virginia education association

"Tebow Bill" In Senate Committee Tomorrow: Urge Support Of Fairness For Homeschoolers

Facing its biggest legislative challenge, not unlike the last-minute, game-on-the-line-drive some young athlete who would benefit from the bill may one day lead, HB 1442, the often-called "Tebow Bill," will be considered tomorrow in the Senate Education and Health Committee. The bill would assist home school students in participating in public school sports and is a top priority for The Family Foundation.

Please click here to see if your senator is on the committee and urge him or her, or other committee members, to vote in favor of HB 1442!

The legislation, patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), would break down barriers that prevent home school students from playing public high school sports by prohibiting localities from joining the Virginia High School League, a pseudo-state/private entity that regulates public school sports. Under the provisions of the measure, localities would not be able to contract with VHSL if they don't allow home school students to participate. Half the states in the nation have some type of measure that provides opportunities to home school students to participate in public school sports.

Remarkably, yesterday, even the liberal Washington Post editorial board came out in favor of the "Tebow Bill"! Last year, the New York Times reported on the bill, and quoted school officials in other states who expressed the same fears the VHSL now mimics when their legislatures debated similar legislation. But after the law took affect, they found their fears misplaced. Polling done earlier this session by VCU's Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute showed that nearly two-thirds of Virginians support fairness for home school students in participating in public school sports. This mirrored our own poll, one year ago, done by Mason-Dixon.

Last year, a similar proposal was defeated in Ed and Health by one vote. If you can attend the meeting to show support, please be there promptly at 8:00 a.m. Though the bill could be heard anytime that morning, seating is limited so you want to be there on time! A crowd of supporters, particularly home school families, can make a big difference!

In essence, all we are asking for is a chance for home school kids to try out. This bill doesn't force any home school student to participate in any activity. It simply requires that the Virginia High School League allow home school students to try out for sports teams or public schools can't contract with VHSL. The bill also requires home school students who participate to meet the disciplinary requirements and allows for families to be charged any fees associated with participation. Local school systems could also add requirements.

The children of families who pay taxes that support the local public schools and are part of our communities, continue to be denied the ability to try out for an activity that they are funding for the simple reason that they are home schooled. This discriminatory practice must end.

Opponents such as the VHSL, the Virginia Education Association and the Parent Teacher Association, are doing all that they can to prevent this bill from passing. It's late in the game and your help is needed. Your voice is critical to the success of this bill.

Breaking News: Senate Dems Shock Virginia Media And Political Establishment By Rejecting Budget AGAIN, But Not Us. We Told You It Would Be Like This!

Governor Bob McDonnell just released a long and justifiably angry statement confronting Senate Democrats on their third budget obstruction in about six weeks. It pretty much hits on every conceivable point regarding Senate Democrats' highly partisan and obstructionist tactics that still leave the commonwealth without a two-year spending plan. (See next post for the statement.) But I can't resist three resonant "We-told-you-so's" reported/predicted on this blog not read many places elsewhere. First, as we commented during session, Senate Democrats were never serious about crafting a budget. They preferred to grandstand about "social issues wasting time and not dealing with the real issues," even as those bills were debated and voted upon in the normal legislative calendar while they actually did waste time and effort by feigning approval as long as their budget amendments were agreed to.

Second, as the governor points out, despite their protestations otherwise, Senate Democrats are obsessed with committee power, despite their loss in last November's elections, exacerbated, perhaps, by the now-minority leader's bravado that they would gain seats while not rubbing it in too much on the GOP (sentiments made before he could even find anyone to run, aside from his incumbents and newbies in safe districts, and needing to talk one senator out of his retirement). But there is one committee in particular they care about, one whose lust to rule keeps them up at night — Education and Health. The minority leader admitted as much, as we broke here, and for one plain, simple, raw reason — to serve as the blocking back for its benefactors at Planned Parenthood and the Virginia Education Association, in order to prevent protections for life and needed education reforms.

Third, during the third week of March, the mainstream media, unwilling to dig into any subterranean rumblings, much less semi-overt controversies, precipitated by the Senate's minority leadership, gleefully reported that there was budget peace, naively reporting with glee a unanimous Senate Finance Committee vote to approve a Senate budget. We outlined why there was no "peace in the valley" and expressed shock that so many media types pushed the budget issue to the back pages as if a deal was a formality when there were any number of reasons Senate liberals were ready block a final version with the House, none of which were ever going to be resolved in their favor: ultrasound funding, higher taxes, committee assignments, transportation earmarks. Some gave incredible credence to the hope that Senator Charles Colgan, the ranking Democrat on the Finance Committee and senior member of the Senate, would break ranks, somehow shocking the GOP majority we his vote fell through (see Washington Examiner). It's as if after two months of political neon sign flashing by the Senate's left, the media, pundits and even political pros, thought they'd taken a chill. But it's not only the weather that's been unseasonably warm this year.

Pick your metaphor here, but given the centennial hype over it, I'll say a budget deal then was about as secure as the Titanic making its way at night under a clueless captain. Tonight, at the Virginia General Assembly, the lifeboats are deployed.

"Tebow Bill" Fails In Senate Education And Health Committee

The Senate Education and Health Committee this morning voted 7-8 (see vote) to defeat HB 947, a bill patroned by Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), which would have removed a significant barrier preventing home school students from trying out for public school sports teams. Senator Harry Blevins (R-14, Chesapeake) joined the seven Democrats on the committee in opposition to the bill. The bill, which became known in the media as the "Tebow bill," was a top legislative priority for The Family Foundation. More than half the states in the nation have some type of measure that provides opportunities to home school students to participate in public school sports, but at this point Virginia will not join that league.

