This week has been busy as we gear up for crossover next Tuesday, February 15th. Crossover is the halfway point of the legislative session when House bills “cross over” to the Senate for their consideration. This will be a real test of our ability to get along between parties because it is very possible to have a lot of Republican legislation stopped in the Senate and Democratic legislation stopped by the House.
One of the biggest debates happening now in the General Assembly is around student learning and the local authority of school boards. This week my House Education Committee heard bills that seek to change our current laws regarding laboratory schools, charter schools and keeping our students safe. These debates are familiar to me because of my experience as a teacher and also as a school board member. I even attended a laboratory school as a child, McGuffey Elementary School, run by Miami University in Ohio. Amazing how things in life come full circle!
Generally, I see my role in the legislature as a listener and consensus builder, but this week I had to be assertive and ask tough questions about some of the ill conceived education reform ideas being presented in the Virginia House. During the committee hearing I questioned the need for these bills when we already have good laws in place for both Laboratory and Charter Schools in the Commonwealth. I asked questions about where the money would come from for new charter schools. Yes, State funding could follow the student based on current funding formulas, but that only makes up about half of school spending, what about the other half which comes from local funds? Who would pay for the buildings and maintenance and would local tax dollars be going to charter schools without approval from local school boards?
On the last day of hearings, I summed it up with my three requirements for charter schools: Do the students take SOL exams for accountability and to ensure all children are progressing? Do the teachers have to be licensed Virginia teachers to be on equal footing with public schools? And finally, are the schools under local control and held accountable by local school boards? If the answer was “yes” to all three I was willing to vote for them. Unfortunately most of the reform efforts presented did not meet these standards and did not honor the constitutional authority of local school boards so I voted against them
But I have encouraged everyone who will listen in Richmond that the solution is to provide more funding for some of the excellent public school options we already have in Virginia, especially with our Governor’s School programs. With some investments, we could open up more of them, in exciting areas like healthcare, maritime trades or computer science. We have a public school system that offers great choices to our families, we just need to grow and invest in what we have already built.
Thank you for following our work in the General Assembly. We welcome visitors and our office hours are Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8 to 10am and 2 to 5pm. You can schedule an in person meeting or a zoom meeting by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 804-698-1094.
Photos from the Week
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Celebrating in the office with my Chief of Staff Ken Wright,
Session Aide Kameron Clarke and Administrative Assistant Jason Melendez
Celebrating the establishment of Kimchi Day in Virginia with
Delegate Irene Shin and representatives from the Council of Korean Americans
Members of the Virginia PTA board came to visit me at the State Capitol
Doug Brown, Chair of Newport News School Board
and I during the Virginia School Board Association advocacy day