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Virginia Republicans Cite Success on Education Issues

Politicians point to work accomplished during the General Assembly session.

By Katherine Johnson
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – House Republicans celebrated the success of their education reforms in the first half of the General Assembly session during a press conference Monday.

Republican delegates and party leaders discussed legislation that passed in the House of Delegates before crossover on Feb. 5. Crossover marks the point in the session when a bill is declared dead if it hasn’t been passed by the House or Senate.

“Our priorities during the session were economic development, K-12 education reform, transportation and crafting a smarter state budget and a smarter state government,” said Speaker William Howell of Fredericksburg. “I think we’ve passed legislation that fits this agenda.”

Del. Chris Jones of Suffolk said the Republicans took a cautious approach to the budget.

“I feel like we put ourselves in a position to be very successful in conference by taking a lot of the big issues off the table in the beginning,” he said.

The budget addresses education as well, as the House Republicans have proposed $31 million for school security and safety. Del. Beverly Sherwood of Winchester said this comes after intense political debate over gun laws.

“There is nothing more important than our children and their future, and they deserve a safe and secure learning environment. That’s why we have proposed responsible and real solutions that make our community stronger and safer,” Sherwood said.

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Of the Republicans’ budget proposal, $1.7 million would go toward a grant initiative to place school resource officers in middle and high schools. Sherwood said Republican legislators would like to expand this to elementary schools as well.

The budget proposal also includes $30 million for security infrastructure improvements, including cameras, buzz-in systems and automatic locks.

In addition, the Republicans passed a budget amendment that would provide a 2 percent pay raise for teachers and support staff.

Separate from the budget, the House has passed several bills that focus on K-12 education. One bill would establish an A-F grading scale for rating each public school in Virginia. Majority Leader Kirkland Cox of Colonial Heights called this a “common-sense approach to engage parents.”

Delegate Thomas A. “Tag” Greason, who represents Ashburn, is the patron of House Bill 1999, which would require the Board of Education to report a school’s performance based on an A-F grading scale, as well as its accreditation rating.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Committee on Education and Health. If the bill is passed, it would take effect in October 2015.

Cox proposed House Bill 2084 to establish a Teach for America program. Cox is excited about the program, which will place college students into teaching positions with a two-year provisional license in Virginia upon graduation. The Board of Education may renew the license for an additional year.

Cox’s bill passed the Senate unanimously Monday. It previously won unanimous approval from the House. The bill now goes to Gov. Bob McDonnell.

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