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Educate Every Child: A 2019 Legislative Snapshot

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Educate Every Child: A Snapshot of the 2019 Legislative Session

 

Our JustChildren program’s Educate Every Child campaign is one of our longest, most ambitious efforts; it seeks to fulfill the promise of our state Constitution to ensure a free, high-quality, public education to all children in the Commonwealth. Our policy work focuses on improving the critical attributes of such a system: equity, access, support, quality, opportunity, and sustainability, all of which create more justice for our clients and their families. We also specifically seek to redress the racial inequities that persist in our schools and to dismantle the effects of the racist laws and policies upon which our public K-12 education system was historically built.

During the 2019 General Assembly session, we reached some significant milestones in our ongoing work to increase support staff and decrease criminalization of students in Virginia’s public schools. As of the close of the regular session, we successfully championed the following:

Reducing School Counselor Caseloads

  • Partnering with The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, we helped secure an initial $12 million to seed a phase-in plan to reduce school counselor caseloads to the nationally recognized best practice of one counselor per 250 students (1:250), across school levels. We continue to advocate for a Governor’s budget amendment for the 2019 Reconvened Session to fully fund the Year One plan at $36 million, and will further advocate for the full three-year plan (or better) in the coming biennial budget for the 2020 session.

Increased Targeted Funding for Low-Income Students

Mandatory Training for School Resource Officers

  • As part of our yearlong effort to direct reinvigorated focus on “school safety” towards prevention and positive supports to students, we successfully advanced bills and policy initiatives through the House Select Committee on School Safety, the Governor’s School Safety workgroup within the Children’s Cabinet, and the Virginia Commission on Youth to require all School Resource Officers (SROs) to be trained to meet minimum certification and re-certification standards established by the Department of Criminal Justice Services. We’ll continue working with DCJS to ensure those standards include training in topics like working with students with disabilities, cultural competency, the mental health needs of students, child and adolescent development, and mediation and de-escalation skills. We were also able to limit additional funding for SROs to existing positions—no small feat in an era when more law enforcement is a popular response to school safety concerns.

Mandatory MOUs for Cops in Schools

  • Within that same “school safety” work with the relevant committees, we successfully advanced a legislative policy initiative to require Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) between local school divisions and local law enforcement whenever SROs are placed in schools, in an effort to define and refine the scope of police duties and actions in the school environment. SROs should not be responsible for or reacting to school discipline matters. These bills emerged from the House Select Committee on School Safety through our yearlong effort to shape that committee’s focus and agenda.

Increased Transparency & Accountability in Disciplinary Alternative Education

While successes like the ones listed above might seem to become fully assembled over the course of one legislative session, the behind-the-scenes story unfolds over a much longer timeline. Our advocacy to improve support staff in schools, for example, measures itself in decades.

Most recently, last year during the 2018 legislative session, in partnership with Sen. Jennifer McClellan, we brought the most recent recommendations from the Virginia Board of Education to fully fund the Virginia Standards of Quality to the General Assembly, in the form of several budget amendments designed to eliminate the arbitrary decade-old cap on school support staff and assure that students had adequate access to school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses. The presentation of those amendments in committee helped once again put the General Assembly on notice that our public K-12 system is radically underfunded, and that the Commonwealth is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide high-quality education to Virginia students.

We then leveraged the awareness we raised during the 2018 session into both broad-based and targeted advocacy within the various school safety committees and workgroups over the past year, to again demand adequate school funding for K-12—especially for economically disadvantaged students, this time zeroing in on school counselors and the At-Risk Add-On funding as priority measures. Among our efforts:

  • In July 2018, we authored a letter to the House Select Committee on School Safety, the Governor and the Children’s Cabinet, and the Virginia Commission on Youth outlining detailed policy recommendations for improving school safety in Virginia schools, with proposals including: increasing school counselors, improving SRO training, and requiring MOUs when using law enforcement in schools. We secured more than 25 organizational co-signers to the letter, and many of our recommendations became a part of each of these group’s final school safety platform.
  • In August 2018, with The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, we released a report, “Investing in Student Safety and Success: The Growing Importance of Effective Staffing in Virginia Schools,” which outlined the multi-faceted need for support staff in our schools.
  • In November 2018, we hosted a Legislative Listening Session for current school counselors to share their experiences and recommendations directly with legislators. The event was held at ART180, in the midst of an art installation created primarily by current or formerly incarcerated students entitled “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out.”
  • Prior to and during the 2019 legislative session, we helped several legislators and Gov. Northam’s administration to draft the successful legislation that will expand SRO training and provide for the statewide use of rigorous MOUs between schools and law enforcement. We successfully advocated for the inclusion of the Department of Criminal Justice Services model MOU as a framework with which the local agreements must align. We worked diligently on this DCJS model as it was developed in 2015-2016, based in large part on our own model school/law MOU within our 2016 report on school policing, which adheres to best practices and a student-centered, trauma-informed approach. 

