As the Governor’s “Year of the Teacher” marches on, it’s critical to be on constant watch for surprises coming out of Richmond. Someone noted on my Facebook wall that, seeing what the Governor proposed regarding teachers this year, “You better hope he doesn't decide to have a ‘Year of the School Board.’” However, I have to believe that such an appellation could, in fact, also describe 2013.
The Governor’s proposals and accompanying legislation strike at the very basic authority of school boards to maintain local control of schools. The two most worrisome measures to be passed in different forms by both the House and Senate call for all schools to be branded with grades ranging from A to F and establish a statewide institution granted the power to take over failing local schools. These measures, relying on state and federal accountability measures, further entrench a testing-based culture and put more work on the backs of our teachers, two national trends from which the Fairfax County School Board has been desperately trying to pull away. Luckily, legislation failed that would have allowed the State Board of Education to authorize local charter schools without local School Board approval. While he’d never state it outright, this truly has been the Governor’s “Year of the School Board.”
As for Fairfax County’s priority positions, many of which involve retaining current levels of state education funding, the picture is mixed. It appears Fairfax will retain at least some Cost of Competing funding (which helps fund staff in our expensive job market) that was completely eliminated in the Governor’s budget, but Fairfax will see at least a 60 percent cut from pre-2012 funding levels. On the bad side, no budget amendments related to early (pre-K) education were included in budget proposals and the Governor’s proposal for increasing teacher salaries by 2 percent is of little help to Fairfax teachers—in order to access $1.6M at most for salaries, Fairfax would have to spend upwards of $40M.
On the legislative side, Fairfax's need to allow county-employed school health aides to administer epinephrine passed unanimously in both houses. Unfortunately, our perennial desire to remove the Labor Day calendar restriction has failed to make it out of the Senate Education and Health committee and the so-called “Tebow Bill,” which would allow home-schooled students to play on public school sports teams, passed the House and will be up for vote in the Senate.
One surprise piece of legislation—and unfunded mandate—would require that all teachers be required to be certified in Cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and adds a SOL graduation requirement that all students be certified starting in 2016, as well. Of all things, we certainly needed another training course for our teachers and something else to pack into our curriculum.
If you desire to contact your legislators about issues critical to the School Board and public education in Fairfax, you might want to focus on three issues:
1) Repealing the Labor Day calendar restriction (Senators);
2) Ensuring the budget retains Cost to Compete (COCA) funding (House members);
3) Preventing the “Tebow Bill” from passage (Senators)
What this General Assembly session has shown is that, if we didn’t already know, Virginia’s Governor lacks the values supporting public education that we hold dear in Northern Virginia. What began as the “Year of the Teacher” turned into an all-out assault on public education.
Ryan McElveen (At-large) is the Fairfax County School Board's Liaison to the Virginia General Assembly.