Compass Point
A Weekly Collection of Data, Articles and Insights from the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute
A project of the Virginia Commonwealth University's Center for Public Policy
L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs
CEPI in the News
Recent State and Local Education News
Siers weighs in after 6 months at helm of Pulaski County schools
Southwest Times
February 12, 2017

After six months at the helm, superintendent Dr. Kevin Siers’ perspective on Pulaski County Public Schools is as much based in getting to know the district as it is in his own experience as an educator and administrator.

When he decided to leave his principal post at Christiansburg High School to again assume a superintendent’s role, he did so with a clear goal.

“One of the things I considered when I looked to going back to being a superintendent was the bigger picture of the job. As a high school principal, you get them coming in the ninth-grade level, and if they’re reading or doing math on a third-grade level, that’s what you have to deal with.”

He continues, “Now, I can look at the bigger picture. I can look at data in elementary schools and try to target students earlier than they may have been targeted previously to help them from getting so far behind.”

What does free speech on campus mean?
Richmond Times Dispatch
February 12, 2017

A few generations and culture wars ago, provocateurs speaking out on college campuses were labeled “outside agitators.” Now they might be called “invited guests.”

A day after riots erupted at University of California, Berkeley, over a talk planned by an inflammatory Breitbart editor, a bill protecting free speech at public colleges quietly made it through Virginia’s House of Delegates.

“It’s just a restatement of the First Amendment,” said Del. R. Steven Landes, R-Weyers Cave, who sponsored the legislation with 19 co-patrons.

“How can anybody be against free speech and promoting free speech?” he said. “Especially on campuses.”

It’s not that straightforward, say others who see the bill as unnecessary, if not problematic, and a reflection of a larger, polarizing debate over academic freedom.

Last week, the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, or FIRE, released a survey of “bias response teams” nationally and on seven Virginia campuses that the group says encourage students to anonymously report on other students or faculty members if they perceive someone’s speech to be biased.

“There’s a moral panic in America that free speech is under assault at universities, but it’s absolutely not true,” said Siva Vaidhyanathan, professor of modern media studies at the University of Virginia.

Landes’s legislation, now in a Senate committee, is a single sentence that belies the complexity around it.

Hundreds of Virginia high school students walk out in support of immigrants
Washington Post
February 10, 2017

More than 600 Northern Virginia high school students walked out of class Friday afternoon to show solidarity with immigrants at a time of intense national debate over President Trump’s executive order on refugees and immigration.

Demonstrations of 50 students or more were reported in five Loudoun County schools, a school system spokesman said. The largest, with about 200 protesters, was at Rock Ridge, with others at Potomac Falls, Briar Woods, Broad Run and Loudoun Valley.

At Broad Run, about 70 students walked out for about 15 minutes, some bearing signs. “I’m skipping history to make it,” one read.

One student carried the flag of Mexico, another the U.S. flag. The students sat on the curb in front of the school in the bitter cold and then stood to face the flag in front of the school, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.

Rida Ali, 16, a junior who helped organize the demonstrations, told the shivering group that she assembled them not to protest or make a political statement but because “it’s time to come together to outline the importance of diversity and immigration in our country.”

“Immigrants are your teachers, your principals, your best friends, your government officials, your doctors, your neighbors,” she said. Facing a diverse crowd, she said: “This is what Broad Run looks like. This is what America looks like.”
UVA Today
February 10, 2017

On a quiet Monday morning, former Justice Department official Paul Monteiro appeared at Charlottesville High School via videochat to speak with students about all the professional opportunities that a college degree opened up for him.

Monteiro served as the Justice Department’s acting director of community relations under President Obama and, like many of the students he addressed, was the first in his family to consider college and face down the financial burden of earning a degree.

His chat was one in a series of 50 such talks taking place in classrooms all across the commonwealth as part of a new University of Virginia-sponsored speaker series.

“Virginia is for Job Lovers: Virtual Commonwealth Career Series” is the result of a recent partnership between UVA’s Virginia College Advising Corps and the UVA alumnae-founded non-profit, DreamWakers. It’s designed to promote college access and attendance for low-income, first-generation and under-represented students.

Virginia’s education secretary talks teacher raises, Trump administration
February 10, 2017

Virginia teachers can be confident in some kind of extra pay this year, the state’s Education Secretary Dietra Trent said in a wide-ranging interview in her Capitol Square office as the General Assembly moves into the final two weeks of its session and a new administration settles into Washington.

“We don’t know how yet, but I believe in my heart that they’ll be better off than they were a month ago,” Trent said.

