2020 Legislative Session Historic for Schools, Educators
April 23, 2020
April 23, 2020
While COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with life in general and Virginia’s economy in particular, the 2020 General Assembly will still go down as a historically successful one for public schools and for VEA members.
We’ll remember 2020, perhaps first and foremost, for the return of collective bargaining to Virginia’s educators after more than 40 years of being unable to negotiate contracts with our school divisions.
“In nearly every other professional environment, employees have the right to negotiate working conditions with employers,” says VEA President Jim Livingston, “but until this year, Virginia was one of only three states in the country that didn’t allow public employees to do this.”
Far more than just a way to ensure better pay and benefits for educators who sorely need them, bargaining is also for the good of all. As educators negotiate their working conditions, they’re also negotiating the learning conditions for students. Collective bargaining has been used across the country to address issues like class size; gaining additional reading, art, and music teachers; setting school calendars; instituting fairer discipline policies; and much more. Simply put, the right to negotiate gives us the leverage we need to get our kids the resources they need.
Unfortunately, due to the still-to-be-estimated economic impact of the coronavirus, Governor Northam postponed the implementation of the new collective bargaining law until next May. Importantly, that gives VEA Local Unions time to get ready. Under the new law, local school boards must pass resolutions agreeing to bargaining and setting out processes for negotiations. VEA Locals will need to work on growing their memberships and their ability to influence local communities (including elected officials) to gain a contract.
Winning the right to bargain was hardly the only success racked up for students and public schools in this year’s General Assembly session. Other legislative wins included:
Significant improvements were made to education funding, too, but items such as teacher salary increases, more guidance counselors, aid to rural schools, and more services for at-risk students are on hold because of the coronavirus’s hit on the economy. The Governor will almost certainly call the General Assembly back for a Special Session once the state is able to make revenue forecasts that reflect COVID-19’s costs. We will keep you posted as soon as we know more.