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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.

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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