The budget plan in the Senate would provide raises for teachers. The House of Delegates would give school systems additional unrestricted money that could be used for raises if school boards choose.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe proposed a one-time 1.5 percent bonus for teachers and state workers after planned raises were wiped out by a big budget shortfall last year.

The House and Senate passed their budget amendment plans this week, and final negotiations are now underway with about two weeks remaining in the session.

After the General Assembly adjourns, lawmakers return in April for what is typically a one-day session to address any vetoes or amendments offered by the governor.

An education emergency: Teachers in short supply
February 9, 2017

Teaching in Virginia can be a lesson in long hours for little pay.

"I am basically working with groups of students all day long. I have a 30 minute planning time in the middle of the day. I do have like 20 or 20 minutes for lunch as well. 30 minutes of planning in the middle of the day isn’t enough so I end of taking it home I do it in the evening, I do it in the mornings, I do it on the weekends.”

That’s a typical day for Heidi Casper, an ESOL teacher with Chesterfield Public Schools. So, Casper isn’t surprised to hear you could hang a help wanted sign outside just about every public school here in the Commonwealth.
Recent National Education News
Decoding the DeVos To-Do List
U.S. News and World Report
February 9, 2017

President Donald Trump pledged on the campaign trail to direct $20 billion in federal education spending to school choice policies. On Tuesday evening, he took a first step toward fulfilling that promise as Betsy DeVos, a billionaire school choice advocate, was sworn in as U.S. secretary of education.

The confirmation of the newly minted DeVos, whose nomination cleared the Senate by the slimmest of margins Tuesday with a tie-breaking vote cast by Vice President Mike Pence, effectively ushers in a new era in education policy. Officials are expected to move away from using federal funds to prod states into adopting certain education policies and toward loosening directives regarding how federal dollars are used.

Likely up first on that new agenda are efforts to expand school choice.

"I think that we might expect some things pretty quickly," says Lindsey Burke, an education policy fellow at conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. "There's a real opportunity right now to expand choice in a way that's appropriate at the federal level."

But what will those things look like?

The phrase "school choice" is an umbrella for myriad policies aimed at giving students additional options for where they go to school and how they learn. There's a big difference, for instance, between school choice policies that expand public charter schools – like some policies embraced by the Obama administration, much to the consternation of teachers unions – and school voucher programs, which use federal dollars to allow parents to help pay for tuition at private schools and are much more politically tricky.

Social media mocks Education Department for misspelled tweets
The Virginia Gazette
February 12, 2017

The Education Department is getting social media criticism after misspelling the name of a prominent African-American sociologist — and then mistyping again when apologizing for the error.

In a tweet Sunday morning from its official account, the department attributed a quotation to W.E.B. DeBois (doo-BOYZ'), incorrectly spelling the last name with an "E."

It immediately drew hundreds of responses mocking the department's misspelling of the sociologist's last name, which is correctly spelled D-U B-O-I-S.

By midday, the department had posted a new tweet with the correct spelling and an apology. "Post updated — our deepest apologizes for the earlier typo," it tweeted, drawing a wave of fresh responses noting a second typo. Soon after, the department corrected the word to "apologies."


What does the state budget hold for schools?

Our legislation spotlight this week (see below) focuses on the differences between how House and Senate versions of the budget tackle the possibility of increasing teacher pay.  As noted below, legislators' perspectives on teacher pay use a number of different reference points, including where average pay in the Commonwealth ranks compared to other states.  Virginia is not the only state to keep an eye on this - the graphic below is from the Think NC First website and their argument for investing in teacher pay as a key part of education infrastructure.  We wanted to share it because, of course, Virginia is one of the neighboring states highlighted in red.  While North Carolina has dropped precipitiously in it's rank among all states, Virginia has moved down a few spots and in 2013-14 fell between Texas and Montana. 

Of course a lot depends on how you calculate average teacher pay.  The Think NC First website cites data from the 2014-15 National Education Association Report that calculates these rankings based on compiled data from a range of state education agencies and federal agencies.  It is hard, in reviewing the report in summary fashion, to find any detailed explanation of exactly from where salary information is being sourced.  But they report average public school teacher salaries for 2013-14 to be $49,826.

In contrast, a recent news story highlighted an analysis by the website using Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data.  This type of data is based on a survey of employers (meaning it has some margin of sampling error) and reports out average teacher salaries calculated by excluding special education and career/technical education salaries.  That estimate showed Virginia ranked 10th in the nation at $63,493. 

