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House budget would boost teacher pay, Medicaid waivers

The Virginia House of Delegates Appropriations Committee released its proposed amendments to the 2013-14 state budget Sunday, seeking to pump more money into the commonwealth’s “rainy day” fund, education and Medicaid.

The proposals include a $95 million deposit in the state’s rainy day fund. The plan also would provide $45 million for pay raises for teachers and school support staff, funding for school security and funding for an additional 250 Medicaid waiver slots for people with disabilities.

“On the heels of the news that our national economy shrunk in the last quarter of 2012, it’s important that we continue to exercise fiscal discipline,” said House Majority Leader Kirkland Cox (R-Dist. 66), of Colonial Heights, vice-chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

Cox said the $95 million rainy day fund includes $45 million more than Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) called for. This would prepare Virginia for economic challenges that might lie ahead, Cox said.

The 250 Medicaid slots would create 200 waivers for people with intellectual disabilities waivers and 50 waivers for people with developmental disabilities. The budget specifically includes $7.7 million for ID and DD Medicaid waivers.

The proposed budget also includes $2.5 million in targeted economic development incentives to create the Cyber Accelerator program, which state officials hope will attract cyber security companies to Virginia. The program will be managed by the state’s Center for Innovative Technology, based in Herndon.

The allocation also would increase the cap by $500,000 for angel investor tax credit, a credit system to help individual investors in early-stage businesses.

“In the past three years, we have invested over $100 million in concentrated economic development and watched our unemployment rate drop to 5.5 percent,” said Augusta Del. Steve Landes (R-Dist. 25), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s economic development subcommittee. “But we know there is more work to do.”

For education, the House budget expands on McDonnell’s proposed 2 percent pay raise for teachers and includes support staff. The proposed funding totals $62 million. The budget also includes $12 million for higher education enrollment growth and $3.7 million to increase Virginia Tuition Assistance grants from $2,800 to $3,100 per student.

“As they grow older, we want to make sure all of our students have the opportunity to attend a Virginia college or university,” said Virginia Beach Del. Bob Tata (R-Dist. 85), who chairs the House Appropriations Committee’s subcommittee on K-12 education. “Expanded funding to encourage enrollment growth and TAG grants are two important parts of achieving that goal.”

School safety also would get a funding boost in the House budget. The budget includes $1.7 million for school resource officers and $30 million for school security improvements.

The full House of Delegates has not yet acted on the budget proposal.

­— Stephen J. Nielsen, Capital News Service

Bills support Teach for America

Legislation that would grant a provisional teaching license to Teach for America participants is moving toward passage in the General Assembly.

Both the House and Senate have unanimously approved separate bills to create such a license to help the program, which recruits college students to teach in low-income areas.

House Bill 2084 recently was passed by the House and has been assigned to the Senate Committee for Education and Health. The bill, proposed by Del. M. Kirkland Cox (R-Dist. 66) of Colonial Heights, is in line with education initiatives advocated by Gov. Bob McDonnell (R).

Since 1990, Teach for America, a New York City-based nonprofit, has recruited more than 33,000 recent college graduates throughout the country to work in low-income areas. Currently, Virginia does not have a Teach for America program, but McDonnell said he wants one as part of his education agenda.

Cox, a retired high school government teacher and the majority leader in the House of Delegates, recalled the struggles of starting his teaching career in a hard-to-staff school. He said bright, young and energetic teachers from Teach for America can transform classrooms and close the achievement gaps among students in poverty-stricken areas.

“Teach for America recruits are often in the top 10 percent of their college classes or hold student leadership positions,” Cox said. He said Teach for America participants undergo intensive training.

HB 2084 would create a two-year provisional license for Teach for America participants. It also would allow the Virginia Board of Education to extend that license for an additional year if the participant has met certain criteria. They include satisfactory scores on teachers’ assessments and satisfactory evaluations at the end of the school year.

Sen. Frank M. Ruff Jr., R-Clarksville, has filed identical legislation in his chamber.

