussion policies, local control of the school calendar, virtual education, tax credits and charter schools. Your VSBA lobbying team has been busy talking with legislators, reading bills, and developing our overall strategy.

Be sure to visit the blog throughout session to get updates and details about what’s happening in Richmond. Also, we’ll be providing quick updates on the VSBA Twitter Handle – VASchoolBoards.

Finally, don’t forget about the upcoming Capital Conference January 27-28 in Richmond. This event will offer you an opportunity to meet with your legislators before crossover, receive detailed updates on legislative activities, and hear from new members of the administration. Also this year, we’ll be hosting a legislative reception that will give you a chance to mix and mingle with your local delegates and senators. We hope to see you there!