Delegate Bell eloquently presented the bill, anticipating opponents' arguments and masterfully debunking them. He explained that homeschoolers were not looking for a guaranteed spot on the team, but rather the ability to tryout. They were not looking to school shop, but rather tryout for their local high school team. They were not looking to participate for free, but rather pay any expenses the coach deemed appropriate. Additionally, the bill included the right for localities to add requirements of their own as well as a four year sunset. Nothing in the bill was an earthshaking change.

Opponents claimed homeschoolers want it both ways and that they know the rules when they make their choice. But Senator Jeff McWaters (R-8, Virginia Beach) countered that some students are caught in a trap of staying in public school just to play sports when their educational needs are better served in a home school environment.

After his presentation, numerous homeschoolers testified to their own academic prowess and athletic ability. One boy spoke of his participation in rowing. He rows with his team at many regattas, but is barred from rowing with his teammates when VHSL facilitates the competition. He expressed his frustration with his "second class citizenship." A public school student from Godwin High School in Henrico County, who plays on the junior varsity basketball team, told committee members that there was a shortage of students interested in playing girls basketball, so she and her teammates had to recruit players. She said that homeschooler participation would be a welcomed addition.

However, the  educrat establishment (Virginia Education Association, Virginia High School League, Virginia School Board Association, Virginia Superintendents Association, the Parent Teacher Association, etc.) turned out in full force to oppose the bill. Perhaps the most enlightening comment came from the PTA. Its lobbyist stated that 98.4 percent of high schoolers are public school students, which would mean 1.6 percent of students are either in private school or homeschooled. While that number seems a bit inflated, if so, it's ironic that so much panic has ensued from the public education lobby over a mere 1.6 percent of students!

The good news is that this is the farthest in the legislative process that this bill has traveled. For the first time, the bill passed out of the House of Delegates and made it to the Senate. We must continue to press forward, educating others on the fairness and importance of this legislation. The children of families who pay taxes that support the local public schools and are part of our communities, yet continue to be denied the ability to try out for an activity that they are funding for the simple reason that they are homeschooled. This discriminatory practice must end. Just as we said with school choice, the day will come when homeschool kids are treated fairly and allowed to try out for sports teams!

Despite Survey, Freedom Isn't Very Free For Virginia Parents

As we celebrated the birth of our nation over the weekend, a George Mason University Mercatus Center study pronounced Virginia the "ninth" freest state in the nation (Richmond Times-Dispatch). Taking into consideration tax rates, criminal law, education and several other factors, the study proclaimed Virginia the freest state in the South. Juxtaposed to this study is an editorial in Tuesday's Wall Street Journal that announced 2011 as “the year of school choice.” According to The Journal, "No fewer than 13 states have enacted school choice legislation in 2011." From Florida to Maine to Utah, state legislatures have enacted policies that advance the cause of freedom for parents of school children.

The piece goes on to say:

School choice proponents may have had their biggest success in Indiana, where Republican Governor Mitch Daniels signed legislation that removes the charter cap, allows all universities to be charter authorizers, and creates a voucher program that enables about half the state's students to attend public or private schools.

Unfortunately, Virginia is not one of the states that has advanced in the area of education freedom. In a state where its politicians tout its business-friendly environment seemingly on a daily basis, parents are unfortunately left with little or no option when it comes to where they can send their children for their education. Unless financially able, most parents lack the freedom to choose the school that best meets their children's needs.

While many other states recognize the advantages of education freedom and its benefits for both families and our economy, Virginia remains stuck in the past, bowing to education elites and failing to live up to its perception of liberty. Unfortunately, this is not just a partisan issue, as some Republicans who wouldn't dare vote against anything that would hinder business in Virginia are all too happy to vote against freeing families from education purgatory, joining Democrats who have blocked even the most modest education freedom legislation for years. All seem fearful of the Virginia Education Association, the state chapter of the powerful National Education Association, which just endorsed President Obama in his 2012 presidential bid despite his Republican opponent not yet being chosen. The VEA leads the opposition to Virginia educational freedom and many elected officials in Virginia march in lock step with the VEA.

The Family Foundation has fought for education freedom since its early days and will continue to do so. Providing families with multiple education options for their children remains one of our highest priorities. Virginia’s ranking as a "free" state would be more believable if parents were actually free.

Education Choice Bill Up For Vote Tuesday In Senate Finance: Who's Living In The Past?

Bringing at least a modicum of school choice and education freedom long has been a goal of reform minded people who realize that the government-run education monopoly is holding back academic achievement. This Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee has a chance to show its open mindedness and independence from the education establishment when it votes on HB 2314, patroned by Delegate Jimmie Massie's (R-72, Henrico). The bill establishes a tax credit for businesses donating to non-profit organizations providing scholarships to free and reduced lunch students (family of four earning less than $40,793 per year). Despite fierce opposition from the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Education Association, the bill passed the House of Delegates 54-45 this week.

The modesty of this bill is testimony to how tenacious and powerful the Educrat establishment is in Richmond. It will fight to the death anything that hints at cracking its monopoly or reforms it from within. This is no exaggeration. The Educrats even are resisting a bill to provide for more physical education (HB 1644), patroned by Delegate John O'Bannon (R-73, Henrico). (See Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog.)