The road to equity, access, support, quality, opportunity, and sustainability for Virginia’s schools is a highway, not a cul-de-sac. Even with these victories, our work will continue—into the coming legislative sessions, within administrative agencies, in conversation with the media, in collaboration with our organizational coalitions (which commonly include groups like The Commonwealth Institute For Fiscal Analysis and the Virginia School Counselors Association), and—most importantly and urgently—in partnership with affected communities. We will continue to prioritize racial equity and an anti-racist agenda in our policy advocacy and partnerships. And we will continue to use data to help tell the policy stories necessary to effect change. This post maps only two years’ worth of our commitment to demanding that Virginia fulfil its constitutional duty to assure every child receives a high-quality public education; the successes detailed here grow out of two decades of JustChildren’s efforts, and serves only as a mile-marker in our ongoing work. We’re grateful to our partners and the children, families, and communities we represent—building this path will take every one of us together.

To stay up-to-date on our Educate Every Child and school funding campaigns, please sign up for our alerts here.

 

 

Immigrant Clients Win In-State Tuition

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Seven courageous immigrant students represented by Legal Aid Justice Center have won their effort to gain in-state tuition eligibility—not just for themselves, but for thousands of Virginia recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced this morning that DACA recipients are eligible to apply for in-state tuition under existing Virginia law, as the students had argued in a lawsuit filed by the Legal Aid Justice Center last year. Legal Aid Justice Center thanks Attorney General Herring for opening the doors of educational opportunity to these deserving Virginia students.

Resources
Press Release (PDF)

Frequently Asked Questions (PDF)

Read the Lawsuit (PDF)

Read Attorney General Herring’s Letter (4/29/14)

News Coverage
Big Victory for Local Legal Aid Center (C-ville Weekly 4/29/14)

Virginia Attorney General Opens In-State Tuition to Immigrant Students (NY Times, 4/29/14)

Virginia AG Declares ‘Dreamers’ Eligible for In-State Tuition (Washington Post, 4/29/14)

Korean Student in Virginia Joined Forces with Latino “DREAMers” (Washington Post, 5/3/14)

Undocumented Immigrants in Va. Qualify for In-State Tuition (USA Today College, 5/5/14)

Immigrant Plaintiffs Who Sued for Lower Tuition Get Big Victory (C-ville Weekly, 5/8/14)

 

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New Executive Director Announced

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Mary Bauer to Lead Legal Aid Justice Center

Mary Bauer CHOThe Legal Aid Justice Center is pleased to announce that Mary Bauer has been selected to be the new executive director, following the departure of long-time director, Alex Gulotta.

Bauer – a recognized leader and key litigator in immigration reform efforts on the national level – most recently served as director of advocacy at the Legal Aid Justice Center, a position she has held since June. Prior to that, Bauer was legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) in Montgomery, Ala. There she guided legal advocacy, as well as public policy and legislative reform efforts in five offices in the Deep South.

“Mary brings a wealth of experience to the position, and her tenacity and expertise as a litigator are unmatched,” said outgoing director Alex Gulotta. “I leave knowing that the future of this organization is secure, and that Mary is the best possible leader to ensure that the Legal Aid Justice Center protects the rights and advocates for change on behalf of our low-income clients.”

Bauer will officially take the helm Jan. 1, 2014.

Press Release (PDF)

Charlottesville Newsplex Coverage

Executive Director Position Announcement

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Alex Gulotta to Join Bay Area Legal Aid in 2014

Alex Gulotta has announced that he is resigning as executive director of the Legal Aid Justice Center, effective at the end of 2013. In January 2014, he will begin his new role as executive director of Bay Area Legal Aid in the San Francisco area.

“I would not have considered this move if I did not believe that the Legal Aid Justice Center is in as strong a position as it has ever been,” said Gulotta. “The leadership of our board, the expertise and dedication of our staff, and the support of a generous and compassionate community leave no doubt that the Legal Aid Justice Center will continue to thrive long after I have moved on.”

Resignation Letter from Alex Gulotta

Daily Progress Article

National Search for New Executive Director

The Board of Directors has already begun a national search for a new executive director.

The Legal Aid Justice Center seeks an executive director to lead our nationally recognized law firm dedicated to serving low-income households, from our headquarters in Charlottesville, Virginia. Alex R. Gulotta, who has served as executor director for 19 years, will depart at the end of 2013.

The next executive director will join the Legal Aid Justice Center at a time of great opportunity. By producing outstanding results for more than 45 years, the Legal Aid Justice Center has developed a national reputation for excellence. Six of our attorneys have received national awards for their efforts. Thenext executive director will enjoy the dual opportunities of building upon the Legal Aid Justice Center’s strengths and accomplishments, while also creating new and expanded areas for advocacy.

View a full description and application instructions: Executive Director Position Announcement

Navigator Grant Victory

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The August 15 award of a $1.2M Navigator Grant to a consortium of legal aid providers in Virginia – via the Virginia Poverty Law Center – will make it possible for the Legal Aid Justice Center to fund two staff positions to help Virginians obtain health care. A huge thank you to our own Laurel Henneman for the successful application we submitted and its positive impact on the health of people throughout Virginia.

Read more about Navigators at The New York Times.

Passing of James Roche

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We are all saddened at the recent passing of Jim Roche, a staunch advocate for elder care and valued member of the community. Jim’s leadership and support were instrumental in launching the Community Partnership for Improved Long-Term Care. More about Jim’s life and his many contributions to the community can be found in the Daily Progress.

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