Late last week I participated with other legislators in a budget briefing with the Chairman and staff of the Appropriations Committee. At this small group meeting I raised specific concerns related to Southside Virginia in a discussion about priorities for this session. Specifically, following an overview of the revenue forecast and estimated projections, we discussed various options for addressing the opioid addiction problem, the needs of our sheriff’s offices and sheriff’s deputy pay, and unique challenges respecting public schools and teacher salaries in small and rural districts. In future updates I intend to write more about the work the Southside delegation is pursuing with respect to some of these priorities. I will devote this space, however, to sharing the details of bills I am sponsoring related to K-12 education.
For me, this effort begins with legislation to give local school boards the responsibility for setting the school calendar and determining the opening day of the school year. With House Bill 1020, I have proposed an end to the post-Labor Day opening requirement and “good cause” scenarios for which the Board of Education may grant waivers. Without changing the required number of days children must attend school, this measure will allow local school boards to respond to the unique needs and desires of the communities they serve. As in years past, this proposal has garnered broad bipartisan and regional support in the House of Delegates.
With respect to teacher pay, Southside and Southwest Virginia school districts are hindered in their efforts toward teacher recruitment and retention because the wages offered are lower than the state average. As our local officials know well, rural and small districts are at a disadvantage in comparison to wealthier northern Virginia communities, many of which supplement teacher pay beyond the state appropriation. My House Bill 1508 addresses this concern head on with language to establish a policy for the Commonwealth to appropriate state funds for qualified instructional positions, in addition to those state funds that the school board receives for public school purposes, when the locality is unable to fund the prevailing wage.
With respect to students with disabilities, I am the chief co-patron of House Bill 176, legislation to require the Department of Education develop and implement a pilot program in two local school divisions in the Commonwealth. These would partner with the appropriate school board employees to identify, study and recommend processes to redirect federal, state and local funds, including funds provided pursuant to the Children’s Services Act, in ways that would better serve students in need of these services.
Lastly, with House Bill 1021, I have introduced legislation to allow localities to, by ordinance, establish a speed enforcement program utilizing an automated speed monitoring system identifying vehicles traveling at least 10 miles over the speed limit in school crossing zones. Should the law be amended to allow this use of technology, local law enforcement would be empowered to more efficiently distribute manpower while enhancing student safety.
Delegate Les R. Adams (R) represents the 16th House District.