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Richmond's Educational Extremism

How to still advocate for Fairfax County's Schools

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.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Michele February 11, 2013 at 02:52 AM
I think it is sad that you advocate against the "Teabow Bill" without telling people what it says! Basically, it allows school districts to decide IF they will allow home schooled students to try out for sports teams. It does NOT require them to do so, merely gives them the choice. Districts with an abundance of kids trying out for teams may choose not to do this, like Fairfax. But in other parts of the state where there are less kids competing for team slots, the districts are very open to this. Why should you block other school districts from doing what is best for their students? In addition, since that one subject that I happen to know about is so poorly researched, how can I consider any of your other opinions as well thought out and researched?
Mozart February 11, 2013 at 03:45 AM
It's Tebow, not Teabow, but maybe that was a Freudian slip, since it's a favorite of Tea Party Republicans. Maybe you could just ask Ryan McElveen why he opposes the legislation and he could respond. I'd be interested in understanding why he's opposed to the bill.
Michele February 11, 2013 at 02:55 PM
No, actually my misspelling was a typo! Most of the opposition I have seen from this bill is coming from the right. FYI. Isn't commenting on his article a request for information? I did ask above "Why should you block other school districts from doing what is best for their students? " Most forums I go on, the article authors do monitor and respond to comments..... If that is not true here, I would wonder why.
Mozart February 11, 2013 at 05:22 PM
You are misguided if you think most of the opposition to the Tebow Bill is coming from the right. It is a pet project of right-wing Republicans and their representatives on local school boards. In Fairfax, only Elizabeth Schultz (endorsed by the Republicans) supported the last iteration of the Tebow Bill; every other School Board member opposed it. And, quite honestly, I took your response to Ryan's blog post as a partisan shot as well. Literally, what he wrote is correct; absent the passage of the Tebow Bill, homeschoolers would not be authorized to play on public HS teams in Virginia, so I doubt there is any question as to the quality of his research and as to whether he is familiar with the bill's details. However, I would also welcome his explaining the reason for his position on the Tebow Bill, if he sees our comments.
Mark Hilburger February 11, 2013 at 05:31 PM
The Teabow bill shouldn't even be an issue. Public schools should always be forced to allow non-public school children to try out for sports teams. If they don't allow, they should lose some funding. We are forced to pay taxes to fund public schools. Many of us have chosen not to send our children to public school. This is saving the public school systems lots of money. And they don't want to even allow us to have are kids try out for teams they our tax dollars are paying for. This is the kind lf left wing thinking that is ruining our country. What we really need is private school tax credits that come out of public school funding. It would create a competitive market for education that would improve it and force out the lefties. Its funny how they demand our money for other kids, and don't give us a say in how its spent. School boards should be parents and taxpayers only.
Jody February 11, 2013 at 05:40 PM
I totally agree with Mark and I hope the Tebow bill passes.
Jim Daniels February 11, 2013 at 05:57 PM
That is actually not correct. The education budget is based on an estimate of the number students they expect to attend. Home schooled students are not included in that calculation. And sorry, we all pay taxes for things we are never going to use and don't support. The public school system is not an ala-carte menu where you get to decide what you do and do not want to participate in. If you opt out, you opt out. Parents and students put a lot of work into supporting their schools, including the sports teams - fundraising, booster clubs, volunteering, etc. It is simply not right that students whose parents have not only not provided that support, but purposely withdrew from the school, should get to take advantage of that hard work. It's also a matter of fairness. Would it be fair that an athlete attending the school were denied participation because a home schooled student took their place? No, it would not. If the legislature does insist on passing this bad bill, at the very least parents should have to pay a fee that covers the entire cost of their child's participation, and they should only be allowed to participate if there wasn't a student at the school qualified to take that spot.
Sandra February 11, 2013 at 06:13 PM
i agree with Jim entirely. School teams should be just that - composed of students at that school. It is already difficult enough for many kids to get a spot on a team, and I feel it would be unfair to the kids attending a school to be pushed out of a team by someone who doesn't belong to their school. It isn't fair for those who opted out of having their kids attend a public school to decline to participate in school life and yet insist on opting in on sports. Every school has a culture of its own, and homeschooled kids are not a part of that, by choice. If you choose not to have your child attend public school, then you can't whine about the things they are missing by not attending that school.
Kathy Keith February 11, 2013 at 08:43 PM
While philosophically, I support the bill, I disagree with it in practice. Here are some things to think about: 1. The kids on the team all go to school at the same time and are dealing with the same type of schedule--the homeschooled kid can sleep in and do his work on his own schedule. 2. Grades are a factor on the teams--if you have below a certain average, you don't get to play. Who monitors the grades of the homeschooled student?
Jay Self February 11, 2013 at 08:48 PM
I generally agree with Jim's comments. I have chosen to not have kids. Just like those who have chosen to home school, I freely made a choice and I was well aware of all of the drawbacks. Based on Mark's comments, I am either due a refund or I should be able to divert my taxes from education into something that benefits me. Do I get a say? Should I demand a refund?
