Tuesday, October 27, 2015

A look at Mason's votes (part 2)

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Last week you learned how Monty Mason voted on the most important jobs related bills he faced during his two years as Delegate.  Despite promises to cut regulations, help small businesses earn state contracts, and to make Virginia the best state for business, he failed to introduce a single bill to do so and even more curiously, he voted 'NO' on those that did.  If you missed the examples, click on this link to see.  I wish it ended there. It doesn't. 




The majority of schools in our region offer a fully accredited, quality education. There are some however, in localities within the 93rd District that have failed to meet minimum state standards in each of the last four years.  Each year a student spends in a failing school they're destined to fall behind.  Whether we take creative steps to fix the school, provide students an alternative or both, no child should be forced into a sub-par education simply due to their zip code. 


In his 2013 campaign, Monty Mason claimed education as his 'top priority'.  You may remember him saying he'd "always support Virginia's teachers" and "Teachers pay lacks" (for many it does).  Later he declared ""All of Virginia's children deserve access to a quality education, no matter their economic background" and we must "prepare our next generation for 21st century jobs".  With these ads, you'd expect him to introduce or at least embrace efforts to improve education opportunities for our children, especially where schools are failing?  Let's look.


The 2014/15 budget included $531 million in 'new' spending for K-12 education bringing funding levels to $14.2 billion dollars, a 14.3% increase in per-pupil spending since 2011. Also, $168.7 million was budgeted for VRS increases tied to teacher retirement and even more to increase the state's portion of teacher's health care premiums.  Other initiatives like funding of the Literary Fund and Cost of Compete adjustments for eligible school districts reflected significant investments for Virginia's K-12 schools.  Accordingly, it passed with bi-partisan support.  The budget funds many agencies of course, but with education as his 'top priority' you might expect Mason to be supportive. He wasn't. He joined a small pack of legislators in voting 'NO'.


Many states have created some version of a 'Teachers Career Ladder'.  These programs strive to utilize the skills of teachers who demonstrate extraordinary dedication and talent.  Through this program teachers can earn rewards, monetary or other, by taking on more responsibilities. There are "Master Teachers" for instance - the most qualified teachers who mentor and help other teachers improve their practice, or "Learning Environment Specialists" - Teachers with a unique gift in working with challenged learners and willing to serve in high-needs schools.  There are many more opportunities, but you get the point. For the teachers who have and want to give more, this is an opportunity for them to do so and for our districts, it provides a means for retaining the best of the best, especially in areas where they are needed most.  It's no wonder that the vast majority of legislators, Democrats and Republicans, overwhelmingly supported HJ1 which allowed consideration of this program in Virginia.  Why would any legislator oppose it?  Perhaps if you call Mason's office they'll explain why he was one of just fifteen (out of 140) House and Senate members that voted 'NO'.


Charter schools are public schools that offer unique traits intended to increase the likelihood of a child's success in education.  Some use different teaching techniques; others emphasize a specialized curriculum like mathematics or vocational training among others.  These institutions work interactively with other public schools in the region and often address critical needs for students that can't excel in their assigned school whether due to their own special needs or a failing school.  Today there are over 6,400 charter schools in the U.S.  Virginia has just nine, yes '9'.  HJ577 would grant the state's Board of Education authority to establish additional charter schools to provide students a public-school based alternative for a quality education 'regardless of their economic background'.  Mason voted 'NO'.    


Every community has disabled children with special education needs.  Many schools offer these students the unique tools they often require for a quality education; others do not. Some families have no option but to spend their life-savings to pay for additional training or alternative schools to provide their child a modest chance at a higher quality of life as an adult. Some don't have that option at all. In 2015, one piece of legislation proposed help.  HB2238 would allow parents of disabled children to establish a 'Parental Choice Education Savings Account' where state money already designated to that child could be applied towards textbooks, tuition, tutors, transportation, and fee-for-service programs offered at public schools. These 'education savings accounts' would be available to students that had attended a public elementary, secondary, or preschool in Virginia.  When declaring "All of Virginia's children deserve access to a quality education", did Mason really mean "all"? He voted 'NO'.


You've heard about the shortage of skilled workers, particularly in the area of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math).  Virginia employers have and will continue to offer thousands of high paying careers in these disciplines.  Among them are Computer Science jobs, like Information Technology, Cybersecurity, even Advanced Manufacturing.  Currently, Virginia's High Schools require certain science courses to qualify for graduation which include the common science classes most of us took, earth science, biology, etc.  To encourage students to gain an early introduction to the extraordinary career opportunities like those noted above, HB1054 was introduced to allow Computer Science courses to count as having fulfilled one of the science requirements.  The bill didn't mandate Computer Science, but gave students an option of applying it towards their graduation requirements if they did. Despite proclaiming he would "prepare our next generation for 21st century jobs", Mason voted 'NO'. 


Did he just not like any of these bills and decide to draft his own?  After checking with legislative services I learned that in his two years as Delegate, despite stating that education was his top priority, Mason did not introduce a single bill designed to improve failing schools, reward teachers, expand education opportunities, or prepare students for 21st century careers; Zero.


You now have his voting record on some of the most important jobs and education bills that crossed his desk.  If you question any of this information I urge you to call his office at (757) 229-9310 for confirmation.  But, if business and education were not his focus, how did he spend his time in office?  In a few days, we'll take a look.  But, be prepared as even his most loyal supporters will be disappointed. 


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