On the heels of yesterday's well-attended Family Foundation Day at the Capitol and rally focused on school choice, we think there is real momentum to pass HB 2314. It's certainly well passed time, considering the state of public education in certain areas of the state and for certain families that are trapped with no option but to attend an inadequate public school.   Similar scholarship programs in Pennsylvania and Florida have been huge successes. Florida's program is a prime example, where demand for a program started in 2001 has grown from $50 million to $88 million, providing scholarships for more than 33,000 low-income children.   The bill is designed to avoid the nefarious "negative fiscal impact" to the state. In fact, the fiscal impact will be all positive. Florida's program, for example, saved that state $36 million in the 2008-09 fiscal year alone, according to the Florida Office of Program Analysis and Government Accountability.   In Florida and elsewhere, thousands of children have been given opportunities for a better education through scholarships created because funding is available. Despite cries of "taking money from children" in public schools, the scholarship programs in other states have in no way negatively affected public schools.    Unfortunately, the Senate Finance Committee has been very hostile to any legislation that provides education freedom to families. Last year, it killed a similar bill by a 9-6 vote — see committee members make outlandish and outrageous comments.   In two different polls conducted by, or on behalf of, The Family Foundation or other education freedom supporters over the past three years, large majorities of Virginians have indicated their support for tax credits like the one created in HB 2314.

Certain liberals like to say, "Conservatives want to take us back," although they never specify where. Perhaps it's more a case of liberals holding us back — or stuck in the past — with ideas no longer as effective as once were, and never moving forward with proven reforms.

Please contact members of the Senate Finance Committee and urge them to vote for HB 2314. We are close and only need to flip two votes.

Full Senate To Vote On Sexual Orientation Bills

Today, the Senate General Laws Committee considered two bills that are high priorities of the homosexual lobby in Virginia. One, SB 747, would add sexual orientation to the state's hiring policy of non-discrimination. In an 8-7, straight party line vote, the committee reported the bill to the full Senate. Testimony in favor of the bill varied from the usual members of Equality Virginia and homosexual state employees, to the Virginia Education Association (is this about educating "the children"?), a member of the AFL-CIO board and a Universalist Unitarian minister who stated that she represented, "I hope, all reasonable religions."  

Please click here to contact your Senator and urge him or her to vote no on SB 747! 

According to the Washington Post on October 30, 2009:

. . . state government, in which a 110,000-strong workforce undoubtedly includes thousands of homosexuals. ...

If testimony were to be taken at face value, one would believe that our state government operates under a "don’t ask, don’t tell" policy, where each of those thousands of employees would be fired when their orientation is discovered. However, no such policy exists and the facts confirm this. 

According to the Department of Human Resource Management, which tracks allegations of discrimination, from 1992 forward there have been 24 registered complaints based on sexual orientation. Among these 24 complaints in an 18-year period, not all complaints can be assumed to be founded. From July 1, 2009-March 9, 2010 three complaints of sexual orientation discrimination were filed, but as the March date, none were deemed "founded." Should this bill be successful, it would be the first time in Virginia history that sexual orientation would be elevated to a protected class in the law.    Thankfully, the committee did have the sense to defeat an even more comprehensive bill on sexual orientation non-discrimination. The bill, SB 797, would have added sexual orientation to Virginia's Human Rights Act, and in doing so, would potentially force faith-based organizations, religious daycare centers and schools to hire homosexuals against their conscience. While proponents claimed this would simply be a policy statement by the Commonwealth, everyone knows policy statements turn into judicial decisions, administrative regulations, and lead to future more detailed laws. The bill failed on a 7-7 vote, with Senator Chuck Colgan (D-29, Manassas) not voting.

New Jersey: A Nice Place For Education Reform

There's an old saying that, "New Jersey is a nice place to be from." Despite its reputation and the brunt of numerous jokes, New Jersey soon may be the place for cutting edge education reform. At least from an education freedom viewpoint, our friends to the north are getting closer to bringing education freedom and choice to families than we are here in Virginia. Earlier this month, the New Jersey Senate advanced a bill similar to legislation The Family Foundation advocates for here in Virginia that creates a tax credit for donations made to private scholarship foundations. The foundations then can give scholarships to students that meet certain eligibility criteria so that they can attend a school of their choice. Unflattering, and deceptively called a "voucher" by opponents and the mainstream media, these scholarship programs have seen great success in several places, from Florida to Pennsylvania.

The fact that New Jersey is attempting to join the growing list of states that offer this education freedom while Virginia continues to stall shows just how quickly we are falling behind more modern education movements in other states. The legislation in New Jersey faced the opposition of the powerful New Jersey Education Association (sister to our own anti-reform, left-wing Virginia Education Association). But through the leadership of Governor Chris Christie and several Democrat legislators, including a key committee chairman, the bill is advancing — complete with the drama of the Senate committee moving its meeting outside the capitol so that thousands of school choice advocates holding a rally could hear the debate.

Opposition to education reform, such as scholarship programs, continue to be stuck in the past. African-American leaders and legislators all over the country are beginning to reject the typical accusations that these tax credits will "drain money from public schools" or reestablish segregation. Even the Newark Star-Ledger, which has one of the most liberal editorial boards in the nation, has endorsed the tax credit bill.

In fact, the bill introduced by Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico) during this year’s legislative session would have saved the state and local governments money while reducing class sizes (children leaving for private schools), thereby improving teacher-student ratios, something the education establishment claims it wants. Far from hurting low-income families in urban areas, the private-aid scholarship program the bill would establish would provide them a way out of failing schools that are not meeting their needs nor preparing them to be able to compete in a global economy.