Ryan McElveen February 12, 2013 at 01:25 AM
Hi Michele and Mozart, Apologies for the delayed response—the School Board had an all-day work-session today. The Tebow bill (HB 1442) would allow local school boards to determine whether home-schooled students can try out for local teams. The Fairfax County School Board voted to advocate against the legislation when it was introduced in 2012 because, in short, the bill would be unfair to current FCPS students who must comply with academic standards in order to participate. While the Tebow bill would require home-schooled students to meet academic benchmarks for two years before joining a team, those standards are not clear. As some have argued, public schools aren’t “a la carte”—students and their families have the choice to participate in the public school system and all of the activities it provides. This year, the Virginia High School League, the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia PTA and the Virginia School Boards Association, among others, have all advocated against the bill. The House of Delegates voted 56-43 in favor of the Tebow bill, and the Senate Education and Health Committee will be voting on it on Thursday, February 14 at 8:30 a.m. Last year, the bill died in this committee by a 7-8 vote. The Fairfax State Senators on this committee are Janet Howell, Dick Saslaw and George Barker. Last year, all three voted against the bill. Feel free to let me know if you have further questions or comments at ryan.mcelveen@fcps.edu. Ryan
Catherine Myers February 12, 2013 at 03:02 AM
So why oppose a bill that would allow each school board in the state to make its own decision about whether homeschoolers can participate? Some school boards want to say "yes" and by opposing it, you're blocking their right to choose what to do in their community.
Dave Webster February 12, 2013 at 04:32 AM
Well said Catherine. What Ryan is actually saying is that he doesn't want the local school boards to be empowered to make their own decisions.
Kathy Keith February 12, 2013 at 12:47 PM
I'm glad they passed the bill. It might not be right for FCPS, but I can understand that it might be right in other communities. Why is McElveen against letting other school boards choose what is best for its communities?
Sandra February 12, 2013 at 05:11 PM
In referring to why we don't let each district do what it wishes, I imagine they need it to be the same for all so as to create a level playing field, so to speak. The problem seems to be whether homeschooled students are meeting the same academic standards of eligibility as public school kids. If some districts allow homeschooled kids on their teams, and others don't, you set up a situation where some teams might have kids playing who would be considered academically ineligible in other districts. Since there doesn't yet seem to be a way to determine if homeschooled kdis are meeting the same academic benchmarks (see Ryan McElveen's comments above), then I don't see that it would be fair to have some districts with homeschooled kids, and some not. Even if you argue those districts might be separate, at some point there will come a time in regional or state playoffs where different districts with different standards will meet.
Mozart February 12, 2013 at 05:35 PM
I would not be surprised if, after this legislation is signed, homeschooling advocates start filing lawsuits that challenge the decisions of any local school boards that exercise their purported discretion under the bill to retain eligibility requirements for participation in public high school athletics. I can understand why a school board representative like Ryan - particularly in a jurisdiction such as Fairfax where most public high school parents and students likely would prefer to retain the current requirements - would oppose this bill and the additional litigation that it may give rise to later as to whether local school boards complied with their internal policies and procedures in adopting eligibility restrictions. In other words, I don't think the homeschooling groups will simply accept the decisions of local school boards. Instead, they'll keep fighting to promote their view that public school programs and resources should be available on an "a la carte" basis. Most public school parents respect their right to homeschool, but homeschooling parents do not appear to respect the view of public school parents that teams and other school activities should be reserved to enrolled students who are full-time members of a school community. It's sad to contemplate what this could do to local teams and rivalries.
Groovis Maximus February 12, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Would the bill restrict where a home-schooled student could play? As in, they can ONLY play for their local school? Because I could foresee that, unless restricted, a talented athlete could "shop" for the school they want to play at. For example, suppose a very talented football player lives in Fairfax and should be attending Fairfax High. But the talented football player wants to play for Oakton or Stonebridge. Currently, under FCPS rules, the football player couldn't be pupil-placed for athletics. However, if the football player withdraws from the public school system and becomes "home-schooled," can he then choose where he plays?
Chuck Stein February 12, 2013 at 06:38 PM
I find the arguments against this innocuous legislation a bit niggling and cruel, as well as tainted with conflict of interest problems for the parties advancing them. Academic standards for homeschooled kids are clearly provided in the legislation (see here: http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?131+ful+HB1442E+pdf ), which borrows from already-existing standards for homeschoolers under Virginia Code § 22.1-254.1.C. The “a la carte” and “fairness” arguments are also a bit of a red herring. Our schools are there as public services supported by taxpayers, and are not exclusive clubs. Given valid reasons why a parent would homeschool (including non-sectarian ones—such as kids on the Asperger spectrum who can handle academics but have difficulty with social interactions), the County would fail these kids by foreclosing the opportunity to compete at least in sporting events in public school venues. And besides, the Virginia High School League (which enforces the homeschooler ban) already allows an exception to the school attendance requirement for students attending a non-member public schools through school board assignment (see Sec. 28-1-2 of the VHSL Handbook, found at http://www.vhsl.org/doc/upload/pub-handbook-2012-133.pdf). Apparently, the VHSL finds some exceptions more worthy than others. Additional arguments against the measure, such as forum-shopping and drop-outs, are addressed in the legislation—see above.
