A Message from Senator Jennifer McClellan: The 2023 Legislative Session Has Begun

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The 2023 General Assembly Session convened last week, and Democrats are already hard at work, fighting for a bold, inclusive vision for Virginia. As I begin my 18th session, I’ve introduced legislation focused on investing in Virginia communities and public schools, protecting reproductive freedom, making electric bills and housing more affordable, and helping Virginia businesses grow and thrive. This week, I am focusing on my education and childcare agenda. As the daughter of a third-generation educator, product of Chesterfield Public Schools, and mother of two Richmond Public Schools students, I’ve focused my entire legislative career on ensuring that every child has a high-quality public education regardless of their zip code. This year is no exception, as I work to fully fund our public schools in order to meet students where they are and give them the tools they need to succeed. As in years past, I have introduced legislation to fully implement the Virginia Board of Education’s recommended 2021 Standards of Quality (“SOQs”), which were created to promote educational parity, support the hiring of educators and support staff, and help all schools to achieve their graduation standards. Full implementation would increase state funding to local school divisions by $379.4 million.

In the City of Richmond alone, this would mean more than $5 million in state funding, 20 new specialized support positions, 19 new school counselors, and 26 new assistant principals. In 2021 and 2022, I passed legislation and budget amendments to implement SOQ recommendations to ensure that all elementary schools have a full-time principal and to set a ratio of 3 support staff per 1,000 students. This year, my bill will implement the rest of the SOQ recommendations, including increasing funding for school counselors to ensure there is one counselor for every 250 students, increasing funding for English learner students based on proficiency, and increasing a host of other critical support positions in schools and programming.

I’ve also introduced a budget amendment to fully eliminate the arbitrary 13-year-old cap on state funding for support staff, which was adopted as a temporary measure during the Great Recession. This cap had essentially shifted more of the cost for such personnel to localities. Last year, I successfully worked to lift the support staff cap by one-third, investing $271.7 million over the next two years to increase the number of state-funded school support positions.

Students cannot learn in a crumbling building. In 2020, I sponsored legislation creating the Commission on School Construction and Modernization, which I now chair. As a result of our work, the state budget that took effect July 1st invested $1.2 billion in school construction and renovation, one of the largest investments in modern Virginia history. This includes $450 million for The School Construction Fund and Program – created by legislation I carried – to provide grants to localities for school construction and modernization projects. We also passed my bill to make more money available to local school divisions through loans with lower interest rates than previously allowed by law. This year, on behalf of the Commission I have filed legislation to authorize any Virginia localities to increase the local sales tax up to 1% by referendum to fund school construction or renovation. Under current law, only nine localities have this power.

I also have filed legislation to provide more transparency around student data creating a centralized dashboard for all state-supported assessment data for Virginia students. Virginia’s current system lacks portability as students move from school to school and risks non- compliance with federal law. My bill will require the Virginia Department of Education to collect all state-supported assessment data and provide every family, teacher and school leader in the Commonwealth with user access to view a data dashboard on demand.

I look forward to updating you on these and other bills before the General Assembly in the coming weeks. To learn more and stay engaged, contact me or my staff at district09@senate.virginia.gov or (804) 698-7509.