The General Assembly Adds New Requirements for Teachers that Virginia Schools Do Not Have and Cannot Hire

by James C. Sherlock

A tip of the hat to Dick Hall-Sizemore for pointing out the following bills.

I have written often on how Virginia is constantly loading up teachers and schools with additional reports and requirements.

This General Assembly is trying to add new requirements for teachers that we do not have and have proven unable to hire.

The bills listed below were passed almost unanimously in both houses of the General Assembly and are awaiting the Governor’s signature.

I recommend the Governor veto all of them.

HB 197 Through-year growth assessment system; BOE to seek & incorporate input & suggestions into system

What problem is the “through-year assessment system” supposed to solve? Based on years of experience of false reporting of shortfalls, a through-year assessment system won’t be worth the paper it will be printed on. Who exactly is going to read these and does that person have authority to act?

HB 319/SB616 Virginia Literacy Act; early student literacy, evidence-based literacy instruction, etc.

Are the authors of this bill totally blind to the accelerating teacher shortages and ever smaller pipeline to replace increasing retirements?

Makes several changes relating to early student literacy, including requiring

(i) each education preparation program offered by a public institution of higher education or private institution of higher education or alternative certification program that provides training for any individual seeking initial licensure with an endorsement in a certain area, including as a reading specialist, to demonstrate mastery of science-based reading research and evidence-based literacy instruction, as such terms are defined in the bill;

(ii) the literacy assessment required of individuals seeking initial teacher licensure with endorsements in certain areas to include a rigorous test of science-based reading research and evidence-based literacy instruction;

(iii) each local school board to establish a division-wide literacy plan;

(iv) each local school board to employ one reading specialist for each 550 students in kindergarten through grade three; and

(v) each local school board to provide a program of literacy instruction whereby, among other things,

(a) the program provides reading intervention services to students in kindergarten through grade three who demonstrate deficiencies based on their individual performance on the Standards of Learning reading assessment or an early literacy screener provided or approved by the Department of Education;

(b) a reading specialist, in collaboration with the teacher of any student who receives such reading intervention services, develops, oversees implementation of, and monitors student progress on a student reading plan; and

(c) each student who receives such reading intervention services is assessed utilizing either the early literacy screener provided or approved by the Department or the grade-level reading Standards of Learning assessment again at the end of that school year.”

This bill means well, but do the authors expect these changes to be implemented? By whom?

Remember that the underreporting of vacancies was proven to be widespread. Richmond Public Schools reported that it had no positions for reading specialists, and therefore no vacancies. And VDOE accepted that.

Perhaps the authors of the bill can tell us how the new requirements for reading specialists will be filled in these locations. The only advertised openings I checked on April 6 were for Richmond.

Remembering that the shortages are much higher than reported, the GA needs to address those shortages before layering on more requirements for specialists that schools currently do not have and cannot hire.

Graduate certificates for reading specialists in Virginia are currently offered at UVA, Longwood and Liberty. Fund all the state schools of education to offer the certificates.

Then pay the bills with state funds for teachers who want those certificates and give time off to accomplish the work.  That will exacerbate the classroom teacher shortages, but rob Peter if they must.

Then write this bill.

HB 741 Annual public elementary and secondary school safety audits; creation or review of school building. Requires schools, in preparing their annual safety audits, to include detailed and accurate floor plans for each building.

Who, exactly, in Richmond is going to actually use the floor plans of 2,140 schools, many with multiple buildings? And for what?

To date, the Virginia Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety (VCSCS) has developed five components for the School Safety Audit Program:

  1. Virginia School Safety Survey (annually)
  2. School Division Level Survey (annually)
  3. Virginia School Crisis Management Plan Review and Certification (annually)
  4. Virginia School Survey of Climate and Working Conditions (administered January–March in collaboration with VDOE;
  5. The School Safety Inspection Checklist for Virginia Public Schools (due in 2023, every three years thereafter)

For the last annual report, see here.  It is the very definition of bureaucratic reporting overreach.

I have read that report.  It is clear that few if any members of the General Assembly have.

The major school security needs cited in that report:

Divisions most frequently cited the need for more security cameras as the primary issue of facility safety (61%), followed by the need for a controlled front access system (33%), lack of fencing (32%), and insufficient radio communications (31%).

Now there is information actionable by the General Assembly.  We note that this bill is silent on the security needs of the schools.

From that report:

Electronic/Internet-Based Access to Current Floor Plans
Q. Did first responders (police/fire/EMS) have electronic/internet-based access to current floor plans for all schools in your division in case they needed to respond to a large-scale security incident at the facility?

  • 1,637 (83%) Yes (up from 66% in 2018–2019)
  • 336 (17%) No

Most (72%, 95) divisions reported that first responders had electronic access to floor plans, 23% (30 divisions) reported they did not and 5% (7 divisions) did not know. This is similar to the schools’ reporting.

That is the right question – do first responders have access?

There is no indication anywhere in the 94-page report of the phantom need in the bill to send all school floor plans to Richmond:

As part of each such audit, the school board shall create a detailed and accurate floor plan for each public school building in the local school division or shall certify that the existing floor plan for each such school is sufficiently detailed and accurate.

The division superintendent shall collate and submit all such school safety audits, in the prescribed format and manner of submission, to the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety and shall make available upon request to the chief law-enforcement officer of the locality the results of such audits.

Who says cloud storage is a good thing when it enables such requirements?  What unfilled need will sending floor plans to Richmond every year meet?

If they are needed at the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety, how about sending an update to Richmond every time a floor plan is changed rather than sending all of them annually?

HB 1108 Public schools; instruction concerning gambling, report.

Requires instruction concerning gambling and the addictive potential thereof to be provided by the public schools as prescribed by the Board of Education.;

So, we legalize gambling, and then try to clean up the negative effects in the public schools as a virtue signal.

SB 724 School board; broadband, annual report.

Requires, beginning in the 2022 school year and in each school year thereafter through the 2025 school year, each school board to submit an annual report to the Virginia Department of Education and the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development listing each student’s 9-1-1 address that does not have broadband access.

Dear God.

Bottom line. If we ever needed an illustration of how irresponsible the General Assembly is in researching some of its bills and how disengaged are the teachers lobbies, all of these bills were passed almost unanimously in both houses.

Never a good sign.

Veto them, Governor.

Updated Apr 10 at 7 AM.