Another key budget choice being made by legislators is how to hold harmless school districts who have seen a sharp (more than 10%) drop in school enrollment and hence been subject to loss of per pupil funding.  As reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch, legislators have developed "a '10-10-10' formula to provide additional state aid to school divisions with less than 10,000 students that lost enrollment by 10 percent or more during the previous 10 years."  Several weeks ago, we shared the set of maps below, which show which localities suffered enrollment drops over the past year and 10 year periods.  Click on the graphic or go here to view the interactive graphic - mouse over each locality to see whether it lost more than 10% of enrollment and has less than 10,000 students.  

One question is how voters might look at this effort to help out struggling school divisions.  In our annual Commonwealth Education Poll one of the questions we've asked the last several years is whether respondents in our representative sample of Virginians would be willing to pay more in taxes in order to have funding increased for low-performing schools in high-poverty areas.  Until recently, this question was likely to be applicable in folks minds to urban high poverty schools, but with increased attention to the challenges faced by rural districts facing the decline of traditional industries, the responses may be relevant to those areas as well.    

Two-thirds (67%) of respondents would be willing to pay more in taxes to provide more resources to high-poverty, low-performing schools.   Minority and Democratic respondents are both significantly more likely to be willing to pay more in taxes for this purpose.  Younger Virginians are also more likely to be willing to pay more. 
From the perspective of the 10-10-10 plan, one interesting aspect is that Tidewater and Northern Virginia have the highest willingness to see their taxes increased, while most of the localities that would get more funding under the new exception to the standing funding formula, are located in the South Central and West regions of the state.  Here's a quick visual breakdown of which localities fall within which region.

This is only one of numerous insights contained in this year's poll.  We hope you'll browse through the results of the 82 page full report, now available on our website.   And, of course, w
e'll feature other results in future issues of Compass Point.

Also be sure to check out the rest of our weekly Legislative Update.  

We hope you have a great week!

Legislation Spotlight - Teacher Compensation in the House and Senate Budgets

Excerpted from the February 10th General Assemby K-12 Education Update, written by David Blount.  Read the full update on our website.

Background: The issue of a compensation supplement for K-12 teachers and support personnel recognized by the Standards of Quality (SOQ) will be an area of contention between House and Senate budget negotiators as they work toward compromise on changes to the current state biennial budget. In late January, these budget leaders indicated they would opt for salary increases for certain workers, rather than the one-time bonus proposed in the introduced budget. A pay raise for teachers was left off their list at that time. In the competing budget plans released this week, however, the Senate uses the one-time teacher bonus money of $55.5 million, along with another $27.8 million from the Lottery Per Pupil Allocation, to fund the state share of a 2% pay raise for SOQ-recognized teachers and support personnel. While an average 2% pay hike must be provided by school divisions to receive the state funds, a required local match based on the local composite index is not specifically required. With these actions proposed by the Senate, the lottery per pupil amount would drop from $224.43 to $185.58 in FY18.
The House plan redirects the teacher bonus dollars and adds $6.1 million in other general funds to the Lottery Per Pupil Allocation, so that the State would be sending 40% of all lottery proceeds (for a total of nearly $218 million) to school divisions on a per pupil basis, without a local match (the budget adopted last year sent 30% of lottery proceeds to school divisions in this manner). School divisions would have discretion to allocate the funding as they see fit for both recurring and nonrecurring expenses. With these actions, the lottery per pupil amount would increase from $224.43 to $313.50 in FY18.
These actions are occurring against a backdrop of the following:
  1. A report by budget staff that all but a dozen school divisions gave teachers a pay hike for the current year, when it was anticipated that a state supplement was going to be provided (the supplement did not materialize due to sluggish state revenues).
  2. The January release of the 2016-17 Teacher Salary Survey Results from the Department of Education, which shows the average, budgeted classroom teacher salary for FY17 to be $56,148, a 2.29% increase from FY16. The report also includes information from the National Education Association showing the average classroom teacher salary for 2014-15 in Virginia to be $50,620, which ranked 30th among the states and trailed the national average of $57,420.
  3. General Assembly consideration of HB 2332, which defines a competitive teacher salary for meeting the State’s teacher compensation goals, as one that is at or above the national average teacher compensation. The bill passed the House and awaits action in the Senate.

What the public thinks: We recently released results of our annual education poll – while no question was asked directly about whether the public think teachers deserve a raise, we asked what the best use of extra money would be if it was given to low-performing, high poverty schools. Forty-four percent (44%) said “increasing teacher pay” while 27% choose increasing support “increasing support for community programs that share strategies with parents about improving student achievement” and 15 percent felt “increasing mental health support services for students” was the best use. Only 11 percent opted for “hiring more school counselors to provide support to students” as the best option.