Momentum for school choice is growing. Successful programs in Florida, Arizona and other states are improving education outcomes for many children, despite efforts to block them. In the Arizona case, the U.S. Supreme Court will review a Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision declaring education freedom is unconstitutional. The Ninth Circuit is the most overturned appeals court in the nation and is infamous for its overtly radical decisions. Stay tuned. There will be a lot of action in on this important matter in New Jersey, Arizona and even here in Virginia.

Education Freedom Vote Wednesday

Delegate Jimmie Massie’s (R-72, Henrico) bill to provide a bit of educational choice to Virginia students, HB 599, and, therefore, better education opportunities, is in the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday. The bill would provide a tax credit for businesses and individuals that donate to scholarship funds for students in grades K-12. Qualifying families could use those scholarships to send their children to private schools. Despite fierce opposition from the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Education Association, the bill passed the House of Delegates 55-44. The House amended HB 599 in such a way as to ensure that there will be no negative fiscal impact to the Commonwealth — something valuable in today’s economy and something that not many tax credits can boast. In fact, the bill will increase per pupil spending in school districts that lose students to private schools because they will have the same share of federal and local funds to educate less students. 

Similar scholarship programs in Pennsylvania and Arizona have been huge successes. Thousands of children have been given opportunities for a better education through scholarships created because funding is available. Despite cries of "taking money from children" in public schools, the scholarship programs in those two states have in no way negatively affected public schools.

Unfortunately, the Senate Finance committee has been very hostile to any legislation that provides education freedom to families. Already this session it voted 9-6 to defeat legislation (SB 133) introduced by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg) that was very similar to Delegate Massie’s bill.

In two different polls conducted by, or on behalf of, The Family Foundation or other education freedom supporters over the past two years, large majorities of Virginians indicated their support for tax credits like the one created in HB 599. Wednesday, we will see if the Senate Finance Committee is listening to Virginia parents, who want all options for the best possible education for their children; or, to the special interests and education establishment, who have given us such mediocrity that these innovative options are demanded by the vast majority of parents.

General Assembly At Crossover: Education Reform

Virginia won't truly prosper until it reforms public education. To do that, massive reforms must be made. We must have education freedom and choice. I like to tell people the analogy economist Walter E. Williams: Suppose your local government drew an arbitrary line around your home and said you can only shop at this one grocery store. How good do you think this store's meats, fish and vegetables would be? What about its service? It's prices? Even the quantity of its stock? With a government contrived monopoly, the answer to all of those questions is, not very.  With that in mind, here's a rundown on education reform legislation we are tracking:

» Delegate Jimmie Massie’s (R-72, Henrico) HB 599 would provide better education opportunities for many Virginia students through scholarships created by funds donated by businesses and individuals which would receive a tax credit for such donations. Despite fierce opposition from the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Education Association, the bill passed the House of Delegates 55-44. It now goes to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill was crafted in such a ingenious way as to ensure that there will be no negative fiscal impact to the state — something valuable in today’s economy and something that not many tax credits can boast. In fact, the bill will increase per pupil spending in school districts that lose students to private schools because they will have the same share of federal and local funds to educate less students.

This is a high priority Family Foundation bill and we are working to get a fair hearing in the Senate Finance committee. Unfortunately, this committee has been very hostile to any legislation that provides education freedom to families. Already this session, it voted 9-6 to defeat similar legislation (SB 133) introduced by Senator Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg).

Believe it or not, however, this was progress. Last year, no one on the committee made a motion on Senator Obenshain’s bill. This year, they at least had the courage to go on record!

» A bill patroned by Delegate Bob Marshall (R-13, Manassas), HB 331, already passed the House by a vote of 95-4. This charter school bill would provide transparency to the charter school application process, requiring local school boards to provide reasons for rejecting charter school applications. Currently, school boards can reject applications without any notice and without providing reasons. The bill now is in the Senate Education and Health Public Education Sub-committee.

» One of Governor Bob McDonnell’s highest priorities is the expansion of Virginia’s charter schools. Public charter schools were designed nearly two decades ago to empower teachers, parents and communities to come together and create a new form of public school that was free from restrictive regulations and systems. The Family Foundation has made the advancement of charter schools a high priority, as we support any option that will increase parental choice in determining the best educational environment for their child. Unfortunately, Virginia’s charter school law is one of the most restrictive in the nation.

Last week, Governor McDonnell held a news conference announcing legislation concerning charter schools. Senator Stephen Newman (R- 23, Forest) is the patron of SB 737 and Delegate Scott Lingamfelter (R-30, Woodbridge), along with a bi-partisan array of co-patrons, has introduced its House counterpart, HB 1390. These bills seek to make the charter school application process more transparent and requires that the procedures are in place for receiving, reviewing and ruling upon applications for charter schools.

Most significantly, it establishes an appeal process to the state if the local school district rejects the application — which happens with disturbing frequency in Virginia, thus the paucity of charter schools here (three, with a fourth to come, in more than 10 years). Governor McDonnell believes passing this bill would prove Virginia is committed to supporting charter schools and improves its chances for receiving $350 million in federal funding from a multi-billion dollar program President Obama has proposed for charter schools.

