The second week of the 46-day General Assembly Session has concluded. House Republicans have been working diligently to advance a legislative package to improve our schools. Legislation has been filed that will elevate education standards, ensure students have the resources they need to succeed, and empower teachers to regain control of their own classrooms. Most importantly, the proposals incorporate input from both parents and teachers throughout the Commonwealth.
In addition to my House Committee responsibilities, I serve on the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC). JLARC has a staff of more than 30 analysts that are directed by the Commission to analyze various government agencies and legislative policies. Within JLARC, I serve on its Topic Selection Committee, which determines the subject matter staff will study for each year. Recognizing the negative impacts the pandemic had on our students, it made sense for one of these studies to determine the extent of these effects.
The results are eye opening– 56 percent of those surveyed in our schools said behavior is a “very serious issue,” while another 24 percent called it a “serious” problem. It is beyond time for teachers to regain control of their classrooms and reestablish the consistency needed to instruct students effectively and without distractions. Disruptive classrooms make it harder for teachers to do their jobs. Fortunately, legislation has been introduced that will empower teachers with the support they need to allow them to better handle discipline in their classrooms. By reducing disruptions, classrooms can return to an environment where teachers can teach, and students can learn.
Recent reports from the Department of Education related to student test scores show a clear and immediate need for more resources for our students to succeed. The JLARC report underscores the severity: in 20 school divisions, more than half of third graders failed their reading and/or math SOLs; and in 60 divisions, more than half of eighth graders failed their math SOL. The General Assembly cannot be idle and hope that students recover from the learning loss brought on by the pandemic and virtual learning – parents and teachers deserve support now.
House Republicans are addressing this issue by advancing legislation that earmarks specific unspent federal funds to invest in our students and combat learning loss. Moreover, we are promoting legislation that expands proven and effective reading support to more students across Virginia. This legislation received unanimous approval in a House subcommittee and awaits further consideration.
As for my bills, I am happy to report that HB1494 has passed out of committee unanimously and is to be voted on by the House this coming week. This bill creates a specialty license plate for supporters of the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation, and will raise funds to support the Parkway, which is the most visited National Park in the country. Of its 469 total miles, 217 traverse Virginia. According to a 2019 National Park Service study, over 14 million visitors spent $1.1 billion in communities near the Parkway, supporting 16,341 jobs and having a cumulative benefit to the local economies of $1.4 billion.
A few examples of the Foundation’s past investments in the Parkway in Virginia include the operation of the concert and music programming at the Blue Ridge Music Center near Galax, and the rehabilitation of infrastructure and improvements to the visitor experience at Johnson Farm at Peaks of Otter, Humpback Rocks Farm, and Mabry Mill. With the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation being the only official partner of the National Park Service, sponsoring the creation of this plate will help support funding for future projects along this beautiful scenic road and economic driver. I am happy to support these efforts and look forward to seeing these license plates on the road soon.
Two more of my bills reported from Transportation Committee unanimously. HB1495 removes onerous insurance requirements for ride sharing firms, placing Virginia’s regulatory framework in the same posture as 41 other states across the country. HB1496 restructures the Commonwealth Mass Transit Fund by implementing performance requirements for the agency that oversees the Metro system in Northern Virginia and creating efficiencies that ensure commuter rail receives adequate funding. I look forward to updating you on the progress of my other bills as they are referred to committee and work their way through the legislative process.
Last week, Gov. Glenn Youngkin delivered his State of the Commonwealth address, highlighting various accomplishments over the past year and affirming a renewed mission to lower taxes, improve our schools, and properly equip our law enforcement agencies. House Republicans are delivering on these goals, and I look forward to updating you on our progress over the next few weeks.
I’m grateful to work on your behalf in Richmond. If I can be of any assistance to you or you would like to share your position on any of my legislation, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at DelTAustin@House.Virginia.gov and 804-698-1019.
Delegate Terry L. Austin
19th House District