Budget Nears Conference; Testing Reduction Bills Placed on Hold
February 17, 2021
February 17, 2021
On February 10th, the Virginia House and Senate each proposed a version of the state budget. Each made important new investments in K-12 support, but neither came close to providing the level of funding our state education experts in the Board of Education said was needed to provide an adequate education for all Virginia students. Between now and the last week of February, lawmakers in the House and Senate will meet to negotiate a joint “Conference Budget” to be sent to the governor for consideration.
Lawmakers must take the best of the approaches from the House and Senate budgets, and go even further, investing new state revenue to meet standards set by the Board of Education as recommended. Given all the ways the pandemic has exacerbated inequity for our students, it’s imperative state lawmakers respond by directing more resources to our highest-needs schools.
In partnership with the Fund Our Schools Coalition, we urge the House and Senate to take the best K-12 investments from both budget proposals and add additional funding to support high-need schools.
Priorities for conference budget:
Use new updated state revenue to fully fund the Equity Fund, as proposed by the Virginia Board of Education. Provide the House’s 5% pay raise for teachers and school staff in FY22, with no revenue contingency language.
Protect the No Loss funding for schools, as the Governor and Senate proposed. The House proposal cuts some No Loss funding and forces school divisions to tap into federal aid dollars to make up the difference. These cuts made by the House are nearly twice as large per student in divisions with the highest share of students of color compared to divisions with the lowest share.
Fund the 4 to 1,000 support staff to student ratio that the Board of Education says is needed. The Senate’s proposal to ensure a ratio of 3 positions to every 1,000 students and includes language to increase the ratio by one support position if revenues come in ahead of forecast.
Lawmakers should remove the contingency language and fully fund these essential support positions, so students have adequate mental health and emotional support services.
The final budget should include all funding for lost learning time, including $30 million from lottery funds from the Senate, along with $30 million for school grants and $51 million from the COVID-19 Relief Fund in the House budget.
Include $51 million in funds to reach the nationally – and Board of Education – the recommended threshold of one counselor for every 250 students at the start of the next school year. The current proposal of a 1 to 325 ratio is arbitrary and does not reflect best practices or student need. Counselor support has only become more essential because of the unprecedented increase in student mental health challenges.
Be on the look-out this week for ways that you may take action to contact your lawmaker and advocate for these budget priorities.
Reduction in Testing Bills Placed on Hold
SB 1401, a VEA signature bill sponsored by Senator Todd Pillion, failed to pass the House Education SOQ and SOL subcommittee. The committee voted in a 4-4 tie not to move the bill forward. The same fate was taken on a companion bill, HB2094, a few weeks earlier in the same committee. These measures would have reduced the total number and type of required Standards of Learning assessments to only the minimum requirements established by the federal ESEA Act of 1965, as amended.
Under current ESEA requirements, each state must implement a set of high-quality academic assessments in reading, mathematics, and science. Reading and mathematics assessments must be administered annually in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school. Science assessments must be administered at least once within three grade spans (grades 3-5, 6-8, and 9-12). Assessments in other grades and subject areas may be administered at the discretion of the state.
In 2014, Virginia eliminated the following five elementary and middle school SOL tests: Grade-3 Science, Grade-3 Social Studies, U.S. History to 1865, U.S. History 1865-Present, and Grade-5 Writing. The elimination of these tests reduced the total number of SOL assessments from 34 to 29. The Board of Education and the advisory SOL Innovation Committee are continually studying further steps to reduce the burden of testing while maintaining accountability.
The VEA believes our ultimate focus should be on delivering quality instruction every day, creating learning environments where students feel valued, successful, and challenged as well as promoting progress in every student during the school year instead of measuring their learning after the course or school year is completed.
Teacher License Extension Measure Approved by SFC
HB 1776, introduced by Delegate Jeion Ward, passed the Senate Finance Committee (SFC) today and is now on its way to the full Senate. On February 3, 2021, the bill passed the full house by a vote of 99-0. The measure will require the Board of Education to grant a two-year extension of the license of any individual licensed by the Virginia Board of Education whose license expires on June 30, 2021, in order to provide the individual with sufficient additional time to complete the requirements for licensure.