» A second McDonnell bill that Senator Newman is shepherding in the Senate and Delegate Richard P. "Dickie" Bell (R-20, Staunton) is patroning in the House, involves virtual schools, which allow public-school classroom programs to be taught in a student’s home via Internet. It meets the same requirements for the student’s attendance, testing and Standards of Learning curriculum that the public school must meet.

» The third bill Senator Newman is carrying would establish "laboratory schools," in which universities set up schools with specialized programs. Delegate Chris Peace (R-97, Mechanicsville) has the House version.

We will work for these reforms and urge you to contact your delegates and senators to do the same. If you don't know your lawmakers, click here to find them. To guarantee to stay on top of these critical issues, which assuredly will shape the Commonwealth's future, click here sign up for our e-mail alerts and forward this link to like-minded friends.

Virginia School Board Association: 'We Philosophically Oppose Educational Choice'!

Today, in a House Appropriation’s sub-committee, one of the most fascinating — and revealing — debates we’ve seen this session occurred concerning school choice. HB 599, patroned by Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico), creates a tax credit for individuals or corporations that donate to scholarship foundations that in turn give scholarships to students toward private school tuition. HB 599 has ingeniously been crafted in such a way as to ensure that there will be no fiscal impact to the state — something valuable in today’s economy and something that not many tax credits can boast. In addition, local school systems would actually save money as students leave their schools. The intrigue began when the opposition stood to speak. Dick Pulley, a long-time lobbyist representing the Virginia School Board Association, stood up to oppose the bill. As a lobbyist from an allied organization said, Mr. Pulley flexed his organization’s muscle, but failed to supply a coherent argument as to why he opposed the bill. He was forced to admit that the bill was better because there is no fiscal impact so the usual "this will take school books from children"contrivance wouldn’t fly. Left without that, he revealed his organization’s true colors.

After saying a lot of nothing, he finally came out with, "We philosophically oppose these types of bills." Not one to let an argument like that go by without explanation, Delegate Kirk Cox (R-66, Colonial Heights), a public school teacher, asked Mr. Pulley, "Could you explain what you mean by ‘philosophically oppose'?" Mr. Pulley responded:

We have good public schools. We support public schools. We’re going to have a hard time keeping public schools at the level they’re on now if we pass this bill. We support parents making good educational choices for their children, but we’re opposed to having a public policy device that would allow that to happen.

It is difficult to explain the visceral contempt the public education establishment in Richmond has for parents who choose options other than government-run schools. Organizations like the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia School Board Association and the school principals association make it abundantly clear, year after year, that children of families who choose private education or home schooling are inferior to children who attend public schools.

After lengthy debate, HB 599 was recommended for reporting to the full Appropriations Committee on a vote of 5-3. Those voting for the bill include Delegates Cox, Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), Charles Poindexter (R-9, Glade Hill), Watkins Abbitt (I-59, Appomattox), and Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth). Those voting against the bill include Delegates Bob Tata (R-85, Virginia Beach), Jim Scott (D-53, Merrifield), and Mayme BaCote (D-95, Newport News). The bill now goes to the full Appropriations Committee (click here to contact members) Friday.

The VEA: We Teach The Children, But We Still Need To Learn How To Read Ourselves

Oh, boy, this is too funny and the headline possibilities are endless. Feel free to suggest some on your own. This is what's gone down since Monday involving the Virginia Education Association Fund and the lieutenant governor's campaign: On Monday, the VEA Fund president, Kitty Boitnott, issued a statement announcing that organization's endorsement of Democrat Jody Wagner over Republican incumbent Bill Bolling. Big surprise there, huh? In the endorsement, Dr. Boitnott wrote this about the lieutenant governor's record when he was in the Virginia Senate:

Lieutenant Governor Bolling had a 49.66% VEA voting record in his ten regular sessions and two special sessions in the Senate of Virginia. Notable votes include:

• Voted against paying Virginia's teachers the national average salary (2004 - SB 1285)

Uhhh, small problem with that . . . as in, there was no SB 1285 in 2004. There was a SB 1285 in 2005, however, to raise teacher salaries, but . . .

Ooooops! . . .

 

Bolling voted . . .

For it!

 

You know, it's not real hard to read the vote totals of a General Assembly vote — especially when it was adopted unanimously! You see, they have one line for all the "Yeas" and another for all the "Neas" (see here.) When all names are listed in the "Yeas" and none are listed in the "Neas," it's pretty difficult to misread that.

Yesterday, the VEA Fund issued a correction by e-mail, but it's not posted on its Web site (unless it's in an out of the way place), while the original news release with the incorrect information remains. But, like all good comedies, there's more. The desperate Wagner campaign immediately jumped on the news release and began touting the incorrect information. As of a few minutes ago the VEA Fund's release, with the incorrect claim about Lieutenant Governor Bolling's record, remained prominently in place on Wagner's home pagewithout a correction.

We already knew Wagner couldn't do math — as Governor Tim Kaine's finance secretary she consistently missed revenue projections that have led to a cumulative budget deficit of around $6 billion, and required several in-year cuts. (As of yesterday, per the governor himself, another $1.5 billion in cuts will be announced in September, and the fiscal year only began on July 1.) But now, apparently, her campaign is proving equally inept at fact checking because it's being led by an organization for teachers that can't read.

