Monday, February 7, 2011

2011 General Assembly Update

It has been a long time since I last posted anything. Indeed, the times between postings seem to grow longer and longer. I think it is the result of my busy travel schedule and my not being sure these days exactly what I should report.

As tomorrow is Crossover Day at the General Assembly, however, it seems appropriate to touch on some of what is happening in that august body during this 2011 session. For more detailed information, however, you should check out Rob Jones' daily blog at Rob keeps a daily update on that site, and it is the place to go to find out what has happened each day along the way.

For those who are not familiar with the term "Crossover Day" with regard to the operation of the General Assembly, it means that we are half way through this session, and all of the bills that have survived the subcommittee, committee, and House or Senate votes in their respective houses now go to the "other house" to be dealt with. The bills that have made it through the entire process in the House will go to the Senate and vice versa.

By the end of the session, those bills that have made it through each respective House successfully and are ultimately signed by the Governor go into law.

I have to say that what I have been struck by so far in this session is the fact that the House of Delegates, in particular, have been working hard to bring about new legislation that impact K-12 education, but they have been equally determined not to attach any money to any of the bills that they have proposed or passed. As a result, someone told me the other day that there are 15 unfunded mandates that have been passed though the House so far. Should they all survive the Senate, they will create any number of hardships on local school divisions as they scramble to implement them without any resources for doing so.

One perfect example is a well-intentioned but deeply flawed bill that would mandate that every school division offer an average 150 minutes of physical education every week. The intent is laudable. No one argues the logic that our kids need to be more active and more physically fit. Childhood obesity is a huge health concern and everyone shares that concern from First Lady Michelle Obama to this writer. But this writer is also familiar with the intricacies of the school day and the problems that such a law will create for superintendents and principals if it is signed into law which it seems bound to do so far.

First, because it requires "physical education" and not just "recess" there is an implied need, at least, that more physical education teachers may need to be hired--but there is no money for that. There is also the concern about the impact on the school day and the negative--and presumably unintended--consequence that it may hurt art and music programs since the school day will not be lengthened...there is certainly no money for that!

Small school divisions are already struggling trying to make ends meet. This well intended but flawed legislation just makes it that much harder.

And this is just one of a dozen or more examples of well-intentioned legislation that may become the law of the land but will not be funded in any way. Personally, I think there should be a moratorium on laws impacting K-12 education until funding is fully restored...but that's just me.

This session has been fraught with concerns about legislation that has been proposed and is being passed, with the Governor's initiatives as he continues to push for charter schools, virtual schools, lab schools, and pay-for-performance plans that have no grounding in research. If I sound discouraged, I guess I am. (Maybe that is why I haven't posted much since the session began.)

The good news is that our Government Relations staff and Lobby Cadre are working tirelessly as always on behalf of our members, and while we are not always happy with what is going on, at least we KNOW what is going on, and we are the ONLY group advocating on behalf of the public school employees and students who work in and attemd our public schools every single day.

So, if you are a member of the VEA, thank you and rest assured that you are being well represented.

If you are a yet-to-be member of the VEA, please join with us. We need every public school employee to join with us in the fight for public education. We are, in fact, in a fight for the very survival of public education in Virginia and in this country, and we cannot afford to lose.

Until next time,