HR Caucus talks education

Published 10:31 pm Friday, January 30, 2015

By Janeal Downs

Capital News Service

During their time away from home, Hampton Roads legislators meet for conversation and coffee every Thursday morning at the General Assembly Building.

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Members of the Hampton Roads Caucus — both Republicans and Democrats — sit around a long oval table in the Speaker’s Conference Room on the building’s sixth floor. Reporters and other guests occupy chairs along the wall.

The meeting is casual, but the issues are serious. Last Thursday, one focus was on improving education. The morning’s guest speaker was Dr. James T. Roberts, superintendent of Chesapeake Public Schools.

“I simply ask that you take a look at the staff members that create the state budget to seek revisions in the funding streams that could be used to assist our public schools,” he said.

“Look upon funding for K-12 as an investment. I fear that these recent losses have diminished our ability to attract the best and brightest for our classrooms, and … if we can’t get that good teacher, our job is hard to do.”

Not all legislators from Hampton Roads attended the caucus coffeeklatch, but many did. They included Democrats such as delegates Mamye BaCote of Newport News, Daun Hester of Norfolk and Matthew James of Portsmouth, as well as Republicans like Sen. John Cosgrove of Chesapeake and Delegate Gordon Helsel of Poquoson.

When asked what the main issues are for Hampton Roads this legislative session, Hester did not hesitate in naming funding for education as priority.

She and other area lawmakers are in a position to make a difference on that front. BaCote, Hester and James are all on the House Appropriations Committee. Hester is also on the House Education Committee. In the upper chamber, Cosgrove is a member of the Senate Education and Health Committee.

Following are some of the education-related bills being sponsored by Hampton Roads legislators:

  • Sen. John C. Miller, D-Newport News, introduced Senate Bill 823, which would require students in kindergarten through fifth grade to participate in at least 20 minutes of physical activity every day or an average of 100 minutes per week during the regular school year. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday on a 34-5 vote.
  • Miller and Cosgrove are sponsoring bills directing the Virginia Board of Education to standardize the criteria for retaking the Standards of Learning tests. Miller’s bill (SB 897) has been folded into Cosgrove’s (SB 874).
  • Miller also has introduced SB 1020, which calls for reducing the number of SOL tests schools must give.
  • Concerning higher education, Hester is sponsoring a measure to require all public colleges and universities to update their sexual misconduct policies by Sept. 30 of this year. Under House Bill 2102, the policies would need approval from the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia.
  • HB 1183, filed by Sen. Jeffrey McWaters, R-Virginia Beach, calls for each public college and university to “prospectively fix the cost of tuition, room and board, and other mandatory fees for incoming in-state freshman undergraduate students for four consecutive years.” That way, incoming students would know how much their college education would cost from the very start.