National Education Association's Top Lawyer Touts Its Real Purpose

The founder and chairman of the American Family Association, Don Wildmon, today released this open letter to teachers who belong to the NEA. There's some good advice here. Most tellingly, however, is the utter contempt and vile that hyper liberal statists, such as those who represent the NEA leadership, have for every day, hard working people who believe in traditional family values. Please read on:

The National Education Association's top lawyer, Bob Chanin, recently made clear the goal of the NEA. He called those who believe in and work for traditional family values "b****rds." He also praised the NEA because the organization has "power" and "hundreds of millions" of dollars from dues to spend in promoting their agenda and political candidates. I have included an article which shows, in their own words, what the NEA is doing. It is time for Christians who are members of the NEA to get out. We are funding the demise of Western Civilization. Please read this article! (Click here.)

Chanin's volley left no doubt where the NEA wants to take the public education system, and our children. It also served as a wake-up call for those who might be considering taking their children out of public schools.

If you are a member of NEA, I suggest you contact some more teacher friends and discuss this matter with them.

If you need legal help, I suggest you contact one of the two organizations listed below:

Liberty Council (click here)

Alliance Defense Fund (click here)

Sincerely,

Don

Donald E. Wildmon, Founder and Chairman American Family Association

P.S. Many members of the NEA are not aware how the NEA is using their dues to promote leftwing politics. They can drop their membership in the NEA and secure many of the same benefits by joining other professional organizations which offer the same benefits.

The Association of American Educators is one (click here).

Also, Christian Educators offers many of the same benefits (click here).

In addition to Mr. Wildmon's suggestions, in this commentary two weeks ago, which stirred the wrath of Virginia Education Association President Kitty Boitnott, we encouraged teachers in Virginia to look into joining Virginia Professional Educators (click here). 

Told You So: VEA-NEA Say "I Do" To Same-Sex Marriage

Last week, we posted a commentary that related a breaking national news story to a previous post about two Family Life Education reforms we helped get passed and signed into law, and which took effect July 1. The national news story concerned the National Education Association convention, at which it and its member chapters — including the Virginia Education Association — considered adopting a resolution supporting homosexual marriage. Now, it's official. The NEA and its VEA subsidiary voted to endorse the resolution supporting national and state efforts to enact same-sex marriage, civil unions and domestic partner benefits. But the VEA Web site omits this resolution, while listing issues such as "reducing the dropout rates, properly managing charter schools, controlling infectious diseases in schools, providing resources for boosting teacher quality, protecting substitute teachers, and expanding opportunities for preschool education."

Apparently, when VEA delegation leaders were asked to support a resolution that took no position on same-sex marriage issues, they refused, saying that teachers in Virginia know the issues the VEA is involved with and support them.

Aside from this obnoxious presumption, this means every public school teacher member of the VEA is sending his or her dues money to efforts to bring homosexual-sex marriage to our nation and commonwealth, despite the clear decisions by the General Assembly and Virginia voters to protect marriage. (Remember, homosexual marriage is banned in Virginia by statute and the constitution.)

This latest NEA/VEA absurdity follows a long history of extremist liberal advocacy. Last fall the VEA made news when it urged teachers to participate in "Obama Blue Day" and encouraged voting age students to vote for Barack Obama for president.

It doesn't have to be this way. Pro-family teachers in Virginia have an alternative professional organization that provides similar resources as the VEA — some even better  — without the embarrassing political baggage:

Virginia Professional Educators offers better insurance policies and other benefits without supporting liberal causes and candidates. In fact, it doesn't support causes or candidates.

So, if you are a teacher who feels forced, coerced or peer-pressured to join or remain a member of the VEA, we urge you to look into VPE.

The only way to ensure the VEA is unsuccessful is to defund it. In several states, alternative teacher organizations affiliated with VPE have more members than those states' NEA branches.

As long as teachers continue to send dues to the VEA, they will hire the 40-plus lobbyists they send to Richmond every General Assembly session (not to mention allied organizations and educrat establishment), where they undermine school choice efforts, push for higher taxes, and seek to promote abortion and destroy marriage, rather than advocate for better education.

If you are a teacher, we implore you to either demand the VEA cease to advocate for these extreme causes or join an alternative organization. Last week we wrote this about the impending vote to support homosexual marriage at the NEA convention:

Not exactly what most parents expect from teachers. Most expect them to educate their children. Not indoctrinate them. If, in fact, the NEA goes on record supporting this nonsense, we will watch with a very interested eye as to how its Virginia members treat the new FLE marriage curriculum and whether the administration enforces its implementation as the law now says.

As you can see, we've already started. We hope all fair minded teachers will do the same.

One Sacred Cow That Needs A Diet: Virginia's Department of Education

Later this week, members of the House of Delegates and Senate (contact here) will gather in separate enclaves in Virginia to discuss the Commonwealth's estimated $2.5 billion "shortfall" in budget revenue (see recent post). Much of the problem stems from exaggerated revenue projections when the economy was clearly headed for a recession. As we cut our family and business budgets, there aren't many things that are off limits. Unfortunately, that isn't necessarily true for government. Can you guess which Virginia department's budget is described by these facts?

» $4-5 billion more than any other department's annual budget;

» 39 percent of the 2007 budget; and

» Structurally designed to prevent budget reductions or even slow budget increases.

If you guessed Virginia's Department of Education, congratulations! You won. But so has the DOE under our current budget structure — and has won for many years.

Consider these two statistics (it's stat day at FFblog):

» DOE was 39 percent of the state's budget in 2007, but its budget increase from 2007 to 2008 accounted for 57 percent of the total state budget increase. It's important to note that enrollment did not increase by such magnitude!

» Unless altered, the DOE's budget will increase another 6 percent in 2009.

