Originally published in the Richmond Times-Dispatch:
When the 2015 session of the Virginia General Assembly convenes Wednesday to debate and deliberate on a number of important issues, no issue will be of more long-term importance to our commonwealth than education.
Over the past few years, the House of Delegates has improved Virginia’s education system by rewarding excellent teachers, reforming failing schools and giving students and parents more pathways to success. The 2015 General Assembly session will build on those successes.
Education is the foundation on which our children will build the rest of their lives. For many children, education holds the key to breaking the cycle of poverty. Strong schools with great teachers are critical to ensure that our children can find good-paying jobs and prosper as citizens.
Virginia has some of the best schools in the country, filled with selfless public servants. Our strong system of education attracts the world’s top companies to bring jobs to the commonwealth. Education Week ranks Virginia as the fourth best place to raise a child.
However, we cannot be satisfied with these accomplishments alone. Not every child in Virginia has the same opportunity because not every school is succeeding. To correct this, we must continue to innovate and improve so Virginia can remain competitive in the ever-changing global economy.
The House of Delegates has put key building blocks in place to strengthen our schools.
In 2013, the House led efforts to provide state funding for a well-deserved 2 percent teacher pay raise. We also passed legislation to promote greater professional development for teachers and help recruit new teachers in underserved areas.
In 2014, the General Assembly enacted reforms to Virginia’s Standards of Learning that will give our teachers time to teach and students time to learn. We eliminated five SOL tests in grades three through eight, a 20 percent reduction.
Over the past several years we have promoted personalized learning opportunities for students. We have supported greater access to virtual schools and classrooms — an innovative concept that gives students the opportunity to take online courses offered elsewhere in the state. We also promoted the use of computer-adaptive testing — technology that allows tests to be custom-tailored to students so we can better measure progress and achievement.
These widely supported reforms are the foundation on which we will build in the 2015 session and beyond. This year Republicans in the House of Delegates will put forward policies that support our excellent teachers, simplify the testing process for students and give schools more flexibility to find innovative ways to provide students with a world-class education.
First, we will continue to make teachers a priority. We recognize that teachers are absolutely essential to the success of our schools and students. Changes to curriculum and the SOLs mean that even some of the most experienced teachers will need to adapt. The House of Delegates will push for additional funding for professional development, so teachers can continue to improve and succeed.
Second, we will continue to improve how we measure student success by making further reforms to the Standards of Learning. Our package of proposals will include legislation to streamline and expedite the retake process for students, develop interdisciplinary tests to promote critical thinking and problem solving and other recommendations made by the SOL Innovation Committee, a group tasked with improving the SOLs in Virginia.
Third, the House will continue to seek to free teachers and administrators from bureaucratic red tape. We believe that parents, teachers and local leaders can make the best decisions for our children — not bureaucrats in Richmond. Del. Tag Greason (R-Loudoun) is proposing legislation to reduce bureaucracy and red tape in the school accreditation process by eliminating a one-size-fits-all requirement for every school to seek re-accreditation every year. Good schools with a long track record of success will be required to seek re-accreditation every three to five years. Struggling schools will still be required to meet the current standards.
In addition, I expect the House to advance several other important reforms. I have legislation to enhance and protect student privacy. Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun) will carry legislation to give at-risk students better options for their education. Legislation to better integrate the state’s workforce development plan with career and technical education in our high schools will also be introduced. Del. Dickie Bell (R-Staunton) will once again carry a bill allowing our students more access to full-time virtual education classes.
The House of Delegates intends to remain laser-focused on education in the 2015 session. We will build on work from previous years by supporting teachers, improving how we measure student success and by giving our localities more flexibility to innovate. We have an obligation to our children to build the best education system in the world and I am confident these reforms will help us do just that.
Steve Landes represents the 25th House of Delegates District — which includes parts of Augusta, Albemarle and Rockingham counties — and is chairman of the House Committee on Education. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.