School changes, teacher pay among proposals from Virginia lawmakers

School funding, teacher pay, free tuition for some community college students and changes to school discipline rules are among the education-related proposals in Virginia’s General Assembly this year.

Parents could even be guaranteed four hours of annual leave, which may be unpaid, to attend parent-teacher conferences or volunteer at school.

The two-month session begins Wednesday, with Democrats newly in control of both chambers.

K-12

For elementary, middle and high schools, regular state school spending increases and some additional money for at-risk children is included in Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s budget plan.

Additional proposals include extending all public school kindergarten programs to full-day, state funding or bond issues for school roof fixes and other building upgrades, incorporating financial literacy into math classes, and improving civic and environmental education.



Lawmakers are also proposing requiring schools provide tampons or pads free in bathrooms to middle school and high school students, and requiring a state-level policy for local schools to follow regarding transgender students in K-12 schools.

Schools could also be required to offer mental health break spaces, train teachers and other employees on mental health first aid or mental health awareness, further increase the number of counselors in schools with a majority of low-income students, and allow excused absences for mental or behavioral health issues.

New class offerings could include an optional bible class, a required computer science course in middle school, newly required gun safety training, expanded foreign language classes and expanded access to online courses through the Virtual Virginia program.

There is also a bill that would require written parental consent before a student takes any family life education class.

Students could also get permission to use sunscreen at school without a prescription.

Discipline

Proposed changes to discipline rules include removing criminal penalties for disorderly conduct that disrupts school, or school activities or happens on a school bus.

Principals could also get more discretion on when to report certain low-level incidents to police, including the possession of very small amounts of marijuana, and the amount of information schools get from police about crimes outside of class could also change.

Suspended students could be guaranteed the right to complete any graded work, and students could be protected from suspension or expulsion over nonviolent behavior.

Security

A number of bills would change the number of school resource officers or school security officers, add special training requirements for the officers and require notice to parents of emergency drills.

Parents could also get the right to consent to certain interviews between a school resource officer and a student.

There are also proposals to collect more data on incidents involving school resource officers or school security officers, and to require more frequent reviews of the agreements between schools and law enforcement that outline response plans.

Kids going hungry

With so many students struggling to afford food, several bills would change school lunch rules.

Potential changes include banning school employees from throwing out a lunch already served to a student who is then found to have outstanding school lunch debt, allowing leftover food to be provided to low-income students at the end of the day so they can take it home for dinner, requiring notice to parents about school lunch debt, and food policies and permission for schools to do fundraising to offset school meal debt.

Teacher pay and hiring

In addition to a teacher pay increase proposed in Northam’s budget, a series of bills would require paid maternity leave for teachers, studies of teacher and school bus driver shortages, and new promises of higher teacher pay in the future.

Several proposals would add new job protections for teachers, particularly in their first years in a school system, aim to get more minority teachers in the classroom and study the teacher licensing process for any potential biases that present roadblocks to minority teacher candidates.

Elementary schoolteachers could be promised more planning time, and people once convicted of certain crimes who have had their rights restored by the governor could have a greater opportunity to get a second chance through a job in a school system.

Testing and degree requirements

Changes to testing rules this year could include a requirement to translate mandatory state tests into a student’s native language, clarification that dual enrollment classes with colleges count toward high school graduation requirements and additional reading diagnostic tests.

Virginia could also study the current Standards of Learning for potential revisions to remove “any racist or inequitable elements.”

College

Free community college for lower-income students in specific fields is funded in the proposed budget, but other proposals also address tuition or other college issues.

So-called dreamers, or those in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, could get in-state tuition if they live in Virginia.

Public colleges could be barred from asking on applications about criminal convictions, and colleges could be required to set new policies surrounding sexual assault and other conduct with a notation going on the degree of any student disciplined for sexual violence. That notation could be expunged after three years.

Students could also get new information about loans or new regulation of loan providers.

People out of college who are in debt could also get an opportunity to take out state mortgage loans to help pay off student loan debt while also buying or refinancing a home.

Pay to play?

College athletes could be barred from getting paid to play at Virginia’s colleges and universities.

A proposed bill would ban payments to players from schools, but would also require schools allow players to have agents and to make money off their own name.

Schools could ban players from earning money through sponsorships while participating in official activities.

Separately, the so-called “Tebow bill” is back. It would let home-schooled students join their public school’s sports teams.

Public information and input

A series of proposals would expand access to information about private donations to public schools, require public input or explanation of tuition increases, and guarantee middle and high school student journalists freedom of the press.

Family law changes proposed

Changes for kids and families outside of school include removal of race from marriage records, gender-neutral divorce terminology and more baby changing facilities in bathrooms in public buildings.

Virginia could set new criminal penalties for corporal punishment of children, establish a new alert for missing children with autism and expand training on human trafficking.

Several changes could reduce spousal support in some divorce cases, tweak adoption rules or provide additional support for foster children after they turn 18.

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