Even with its rapid budget increases, however, Governor Tim Kaine (contact here) has already stated that, despite the revenue shortfall, public education is off the table in the current round of budget reductions.

In fact, even when legislators hint at simply reducing the rate of increase for public education, the maelstrom of anger from the Virginia Education Association (see previous comments) and other educrat entities quickly subdues elected officials. DOE's state budget is increasing 18 percent more than what would be proportionally expected. 

Not all departments have the same good fortune as DOE. For example, from 2007 to 2008, the Department of Natural Resources experienced a 36 percent decrease in its budget. Even the technology department, a department many would expect to have an expanding budget due to development and growth in the field, was relegated to a 6 percent decrease from 2007 to 2008.

The annual boost in DOE's budget is driven by a faulty and antiquated Standards of Quality formula (see previous comments), which increases funding due to growth in hiring as opposed to growth in student achievement or enrollment. Virginia is, in fact, one of only four states that funds public education based on staffing and not on number of students. Even in school districts with decreasing enrollment, funding increases!

Without a revision of the SOQ formula, DOE's budget will continue to rise year after year at an exponentially higher rate than we can hope to sustain (see previous comments). We can continue to adequately fund public education but not at the rate that the VEA demands. Simply put, we cannot continue to increase spending in this area by $1 billion every biennium without a massive tax hike. Of course, some in Richmond know that and will push for that increase in the "name of the children" eventually. To oppose such an increase will be deemed anti-child.

In this time of economic uncertainty, it is even more important that government be fiscally responsible. The Department of Education's budget should be just as vulnerable to state budget adjustments as any other department in order to return Virginia to economic stability. Education funding should be tied to education outcomes. Virginia's Standards of Learning do not in anyway influence funding, although they most certainly should factor into the equation. 

There are two ways to fix our ailing education system in Virginia — fix the SOQs and provide families with the freedom to choose the school, public or private, that suits their needs (more school choice and options). We cannot continue to fund public education without public accountability.

Interview With Omarh Rajah: Part 3

Today, we conclude our three part interview with Chesterfield County School Board member Omarh Rajah, the first teacher elected from that county's Motoaca District, and the first African-American ever elected to that school board. An unabashed conservative in his first run for public office, he defeated the incumbent chairman in a year that saw many conservatives lose in Virginia. Part one can be found here and part two here. In this last part, Mr. Rajah discusses what he thinks of the VEA from his perspective as a teacher, candidate and school board member; what it takes to begin the needed road to reform in public education, student behavior and the role of parents, among other things. We think a high profile local official's views is a fresh take for a blog which deals primarily with state issues, so we hope you enjoy this series and let us know your thoughts. familyfoundation.org: Who or what is the biggest roadblock to education reform in Virginia at the state and local levels?

Omarh Rajah: It's hard to pinpoint the biggest obstacle to reform, but, if I had to boil it down to one thing, I would have to say it's really trying to break the mindset people get into when they're totally used to doing things one way, and become naturally resistant to change. That takes a lot of communication and reaching out.

familyfoundation.org: Some see the Virginia Education Association as a roadblock and not a partner in providing needed reforms. What is your experience with the teachers union and how have they reacted to your proposals?

Omarh Rajah: To be honest, the VEA's Chesterfield affiliate endorsed my opponent in last year's election. That actually surprised and disappointed me, since I was running to become the first teacher ever elected to the School Board from the Matoaca District. Since the election, however, they've mostly been quiet on the issues we've dealt with. In spite of their endorsement of my opponent, I got a lot of support during the campaign from teachers who knew I would always be there to support them in terms of making sure they're paid what they deserve and get the health, retirement, and benefits packages they're entitled to. I suppose, when the next election comes along, we'll find out what their leadership thinks of the progress we've made and the reforms we're implemented.

familyfoundation.org: School districts feel compelled to define dress codes now. Is there a general need to bring decorum back to schools, whether it's dress codes or basic deportment?

Omarh Rajah: I don't feel dress codes are a contentious issue in Chesterfield right now. At least, based on the questions I get from constituents about different issues, that's just not an issue that comes up very often. I've not seen a need to change the dress code policies in our schools, but, yes, I do believe that a need does exist to bring the basic deportment you're talking about back to our schools, in terms of how people interact with each other. For example, one thing I want to do is make sure our schools start using consistent standards in identifying and reporting incidents of bullying against students, so that we'll be able to fully crack down on this kind of behavior, and I believe school administrators need to enforce demands that our teachers be treated with respect by students and by parents, and, most of all, parents need to enforce demands that their children behave appropriately at school towards teachers and towards other students.

familyfoundation.org: What is the role of parents in a child's education, from homework to behavior? How do we get parents more involved and consistently involved? Are parents not allowed to be involved? In some cases, school districts don't even notify parents of certain clubs and activities their children participate in.

Omarh Rajah: Parents are the most important people in a child's education. I think most of us grew up in families where we were expected to put forth the maximum effort possible in our school work, and to behave appropriately at school, and where that expectation was enforced when necessary. The problem is not that parents are not allowed to be involved, it's that a lot of parents don't know how to become involved. That's why I've held more community meetings in my first six months in office than my predecessor had during his entire four year term — I want parents, and everyone, to be involved. Even parents who work outside the home and can't necessarily be involved in PTA or who can't volunteer at their child's school during the day have an important role to play, just by checking their child's homework, talking to them about their behavior at school and enforcing what behavior is acceptable and what isn't, and going to back-to-school nights and parent-teacher conferences. As to your last point, it seems to me that it's basic common sense that parents have a right to know from the school what extracurricular activities are offered and which ones their child is participating in.

familyfoundation.org: One reform that's interesting in urban areas is separating boys and girls. Should more districts pursue this option as part of offering more choice?

