January 30th Newsletter- Week 3 Session Update

Moving into the 3rd week of session, the Capital has seen record numbers of visitors. Daily attendance by the public has consistently been over 4,500 people a day. I’m enjoying meeting with so many who are being active in the political process, especially the Chamber of Commerce, 4-H students, Military Officers Association, and Credit Union League who had their respective organizations annual “day on the hill” this week.

Education is the foundation to a strong workforce capable of tackling 21st century issues. Our caucus has several education initiatives that address all levels of learning in Virginia.

 

In 2016 the House budget sent 31% of lottery funds, or $272 million, back to local school divisions.  This mechanism gives local schools more flexibility by not requiring matching funds or mandating how the funds must be spent. This year we look to build on this investment that gives local school leaders the flexibility to meet their own unique public education needs.

 

The House is committed to maintaining Virginia’s strong K-12 system and working to give all children the opportunities in education they deserve by enacting reforms in public education, promoting choice and flexibility, and encouraging early childhood education.

 

Students in the Commonwealth deserve a quality education, regardless of their circumstances or neighborhood. That’s why we Dickie Bell is carrying HB1400 that establishes Virginia Virtual schools so students aren’t bound to brick and mortar buildings for their education. They can take classes offered all over Virginia.

 

Dave LaRock is carrying HB1605 that creates Education Savings Accounts. ESAs will empower parents to choose what is right for their child’s education by allowing families with special needs students to receive direct access to the state funding for that student. That funding is deposited into an Education Savings Account, where it can be used for private school tuition, homeschool, online classes, course materials, or other educational purposes.

 

While the House of Delegates does not believe a statewide mandated pre-school program is the best approach, we are exploring better ways to encourage early childhood education. Our focus is on improving access to private providers. Jimmie Massie is helping on this front with HB1963 that makes families with at-risk 4 year old’s unserved by Head Start eligible for tax credits to enroll in a pre-k program.

 

Every day we hear from the Commonwealth’s citizens that higher education access and affordability is a real problem.  The House will continue to encourage all state universities cap tuition increases.

 

Our caucus has several other ideas that ease the stress of the many other costs associated with postsecondary schools.

 

Dual enrollment credits provide a great opportunity for students to begin working on their degree credits while still in high school. Tag Greason is carrying HB1662 to establish a uniform policy for granting undergraduate course credit to entering freshman students so students can properly prepare their course schedules to maximize their benefits.

 

Virginia has a 40-year-old financial aid model. It is time to modernize that model by incentivizing students to complete their degrees on time ensuring they take out less loans. Kirk Cox is carrying HB2427 that will motivate and reward students to successfully finish their degree on time by increasing aid money as they progress through their academic career. He is also carrying HB2311 that creates the Online Virginia Network aimed at providing a new pathway for students to complete a college degree by establishing an online consortium of classes from various state universities. It is a one-stop shop for scheduling, registering, and taking online classes. Higher education institutions in Virginia have focused primarily on enhancing enrollment, retention, and graduation rates in pursuit of preparing a highly skilled workforce for the Virginia economy. The same emphasis needs to be directed toward identifying those individuals with some college credit, but who have not attained a degree.

 

On Tuesday, Delegate and Appropriations Committee Chairman Chris Jones on behalf of the House held a press conference with Senate budget leaders to highlight their joint priorities in regards to a compensation package. The proposal includes a 3% pay raise for state employees, funds to raise the starting salary of Virginia State Police, and funds to address salary compression issues for sheriff’s deputies. The committees responsible for the budget bills will unveil their complete proposals on February 5, 2017.

 

The proposal includes a 3% pay raise for state employees. The proposal also dramatically raises the starting salary of Virginia State Police. New police officers, as they enter the academy, will see a salary increase of almost $6800 to bring their annual salary to $43,000. Currently a trooper’s annual salary is increased to $40,482 one year after they graduate from the Police Academy.

 

Our proposed budget will increase that to $47,275. All current sworn state police personnel will receive a $6,793 salary increase. In addition to the salary increase, state police officers will also receive the 3% salary adjustment proposed for state employees.

 

Finally, the proposal includes funds to address salary compression issues for sheriff’s deputies. The agreement includes a compression salary adjustment for employees in local sheriff’s offices and regional jails. The compression adjustment provides an increase for employees with 3 or more years of service. For sworn personnel the increase is equal to $80 per years of service and for other personnel the increase is $65 per year of service.

 

Governor McAuliffe is wrong to criticize our announcement regarding education funding priorities. His proposed language did not offer a teacher pay raise. The Governor’s budget did have a 1.5% bonus, but the language does not require the bonuses go towards a teacher pay raise.

If school divisions were to elect to use the proposed state allocation for a 1.5% bonus, then they would have to provide a local match, estimated to be about $83 million, for employees to receive the actual bonus percentage.

In 2016 the adopted budget sent 29% of lottery funds, or $157 million, back to local school divisions.  This mechanism gives local schools more flexibility by not requiring matching funds or mandating how the funds must be spent. This year we look to build on this investment that gives local school leaders the flexibility to meet their own unique public education needs. Our language would permit the school divisions to use this lottery money to provide a salary increase or to pay for increased local Virginia Retirement System costs.

 

I encourage you to keep in touch with me and my office over the coming months.  I value the feedback you provide on a continual basis as it helps me do a better job of representing you.  You can email me at DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov or call me at (804)698-1059.  You can also join the conversation on our social media page www.facebook.com/DelegateMattFariss.

 

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