Chuck Stein February 12, 2013 at 06:44 PM
If I can add to my above comment, what is concerning is that some of the organizations opposing the bill -- in particular the Virginia Education Association -- have a pecuniary interest in maintaining the public schools’ monopoly over these kinds of activities. The VEA is a subsidiary of the National Education Association, which has intractably opposed the homeschool movement and has tried to throw up regulatory roadblocks to homeschooling parents wherever it can. This hard-hearted stance seems to be a continuation of the VEA/NEA struggle to push the homeschool movement to the margins, by punishing kids guilty of nothing more than wanting to play a game of ball.
Sandra February 12, 2013 at 09:29 PM
I keep hearing arguments of "it's not fair", "it's all about money". Personally, the reason I disagree with letting homeschooled kids participate in high school sports is I think it changes the entire reason for having a high school team. To me, being a part of a high school team means that you are promoting school spirit. On the days of big games, everyone in school dresses up, the kids on the team attend rallies, and it's all about cheering on your school. I fail to see how kids who are not members of that school, who have in fact deliberately chosen NOT to be a part of that school, can really be part of the high school sports experience. Honestly, if you open it up, it seems like eventually you'll have more of an SYA type experience, where people from all over come together just to play a game. And knowing how hard it already is to get on a high school team, I don't think that someone from outside the school should take a spot away from a kid who belongs to that school. Yes, some people say that's not fair to the homeschooled kids, but they do have a choice - if they want to be a part of high school sports that badly, then they can always attend a public school. Otherwise, I'd say that they should set up their own leagues to play in.
Mozart February 12, 2013 at 09:41 PM
No, I don't think that is the issue. The homeschooled student could only play for the school to which he or she otherwise would be assigned, so the latitide to "shop" would be lower than students who pupil place to out of boundary schools currently have. The issue really boils down to whether students who don't attend schools and haven't formed bonds with other students and teachers at those schools should be representing schools they don't attend, when they don't really adhere to the same schedule or requirements as other students and may be denying opportunities to enrolled students who show up every day and support one another in the classrooms as well as on the playing fields.
Mozart February 12, 2013 at 09:44 PM
Good point. There are such leagues in NoVa already, and presumably local school boards around here will take that into account if the Tebow Bill is enacted and they are evaluating whether to continue to limit eligibilty to enrolled students.
T-Bird February 14, 2013 at 02:58 PM
Here's a clue Mark: You send your kids to private school and pay a heafty tuition right? Perhaps you should "force" your school to provide the services you actually want. FYI - if the school system had to support EVERY child in the county, your taxes would be much higher. But no, don't let facts get in the way of your rant.
T-Bird February 14, 2013 at 03:09 PM
This is nonsense. If you choose to home school your child, then you've turned your back on the public education system and that is what they are going to get. Sure, you pay taxes, but you had the opprotunity to send your child to that school and get your moneys worth, but you didn't. Now you want both? So let me nget this straight, the school education is not good enough for little Johnny, but the football team is? I'm sorry, did nobody ever teach you about consequences for your choices? No, clearly not. By the way, there are private baseball, soccer and football leagues in Fairfax County. Send your child there if that's what you want. Oh, what's that? You don't want to pay? Consequences are a bitch aren't they?
Jim Daniels February 15, 2013 at 02:44 AM
Bill was defeated in committee.
Louise Epstein February 15, 2013 at 04:15 AM
Ryan, How do you feel about the defeat of HB 1467, which would have allowed school boards to decide whether to start school before Labor Day? HB 1467 had bipartisan support. Its six patrons in the House included three from Fairfax County - Bob Brink (Dem), Barbara Comstock (Rep) and Tom Rust (Rep). http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?131+mbr+HB1467 When HB 1467 was considered by the House, a bipartisan group of 72 delegates voted for it. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?131+vot+HV0480+HB1467 But, it was killed again this year in the Senate Education & Health Committee. http://lis.virginia.gov/cgi-bin/legp604.exe?131+vot+S04V0181+HB1467 Of the 15 members of the Senate Education & Health Committee, three represent Fairfax County residents. One - Janet Howell - voted for HB 1467. Two others - Senates Saslaw and Barker - voted with the hospitality industry. All are Democrats.
Ryan McElveen February 15, 2013 at 11:11 AM
Louise, It's very disappointing. The Board advocated in favor of repealing the calendar restriction, as it has done for many years. Ryan
Louise Epstein February 15, 2013 at 05:11 PM
Ryan, do you think that the Democrats in the Virginia Assembly who voted for HB 1467 (or who would have voted for it in the Senate if it had made it out of committee), could make an effort to persuade Senators Saslaw and Barker to join them in supporting this bill next year? This is truly a bipartisan issue. An extra week or two before the state SOL, Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate exams would be helpful to many students.

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