Senate Bill 1175 was approved by the Senate last week and referred to the House Education Committee. On Wednesday, that committee approved the bill, 21-0. It now goes to the full House for a vote.

— Kristen Smith, Capital News Service

Senate passes ‘Education Fairness Act’

A bill making it easier to fire bad teachers, part of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) education reform agenda, won unanimous approval Monday from the state Senate.

Senate Bill 1223, called the Education Fairness Act, would extend the probationary window for teachers to five years from the current three years. It also would streamline the grievance procedure for firing teachers deemed incompetent.

The Virginia Education Association, which represents the state’s teachers, supports the legislation.

Senators voted 40-0 for SB 1223, which was sponsored by Republican Sens. Thomas Norment (Dist. 3) of Williamsburg and Mark Obenshain (Dist. 26) of Harrisonburg.

Last week, the House voted 84-14 in favor of a companion measure, House Bill 2151, sponsored by Staunton Del. Richard Bell (R-Dist. 20). Bell said the legislation is aimed at “improving educational opportunities for Virginia students.”

The Education Fairness Act addresses the evaluation policies and grievance procedures of public school teachers. It would require that teachers, assistant principals and principals be evaluated every year. Student academic progress would be part of the evaluation.

The president of the Virginia Education Association, Meg Gruber, said teachers support the change regarding grievance and dismissal.

“We believe the VEA’s involvement in the process has resulted in an improved bill, and Virginia’s teachers have had a voice in laws that directly affect their profession,” Gruber said.

McDonnell hailed the Senate’s passage of the legislation. In a statement, he said the longer probationary period for teachers would “allow for a more thoughtful examination of teachers being awarded continuing contract status” and provide more opportunity for mentoring.

“We have incredible teachers in Virginia, and these reforms will help ensure that our children always have the most effective educators possible in the classroom. Great teachers are the key to bright futures for our children,” McDonnell said.

— Amber Galaviz, Capital News Service

Bill would crack down on unethical bar owners

The Senate has unanimously passed a bill to revoke the liquor licenses of bars and restaurants that file false tax returns or other financial information with government regulators.

Senate Bill 1349, sponsored by Henrico Sen. Donald McEachin (D-Dist. 9), received a unanimous endorsement Feb. 5 from the full Senate.

The bill was amended in the Senate Committee on Rehabilitation and Social Services, where committee members eliminated a provision strongly opposed by mixed beverage license holders.

McEachin’s original legislation would have required the Alcohol Beverage Control Board to revoke the licenses of establishments if they don’t sell a substantial amount of food as well as drinks.

Under existing law, at least 45 percent of a restaurant’s gross receipts must come from the sale of food and non-alcoholic beverages. The original draft of SB 1349 had instructed the ABC Board to suspend or revoke a mixed beverage license if the establishment fell short of the 45 percent target “more than two times in a 10-year period.” That passage was dropped from the substitute bill.

Bar and restaurant owners said it would be unfair to crack down on establishments if their food sales miss the 45 percent ratio.

The bill’s objective is to punish liquor license holders for filing false financial information with the ABC Board.

SB 1349 states that the board shall suspend or revoke a license if it finds that the licensee has defrauded or tried to defraud a government agency “by making or filing any report, document, or tax return … that is fraudulent or contains a willful or knowing false representation of a material fact.”

An establishment also would lose its mixed beverage license if it “has willfully deceived or attempted to deceive the Board, or any federal, state, or local government or governmental agency or authority, by making or maintaining business records required by statute or regulation that are false or fraudulent.”

McEachin said the bill would promote good business ethics.

“This particular piece of legislation is definitely a kitchen-table issue, but it’s necessary to ensure that ethical business practices are maintained here in Virginia,” McEachin said.

State officials said they hope the threat of the revocation of a liquor license will cause a bar or restaurant owner to think twice before submitting false financial records.

“For the time being, financial submissions are the only way to really effectively monitor mixed beverage license holders. But I’m sure the dispute will continue to come up,” said Allen Ricks, an ABC representative.

— Michael Schuster, Capital News Service