Bell Sounds from the 20th - Week 5

Though it is hard to believe, this coming Tuesday, February 11 will mark the halfway point of the 2014 Session, known as Crossover.  Crossover is the day that each body must complete the work that was filed in their respective houses.  Beginning next Wednesday, the House will only be able to consider Senate bills that have passed in the Senate, and the Senate will only consider House bills that have passed in the House.

This will certainly make for a long day on Monday and Tuesday, as we will have to be sure to work through all remaining legislation in the House.

I will now provide a brief update on a few items of interest that we have worked on thus far in the 2014 Session.

Standards of Learning (SOL) Reform

As I mentioned in a previous newsletter, one hot topic of this year’s session has been SOL Reform.  The new administration has stated that this is a priority for them, and it is something that many members of the General Assembly have made a priority as well.

When Virginia first adopted the SOLs a number of years ago, we were pioneers in assessment and accountability.  We set high standards, and created accountability among educators.

Though there was never anything but good intent, it has become clear over the last few years that changes are desperately needed.  For that reason, Delegate Tag Greason introduced House Bill 930.

House Bill 930 was the result of many months of collaboration between teachers, education leaders, parents, and legislators.  

This legislation has four main goals:

  • To reduce the number of SOLs in grades 3-8 from 22 to 17.  This is a 23% reduction in standardized testing.  At this time we did not address SOL testing for high school students, due to complications regarding SOLs as a requirement for graduation.

  • To improve the SOLs by requiring the Department of Education to evaluate the multiple-choice and memorization aspects of the current tests, and move toward more problem solving and critical thinking aspects.  

  • To allow teachers in subjects that do not require an SOL the flexibility to utilize performance assessments to locally evaluate how their children are learning.  

  • To establish a Standards of Learning Innovation Committee made up of stakeholders who will be tasked with evaluating our SOLs on an ongoing basis.

Over the last few years we have worked hard in Virginia to reform education.  We took significant steps in 2013 to increase teacher pay and promote greater accountability in our schools.  I believe that SOL reform is another critical step.  House Bill 930 certainly does not solve all of the problems with the SOLs in Virginia, but it is a critical first step.

Virtual Education

Another one of those critical reforms is Virtual Education. Throughout my time in the House of Delegates, virtual education has been one of my top priorities.  Though we passed legislation to promote virtual education in 2010, we have spent the last 4 years looking for a funding solution.

We are closer than we have ever come.  House Bill 324 establishes a new Virtual Virginia School and creates a board of the Virginia Virtual School as a policy agency under the Secretary of Education.  The School will offer full time online classes and virtual school programs to all public, private and home- schooled children in the state who wish to participate.   

There are many students in our Commonwealth that thrive in the traditional classroom setting.  There are also, however, many who do not.  My hope is that virtual education can be a great alternative for those students.  

This bill was initially referred to the Committee on Education, and then re-referred to the Committee on Appropriations. It reported out of Appropriations today on an 18-3 vote. This is the furthest we have made it with this legislation, and this is a tremendous accomplishment.  

House Bill 324 will now go to the House floor for debate and a final vote. I will report back next week with more information.

Prevention of Domestic Violence

Compared to other parts of the country, Virginia is on the right track towards reducing violent crimes. Between 2006 and 2010, overall homicides in Virginia declined by 8%. Unfortunately, however, there is a troubling trend of increased sexual and domestic violence across the Commonwealth with intimate partner homicides increasing by 65%.

At any given time, there are approximately 14,000 active protective orders on file in Virginia. These numbers highlight the adamant need for reform to improve access to critical intervention and prevention services.

This year the House is taking a two-fold approach to combat this problem. I am pleased to co-patron HB 1, a bill carried by Delegate Barbara Comstock, which will streamline existing and new funding for intervention, prevention, and counseling services. This legislation dedicates a funding stream for Sexual & Domestic Violence Agencies to increase access to the important treatment and crisis services they provide. The House Budget Proposal will include $10.6 million in new funding in 2015 for Virginia’s domestic and sexual violence treatment and crisis prevention centers.

I believe this legislation will better serve victims of sexual assault and domestic violence.

Highland County Maple Festival

This March (March 8-9 and 15-16, 2014)the Highland County Chamber of Commerce will be hosting the 56th Annual Highland Maple Festival.  Maple syrup-making has long been a part of the heritage in Highland County.  Each year Highland County, with a local population of less than 2,500, welcomes upwards of 50,000 visitors to the festival.

The Highland Maple Festival is listed on the Southeast Tourism Society’s Top 20 Events, and has been designated a Local Legacy by the Library of Congress.

This year, I patroned House Bill 107, which would designate the Highland Maple Festival as the Official Maple Festival of the Commonwealth of Virginia.  I am pleased to report that this legislation passed unanimously in the House of Delegates on Thursday.  If it passes in the Senate, this would go into effect in time for the 2015 Maple Festival.  

Visitors

This week we had a number of visitors from home drop by for a visit.

We had the privilege of seeing Crista Cabe, Vice President for Public Relations at Mary Baldwin College twice this week.  On Monday she came by with Director of Admissions Roberta Palmer and 6 students who were there to thank the General Assembly for their Tuition Assistance Grants.  On Thursday she came by with Brigadier General Terry Djuric, commandant of the Virginia Women’s Institute for Leadership, as well as several VWIL students.

We also saw students from the Shenandoah Valley Governor’s School, as well as John Avoli and representatives from the Frontier Culture Museum. We met with Denver Riggleman and his wife Christine from Silverback Distillery in Nelson County.

We were also able to see David Blanchard representing Highland County, as well as Augusta County Administrator Pat Coffield and Supervisors Larry Wills, Michael Shull, and David Karaffa.

It is always great to see friendly faces from home. If you will be in the Richmond area over the next few weeks, we welcome you to drop by for a visit.

Though appointments are not required, we strongly encourage them.  To make an appointment call Savanna at 804-698-1020

Contact Us


While we are in Session, we will be operating out of our Richmond Office. To contact us in Richmond, please call
804-698-1020.  You can also reach us by email at DelDBell@house.virginia.gov.  If you would like to send written correspondence, you can mail it to Post Office Box 406, Richmond, Virginia 23218.  You can also fax it to 804-698-6720.

While we do our best to respond to every email and voicemail as quickly as possible, during Session we get sometimes hundreds of calls and emails each day. Therefore, it can often take some time to filter through everything. We appreciate your patience and understanding, and assure you that we will work to get back to you as promptly as possible.

We look forward to hearing from you over the next few weeks!

As always, I thank you for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.

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