Moving into the 4th week of session, the Capital has seen record numbers of visitors. Attendance by the public has consistently been over 4,500 people a day. I’m enjoying meeting with so many who are active in the legislative process, especially the Chamber of Commerce, 4-H students, Military Officers Association, and Credit Union League who had their respective organizations' annual “day on the hill” last week.
Spotlight on Education Bills
Education is the foundation for a strong workforce capable of tackling 21st-century issues. As Chairman of the House Education Committee, education remains one of my top legislative priorities. Our caucus has several education initiatives that address all levels of learning in Virginia.
In 2016, the House budget sent 31% of lottery funds, or $272 million, back to local school divisions. This mechanism increases local schools’ flexibility by not requiring matching funds or mandating how the funds must be spent. This year, we look to build on that investment giving local school leaders the flexibility to meet their own unique public education needs. The House is committed to maintaining Virginia’s strong K-12 system and working to give all children the opportunities in education they deserve by enacting reforms in public education, promoting choice and flexibility, and encouraging early childhood education. Governor McAuliffe is wrong to criticize our announcement regarding education funding priorities. His proposed language did not offer a teacher pay raise. If school divisions were to elect to use the proposed allocation for a 1.5% bonus, then they would have to provide a local match, estimated to be about $83 million, for employees to receive the actual bonus percentage. Our language would permit the school divisions to use this lottery money to provide a salary increase or to pay for increased local Virginia Retirement System costs.
Students in the Commonwealth deserve a quality education, regardless of their circumstances or where they live. I have previously discussed the education legislation I have introduced, House Bill 1401, House Bill 1402, and House Bill 2191, which you may read more about here. Today, I’d like to highlight a few of the bills my colleagues have introduced this session. Delegate Dickie Bell is carrying House Bill 1400 that establishes Virginia Virtual schools so students aren’t bound to brick and mortar buildings for their education. They can take classes offered throughout the Commonwealth. Delegate Dave LaRock is carrying House Bill 1605 that creates Education Savings Accounts (ESA). ESAs will empower parents to choose what is right for their child’s education by allowing families with special needs students to receive direct access to the state funding for that student. That funding is deposited into an Education Savings Account, where it can be used for private school tuition, homeschooling, online classes, course materials, or other educational purposes. While the House of Delegates does not believe a statewide mandated pre-school program is the best approach, we are exploring better ways to encourage early childhood education. We are focused on improving access to private providers. Delegate Jimmie Massie is helping on this front with House Bill 1963, which makes families with at-risk 4-year old’s unserved by Head Start eligible for tax credits to enroll in a pre-k program.
We continue to hear from the Commonwealth’s citizens that higher education access and affordability is a real problem. To address this, the House will continue to encourage all state universities cap tuition increases and our caucus has introduced several other ideas that ease the stress of the many other costs associated with postsecondary schools. Dual enrollment credits provide a great opportunity for students to begin working on their degree credits while still in high school. Delegate Tag Greason is carrying House Bill 1662 to establish a uniform policy for granting undergraduate course credit to entering freshman students so students can properly prepare their course schedules to maximize their benefits.
Virginia uses a 40-year-old financial aid model. It is time to modernize that model by incentivizing students to complete their degrees on time, ensuring they take out fewer loans. Delegate Kirk Cox is carrying House Bill 2427, which will motivate and reward students to successfully finish their degree on time by increasing aid money as they progress through their academic career. He is also carrying House Bill 2262 that creates the Online Virginia Network Authority aimed at providing a new pathway for students to complete a college degree by establishing an online consortium of classes from various state universities. It is a one-stop shop for scheduling, registering, and taking online classes. Higher education institutions in Virginia have focused primarily on enhancing enrollment, retention, and graduation rates in pursuit of preparing a highly skilled workforce for the Virginia economy. The same emphasis needs to be directed toward identifying those individuals with some college credit, but who have not attained a degree.
Budget Leaders Announce Major Steps to Secure Future for State Employees
Last Tuesday, I joined House Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, and Senate Finance Committee Co-Chairman Emmett Hanger Senate, among others, to highlight our joint priorities in regards to a compensation package. The proposal includes a 3% pay raise for state employees, funds to raise the starting salary of Virginia State Police, and funds to address salary compression issues for sheriff’s deputies. You can read more about the press conference here. The committees responsible for the budget bills will unveil their complete proposals on February 5, 2017.
Compensation Package Highlights:
- The proposal includes a 3% pay raise for state employees.
- The proposal dramatically raises the starting salary of Virginia State Police.
- Finally, the proposal includes funds to address salary compression issues for sheriff’s deputies.
Last week, Dr. Frank Friedman, President of Piedmont Virginia Community College, stopped by with some of his students to say hello (pictured right). I enjoyed meeting with Tim Shea, the Legislative and Public Affairs Officer of Albemarle County and Jonno Alcaro, Steve Koleszar, and Graham Paige from the Albemarle County School Board. I also met with David Johnson of Staunton, Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent, Craig Shrewsbury of Fishersville, and Augusta County representatives with Virginians for the Arts. I was pleased to introduce Blue Ridge Community College President John Downey who visited us in the House Chamber.
My staff met with David Sligh and Jessie Thuma of Charlottesville; Douglas Brown and a student from the Tandem Friends School in Charlottesville; Rockingham County School Board Member Dr. Charlette McQuilkin and Chairwoman Renee Reed; Gary Cuccia of Charlottesville; Denise Ramey of Crozet & other members of the Charlottesville Area Association of Realtors; Ed Corbeil, Sandy Wisco and Kelly Sicoli, who are all from Charlottesville. Other visitors included Karen Blair of Crozet; Nikki Narduzzi of Staunton; Marcus Hill of Greenwood; Vicky Jones of Crozet; Kay Ferguson, Bruce & Jane Grayson, and Jane McCarty, all of Charlottesville; Dennis Cupp of Bridgewater; Loretta Wenger of Mount Crawford; Lola Heffner and Justin Lingenfelter both from Verona; and Keri Jones of Bridgewater. It was certainly a busy week, but as always, a pleasure to see folks from back home!
In Case You Missed It:
My Legislative Director, Judy Wyatt, Communications Director, Will Wrobleski, and I are here to serve you. If you need help with a state government agency or issue, we can be reached by phone at 804.698.1025 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Our address is Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23219. For scheduling requests, please contact my Administrative Assistant Carolyn Musika in my Richmond office.
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Thank you again for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.