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.