As of February 3rd, the House has completed 24 of the 46 days of the 2017 session. On Sunday, February 5th, the committees responsible for the budget bills will unveil their complete proposals. Two important deadlines will happen this week. Tuesday is Crossover, the deadline with which each chamber must complete work on bills that originated in their chamber. Thursday the House will vote on their version of the budget.
Last Tuesday, Delegate Chris Jones, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, held a press conference with Senate budget leaders to highlight their joint priorities in regards to a compensation package. In last week’s newsletter, I outlined the proposal’s priorities- including a 3% pay raise for state employees, dramatically raising the starting salary of Virginia State Police and funding to address salary compression issues for sheriff’s deputies.
To be clear, Governor McAuliffe’s introduced budget proposal does not include a teacher pay raise. His budget has 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. The House budget will fully restore the amount of lottery proceeds that go back to school divisions unencumbered to 40%. 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.
Statewide, education seems to be going relatively well. Virginia children are scoring higher on their pre-college entrance exams, we rank 3rd in the nation in AP achievement, and accreditation and graduation rates are up. But if you look closely at the Southside, Southwest, Northern Neck, and Eastern Shore regions, things aren’t looking so great. For years now, schools in rural areas have been struggling primarily due to the economic downturn and enrollment losses. As jobs left, so have students and their families. Enrollment has been on a steady decline, even spiking at times with unexpected enrollment losses. In fact, last year, the coalfield districts lost about 3 percent of their enrollment in the span of about six months.
Since our education funding formulas are based on a per pupil basis, as the students leave the schools, so does our education funding. Fewer students means fewer dollars to fund education. Many of our schools have taken a major financial hit. They have cut programs, consolidated buildings, all in an effort to save money to balance their budgets. A group of budget leaders, led by Delegate Nick Rush (R-Montgomery), came up with a way to fix this growing problem. The House has a plan called the 10-10-10 formula.
This initiative will look at the last 10 years of a school districts population. If in the last 10 years, there is a 10% or more decline of students, and the school district has a population of less than 10,000 students, we will provide a 15% enrollment loss supplement. It will allow them to invest in the future of our children.
The House recognizes that education can help lift people out of poverty. Education equips people with the knowledge and skills they need to be successful in life. This new initiative will give our children a better and brighter future.
The House has taken several steps to address access and affordability in our public universities. In previous sessions we’ve capped student athletic fees, part of the largest driver of increased college costs in Virginia, increased online learning options, required universities to post consumer data like 6-year graduation rates and undergraduate tuition online, and passed legislation to offer flat-fee degrees.
This year several caucus members are championing legislation to hold public universities accountable to more in-state students. HB 1410 requires Virginia public universities have 70% in-state students and 30% out-of-state students. If an institution chooses to have more than 30% out-of-state students, any excess tuition the university accepts from the out-of-state student that covers more than is required to educate that student must go to cover financial aid for in-state students.
The House is taking positive steps on reforming the criminal justice system by removing obstacles for offenders who are trying to get their lives back on track. Currently, if an offender cannot pay their court fees they can have their driver’s license suspended. This can create an unfortunate cycle where if a fine is not paid, people cannot get to work to make money to pay off their court fines and get their licenses back.
HB 2386, patroned by Delegate Manoli Loupassi (R-Chesterfield), allows courts to establish a payment plan for offenders unable to pay court-ordered fines to avoid a driver’s licenses suspension. The legislation also allows offenders to earn credit for community service that can be applied to their costs. The legislation passed the House unanimously on February 2nd. This legislation will help those offenders who are struggling to get back to work so they can provide for their families and assume their responsibilities as citizens in a free society.
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.