Omarh Rajah: I currently don't see any need to pursue that option in Chesterfield. However, in other school systems where there is good reason to believe that would be productive in terms of improving the academic performance and/or behavior of some students, it's an option they should definitely pursue, and I don't believe the state government should try to stand in the way.

familyfoundation.org: Mr. Rajah, thanks for sparing some moments from your valuable time and for your thoughtful answers. We hope you'll come back and visit with us again. Best of continued success with the Chesterfield School Board.

Special Tax Session Fast Approaching

Just four years ago, Virginians were asked to pay for a massive tax increase, the brainchild of former Governor and current Democrat U.S. Senate candidate Mark Warner and former Virginia Senator and lifelong RINO John Chichester. (Visit tomorrow for the untold background on this, the largest tax increase in Virginia history.) As a result, billions more dollars from working families in Virginia have poured into the coffers in Richmond. In the three state budgets since, state government has spent nearly $100 billion of your money. The result? They're back for more. Regardless of Governor Tim Kaine's (contact him here) rhetoric about working families in Virginia expecting a "free lunch" for not wanting to send more of their hard earned money to Richmond, the fact remains that there is plenty of revenue in Richmond to pay for core government services. 

But for the politicians, there just isn't enough money to pay for those services and everything else they want. There never will be enough for their voracious spending appetites, all while Virginia taxpayers get nothing close to a free lunch — and it is incredibly arrogant for the governor to suggest that we are.

This Monday, June 23, the General Assembly will meet at the capitol for what we've dubbed the "Special Tax Session" because, despite the rhetoric about a "transportation crisis," there are no guarantees that revenue from any new taxes will go solely to transportation. Any new tax money will go into the general fund and be spent any way Virginia's political elite wants it to be spent. It's telling that one of the biggest supporters of the tax increase is the Virginia Education Association. Exactly what interest should the teachers union have in a tax increase for "transportation"? Their excitement clearly indicates they've been given a free run through the pork trough if the tax increase passes.

The lack of a guarantee that transportation will become a priority is just one of the many reasons that the General Assembly should reject the call for tax hikes. See our interview with Delegate Mark Cole (R-88, Fredericksburg) and his response about the raid on the Transportation Trust Fund. The fact that transportation spending makes up just 13 percent of the budget, while education makes up 40 percent and social services 30 percent, indicates that transportation never really has been the priority it should. To complain about a "crisis" now is disingenuous. If there is a crisis, it's a crisis in leadership, not of citizenship. What leader, beside Jimmy Carter, criticizes his constituents?

But most importantly, to ask Virginia's working families to pay even more in taxes when they are facing extraordinary and ever-rising gas and food prices, a collapsed housing market, job insecurity and a sluggish economy, is the unrestrained arrogance of elitism, of someone out of touch with, perhaps, "bitter" people. Your elected officials — especially your delegate and senator — must not feel this lack of restraint the governor apparently feels. Send a clear message to your representatives that you oppose higher taxes and fees.

Remember: The politicians will raise your taxes if they think you don't care, because they can sell it to you as something necessary, as in transportation, then spend it any way they choose. So you must let them know you are paying attention. Click here and send an e-mail to your delegate and senator and urge them to oppose higher taxes. Then forward this link to your friends and family so they can make their voices heard as well.

More Truth About State Government

Yesterday, we posted our reasons to oppose Governor Tim Kaine's tax increase plan (and all tax increase plans) at the upcoming (June 23) Special Tax Session of the General Assembly. But there are other reasons to reject tax hikes for transportation (not to mention that the Governor Kaine apparently is not even considering our Lottery Ticket Increase plan even though others of high intellectual esteem are). But the primary reason is the new third rail of politics — education funding. During the General Assembly's regular session, the biannual "re-benchmarking" of the Standards of Quality resulted in a $1.1 billion increase in education spending in the new budget. (Click here to read our previous commentary on the educrat revolt to SOQ reform.) What does "re-benchmarking of SOQs" mean? A convoluted formula that automatically ensures that Virginia's public school establishment will receive at least a billion more dollars every two years, regardless of student outcomes or reductions in enrollment. That spending goes up no matter what. By continuing with this system, public education is assured of securing funds at the expense of other core budget items (public safety, transportation, etc.). Any legislator who is honest will tell you that there is absolutely no way to fund this annual education increase and the rest of state government without some type of massive, statewide tax increase. 

So here we are. In fact, do you know how much spending increased on transportation in the recently passed new budget? Zero. Not a penny. Zilch.

Why? Because as long as the SOQ funding formula remains unchanged, every other area of state government, including transportation and public safety, will get short changed. (Of course, the Virginia Education Association was one of the first to publicly endorse the Governor's plan.)

This year, The Family Foundation supported a short-lived proposal to adjust the SOQ formula slightly, which would have in no way directly affected what is spent in the classroom. But such a change would have saved $200 million per year. That nearly half billion dollars every biennium would go a long way toward fixing the transportation "crisis" Governor Kaine alleges needs immediate action.

Because The Family Foundation has opposed increases in taxes over the years, we have gained a reputation as being "anti-tax." That is not the case. We simply want our state government to be more responsible in how it spends our money before it comes to working families asking for more.