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RPS Legislative Advocacy Update - January 17, 2020 - Day 10/60

The first full week of the 2020 session is coming to a close! Committees started working through their bill dockets this week and are set to start considering even more legislation next week. Many of these committees are now led by women. Check out this infographic from the Virginia Public Access Project to see the major increase in female committee leadership. 

On Monday, January 20, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, thousands of gun-rights activists will be descending on to the Capitol for a major rally. The Governor has declared a State of Emergency and we are encouraging advocates to avoid visiting downtown or the Capitol. The Senate has already advanced several gun control bills and thousands are expected to show up in opposition to these and other gun control measures being considered by the General Assembly.

Earlier this week, the House Education Committee received a presentation from the VCU Center for Public Policy with the results of the latest Commonwealth Education Poll. This year’s results show that 66% of Virginians feel that funding for public schools in Virginia is not enough to meet their needs (down from 70% from the prior year) and that 63% of Virginians would be willing to pay higher taxes so that overall school funding could be increased (up from 52% from the prior year). You can download the full presentation here.

Legislation 

The Senate Education and Health Committee advanced several bills this week, including several that RPS is following. SB 600 repeals several laws related to school segregation that are no longer in effect but are still in state law. SB 161 would require the Department of Education to create model policies related to the treatment of transgender students. Check out this story from the Richmond Times Dispatch for a few other updates on education related bills, including the demise of SB 132 which would have allowed Virginia schools to offer an elective class on the Bible.

Budget

Budget amendments requested by members of the General Assembly to amend the Governor’s introduced budget have now been posted on the LIS Budget website. An more detailed update will be presented to the RPS School Board on January 21 but some priority amendments are below:

  • $504 million in FY21 and $427 million in FY22 to fully implement the Board of Education’s recommended revisions to the Standards of Quality.
  • $3 million to implement a pilot program that would allow school divisions to extend Virginia Preschool Initiative offerings to cover a full 8 hours to support working families.
  • A range of amendments increasing teacher compensation; 4.5% increases in both years of the budget, adding a 5% raise in FY21, and adding an additional 5% raise in FY22 (on top of the proposed 3% raise in FY22).
  • About $406 million in each year of the budget to eliminate the cap on support positions that are funded by the state.
  • $100 million in Capital Improvement Grants for school divisions to assist with school maintenance and modernization.

These are just some of the budget items being tracked by RPS and further updates on how you can advocate on specific budget items will be communicated as committee meetings are scheduled.

Regulation of gambling and casinos has also been a hot topic this week following the introduction of a number of bills dealing with the issue. Games of skill - the unregulated casino style machines that have popped up in convenience stores across the state - are thought to have caused a major shortfall in state lottery revenues that support public education. Legislators are currently deciding whether to ban the games or to regulate and tax them. One of the major machine suppliers has indicated they are open to a 10% tax and that, “the money we can generate for the state would exceed whatever shortfall the lottery claims comes from us.” Governor Northam and Richmond legislator Delegate Lamont Bagby have also sponsored legislation that would tax the machines at 35% and devote “94% of the new tax revenues to a proposed Virginia Electronic Gaming Device Education Support Fund to compensate for the loss of lottery money for public education.” We expect to see the legislature come to some form of a compromise in the coming weeks.

What can you do today? 

RPS will be sharing form letters to write your legislators about education funding priorities in the coming weeks. Our advocacy partners are also sharing their own letter writing campaigns. Voices for Virginia’s Children is the Commonwealth’s only independent, multi-issue child policy and advocacy organization and is currently focused on early childhood education. Over the weekend, take a moment to join their current letter writing campaigns to support the Governor’s proposed investments in expanding early childhood education access to 3-year-olds and more 4-year-olds. Flex your advocacy muscle now and get ready to advocate for K-12 education funding next week!

Attend the Fund Our Future rally on January 27 at 12pm! This is the largest event to advocate for public education funding all year and since students are in school, we need even more citizens from our communities to take the time to show up and show the legislature that public education is a priority. Learn more about the event and RSVP here.