As I and my fellow legislators conclude the third week of the 2013 legislative session of the Virginia General Assembly, this past week in Richmond saw a second round of snow, but the light dusting wasn’t enough to stop the movement of bills through the House of Delegates.
In recent days, officials announced that Virginia’s unemployment rate fell to 5.5 percent, the lowest since 2008 and the lowest in the Southeast. The key has been joint efforts in making a positive, pro-growth jobs environment our top priority. The formula for positive economic growth is simple: Continuation of Virginia’s low tax rates, elimination of unnecessary regulations, and developing a skilled and educated workforce. Simply put this lowest unemployment rate in four years results from Virginia’s creation of new jobs and opportunities.This positive economic news doesn’t mean we can take our eyes off the ball. Helping businesses to create new jobs and improve our economy remains one of our highest priorities. This year, we have advanced solutions to reduce traffic congestion, remove bureaucratic red tape, and improve our education system to ensure our children can compete for the jobs of tomorrow.
As I’ve indicated in previous updates, the focus of our 2013 legislative session is on a sustainable transportation funding plan and on K-12 education reform and investment. We are continuing work on proposals laid before us by Gov. Bob McDonnell and a number of legislators, so I will focus the remaining paragraphs on K-12 education initiatives.
In the area of K-12 education reform and investment, we are focusing on a well-educated workforce as the key ingredient in a strong economy. The pathway to a robust system of public education is through reforms that empower teachers, bring greater accountability to schools, and give localities more flexibility over state funding.
This past week, the House of Delegates focused much attention on school issues and passed several important K-12 education reform bills.
First, the Teach for America Act (HB 2084) passed the House of Delegates with unanimous support. This bill will bring the Teach for America program to the Commonwealth and allow participants to teach in Virginia schools. Currently, 300 of Virginia’s best recent college graduates are sent to classrooms in other states under the Teach for America program. This bill will allow Teach for America teachers to teach in Virginia schools to make a difference in the lives of young people.
Second, the Local School Division Charter School Approval Act (HB 2076) would reduce barriers to creating charter schools in Virginia, a key step forward toward providing educational choices for parents and students.
Third, the High School to Work Partnerships bill (HB 2101) passed with unanimous support. This bill will ensure that all high school graduates are college or career ready when they graduate.
Fourth, the Educator Fairness Act (HB 2151) passed with solid bipartisan support. This legislation gives localities the option to extend probationary windows for new teachers from three to five years and clarifies the evaluation and grievance processes for teachers. This legislation has the support from many groups, including the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Virginia Association of Superintendents, and the Virginia Education Association.
In the area of rewarding our teachers, my House colleagues remain committed to rewarding our hardworking teachers with a 2 percent pay raise. After the initial announcement of the pay raise proposal, many localities raised two concerns that could prevent them from offering the raise to their teachers. We are now working hard to find solutions to ensure our teachers get the pay raise they deserve.
The first issue for many localities is a requirement that teacher pay raises must also include raises for support personnel, such as bus drivers, secretaries, and other staff members who keep our schools running. To address this challenge, the House Appropriations Committee is working to fund the state share of a pay raise for local school support staffs.
The second issue for many localities is their need for additional time to provide their share of funding for teacher pay raises. Localities must cover a portion of funding needed for any pay raises on top of state funding. The original proposal required localities to give the pay raise by July 1, 2014, but many localities have insufficient time to find needed local funding. To help, we will include language in the House budget to extend the window for localities to fund the pay raise.
This week was gratifying for me in the area of my own legislation that I am patroning. As chairman of the Virginia Commission on Civics Education, I am carrying HB 1601 to extend the life of the Commission to ensure that civics education is an important part of public education in Virginia. The House passed my bill this week and sent it to the Senate for action. My HB 1907, which I am jointly patroning with Sen. George Barker (D-39), will outlaw driving while texting. It has been heard in the House Courts of Justice Committee and is well on its way to what Sen. Barker and I hope will be final approval. My HB 2175, which I am co-patroning with Majority Leader Kirk Cox, was approved by the full House as a major first step in constructing a Northern Virginia Veteran Care Center. As chairman of the General Assembly Military and Veteran Caucus, I will work hard to bring this new facility to Prince William County.
If you or your family are in Richmond between now and when the session ends on February 23rd, please stop by our office in Room 406 of the General Assembly Building. You can reach me directly at DelRAnderson@house.virginia.gov or at our office number, 804-698-1051. You may also reach my legislative assistant, Ryan M. Galloway, at the same number or at RGalloway@house.virginia.gov. If you need me on the weekend, please don’t hesitate to call my Woodbridge home at 703-730-1380 because I must be reachable if I am to be responsive. Regardless of your opinion or party affiliation, we value your views and feel privileged to represent you in Richmond.
Del. Rich Anderson, a retired 30-year Air Force colonel, represents Prince William County’s 51st House District in the Virginia General Assembly and sits on four standing House committees: Finance, Transportation, General Laws, and Science and Technology.