Likely outcome in 2017:
 Unclear. Local administrators welcome flexibility, creating a balance of vested interests between teachers (who like the Senate version) and local leadership (who may prefer the House version).
General Assembly Update - February 10th

Excerpted from the February 10th General Assemby K-12 Education Update, written by David Blount.  Read the full update on our website.

Budget Update

The House Appropriations and Senate Finance Committees this past Sunday unanimously approved amendments to the biennial budget plan introduced by Governor McAuliffe in December. The plans then were debated on the respective House and Senate floors on Thursday. The House approved its plan on 98 to 2 vote, while the Senate passed its plan unanimously. A committee of senior legislators will be working over the next two weeks to reach a compromise on the competing plans by the scheduled end of the legislative session on February 25.

Budget Highlights
The House and Senate are taking different approaches to providing pay raises in FY18 than proposed by the governor. His introduced budget included funding for a one-time, 1.5% bonus, effective December 1, 2017, for Standards of Quality (SOQ)-funded instructional and support positions. Both plans seize the bonus funding for different uses. The Senate proposes using this and other dollars to provide the state share of a 2% salary increase for such positions, effective July 10. The House defers the funding of additional pay hikes to local governments and school divisions, sending the money back to local school divisions via a flexible, per pupil allocation.

Neither plan pulls back on the commitment made last year to fund 100% of the VRS actuarial rates in FY18 for the teacher retirement plan, despite urging from some local governments and school boards for a one-year delay.

The House also provides just over $9 million in FY18 to assist smaller school divisions that have realized a significant decline in membership; divisions eligible for the special formula-driven funding must have less than 10,000 students and have realized a 10% or more decline in March enrollment over the last 10 years (2006 to 2016). Meanwhile, the Senate includes almost $7 million in FY18 as transitional assistance/enrollment loss funding for divisions that experience 1.5% or greater enrollment loss compared to last year.

The Senate plan would increase Project Discovery dollars in FY18 by $237,500, for a total allocation of $850,000. The House plan reduces a planned increased back to the currently-funded $425,000 amount.

The introduced budget proposed an additional $480,000 for summer cyber camps; the Senate plan seizes half that amount for other uses, while the House redirects the entire amount. The governor’s proposal also increased FY18 funding from $500,000 to $1.5 million for teacher residency partnerships in several urban school divisions; the House plan would eliminate that increase. Further, the introduced plan called for a $1.6 million increase in FY18 to support statewide access to the DOE's Instructional Improvement System; the Senate plan seizes half of that funding, while the House would eliminate the increase.

The House includes language directing the Office of Children's Services to submit an implementation plan or transferring funding for disabled/special education children and youth served through the Children's Services Act (CSA) to the Department of Education (DOE). The Senate includes language that calls for a workgroup to assess and determine the actions necessary to implement options related to the growth in private educational placements.

Additional Budget Proposals

House amendments:

  • The House proposes $300,000 in funding in FY18 for five school divisions to pilot optional vision screenings, pursuant to HB 1408.
  • House language would allow school divisions and two-year colleges to negotiate credit hour rates for dual enrollment courses.
  • The House would remove all of the additional $500,000 proposed in FY18 to continue a student growth model pilot program begun this year.
  • The House proposes just over $23,000 in FY18 for the DOE to develop a long-range, statewide Inclusion Implementation Plan for children with developmental disabilities to ensure they have access to the curriculum and opportunities offered to their non-disabled peers.
  • It also provides three positions at the DOE to manage the Parental Choice Education Savings Account program ( HB 1605).

Senate amendments:

  • The Senate plan swipes another $8 million in Literary Fund dollars to help pay for teacher retirement.
  • The Senate also proposes to reduce funding for Project Gradation by $1.4 million in FY18, which would cut the state allocations to school divisions by 50%.
  • It would repurpose $400,000 from the SOL Algebra Readiness program (thus reducing funding to school divisions in FY18) to fund the increased cost of the Algebra Readiness Diagnostic Test.
  • The Senate removes current language that requires Extended School Year Grant awards to be adjusted by the composite index in the fourth year of implementation.
  • Language proposes that the DOE, along with the Virginia Community College System and State Council for Higher Education, recommend changes to the structure of dual enrollment.

Click here for a State Superintendent’s memo that contains additional details on the proposed House and Senate amendments to the current state budget.


Read the full update on our website.