Posted on Monday, February 26, 2018

General Assembly Week 7 Round Up: Feb. 23, 2018

Submitted by Ellen Davenport, assistant vice chancellor for governmental relations, VCCS


The House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee released their versions of the budget on Sunday afternoon, February 18. Each house passed its budget on February 22.  The budgets will now cross over to the opposite side, be rejected, and budget conferees will be announced. Budget conferees in 2017 were Senators Norment, Hanger, Saslaw, Howell, Newman, Ruff, and Wagner. With the ascension of Delegate Kirk Cox to Speaker of the House of Delegates and the 2017 election defeat of two previous House budget conferees, House budget conferees are likely to be Delegates Jones, Landes, and Torian with three to four additional delegates named. The budget conference report is expected to be announced on March 6, with a vote on March 8. 

The HAC budget is predicated on the expansion of Medicaid, with the requirement that all Medicaid recipients seek training, education, employment or other community engagement opportunities leading to self-sufficiency. (This requirement is not applicable to children, individuals age 65 and older, individuals with certain disabilities, or individuals who are the primary caregiver of a dependent.) New Medicaid recipients would also have to contribute to their insurance coverage through private insurers. In addition to the language and funding in the House budget, HB 338 (Miyares) is the House bill for Medicaid expansion; it calls for collaboration with the Virginia Workforce Centers or One-Stops to provide services to enrollees. The House plan also calls for hospitals to cover the state’s share of the cost (currently at 7.5% and which will increase to 10% by 2020) by paying a “provider assessment” on inpatient revenues to cover the Commonwealth’s share. Part of the proposal will include a “Taxpayer Safety Switch” to shut down the program if the federal government reneges on its commitment to pay for the cost. 

The budget introduced by former Governor Terry McAuliffe had contained approximately $400 million in federal dollars targeted to Medicaid expansion, which freed up approximately $400 million in state general fund dollars. The budget subsequently adopted by the SFC on Sunday and which contained different revenue assumptions did not include Medicaid expansion, which created a $421 hole in the Senate budget. As a result, the Senate budget did not include pay raises for state employees, teachers, and state-supported local employees but indicates that they would support a 2% raise for Governor Ralph Northam to include in his budget proposal next year, if revenue is available. The House budget, in contrast, contains a recommended 2% salary increase effective on June 10, 2018 and a December 1, 2019 merit-based bonus.  

The Senate also targets $180 million more than the House into a new cash reserve fund. 

  • Workforce Credential Grants/Fast Forward
    • Both the SFC and the HAC budgets retain the additional $2 million in each year of the biennium that was contained in Governor Terry McAuliffe’s introduced budget, yielding an appropriation of $9.5 million in each year of the next biennium. The Senate budget also includes an additional $1 million in HB29/SB29, the “caboose” budget bill. 
    • The HAC budget contains language that would require the intersection of industry clusters identified by the regional GO Virginia councils with the credentials granted by our 23 community colleges. In addition, the HAC budget calls for SCHEV to submit these guidelines to the Virginia Growth and Opportunity Board for input before any WCG grant funds are allocated to community colleges and higher education centers. This language would slow down the current way the program is operating, and would be detrimental to the businesses that have hired newly trained workers in critical jobs needed right now, which may not be identified in the GO Virginia aspirational industry clusters. 
  •  Cyber X
    • The House Budget contains $40 million to create the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative, or “Cyber X” to address and increase the number of advanced and professional degrees within the cyber workforce. The initiative will be located in Tysons Corner. Virginia Tech will be the anchor, and other public institutions will be in partnership with Virginia Tech as the “spokes.”  This initiative can be tied to a Research Asset Assessment Study commissioned by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia and completed in January which evaluated Virginia’s research assets (including those at public and private universities), federal research facilities, and private sector companies. One of the findings of this study was that the cybersecurity and cyber facility industries represent one of four strategic growth opportunities for Virginia, and that it is a disadvantage that Virginia’s technology community and its universities aren’t in the same place (compared to Stanford University in Silicon Valley and MIT in Boston, for example). 
    • Currently, five of Virginia’ community colleges have achieved the NSA-CAE2Y designation from the U. S. Department of Homeland Security and the National Security Agency as a Center of Academic Excellence for Two Year Schools for cybersecurity education: Danville, Lord Fairfax, Northern Virginia, Thomas Nelson, and Tidewater. It would make sense that these colleges could potentially be aligned with the Cyber X initiative.

Dual Enrollment and Transfer Credits

HB 919 (Jones) and SB 631 (Dunnavant) are the vehicles that would implement many of the dual enrollment and transfer recommendations contained in the 2017 JLARC report on the Operations and Performance of the Virginia Community College System. A meeting on February 16 with the patrons of both bills was held between the patrons, SFC and HAC staff, the VCCS, and SCHEV. All parties will continue to work together to align the bills so there is more uniformity in dual enrollment course quality and transferability to four-year institutions. 

Embedded in both bills is the development of a 15-credit Passport Program contained within a 30-credit Uniform Certificate of General Studies. Initially, the Passport Program course offerings will uniformly be accepted as credit at a four-year institution, unless a four-year institution has applied for and received a waiver from accepting a particular course for a particular major, with a goal of making all courses in the Uniform Certificate transferrable. Four-year institutions, in cooperation with the VCCS, will be required to map out career education pathways to allow students to see the classes necessary to complete a four-year degree in a particular field of study. The VCCS will create a single online repository where the public may access all transfer agreements and dual enrollment agreements with four-year institutions. Finally, the State Board for Community Colleges is required to implement an annual review for each community college, and to standardize the course offerings across the community college system.

The bill also adds the VCCS to the Virginia Online Network, and requires that all Passport Program courses be made available through the Network. This section of the bill is duplicated in HB 1181 (Rush) and SB 760 (Newman). 

The only dual enrollment/transfer legislation that has not been folded into either HB 919 or SB 631 is HB 3 (Landes) which renames all dual enrollment courses that will transfer to four-year institutions as “universal transfer courses.”  Delegate Jones and Senator Dunnavant have indicated that HB 3 will eventually become incorporated into HB 919 and SB 631. 

Notice of Tuition Increase

SB 824 (Peterson) would have mandated a public comment period as part of any deliberations that public higher education governing boards hold on the topic of tuition increases. This bill was folded into HB 1473 (Miyares), which prohibited any governing board from approving an increase in undergraduate tuition or mandatory fees without giving the public an opportunity to comment at least 30 days before any vote. HB 1473  was passed by indefinitely in the Senate Finance Committee on February 20.

Last year, Petersen’s SB 1376 stipulated that any tuition or mandatory fee increase being considered by a public institution of higher education can be approved only if students and the public are notified of the projected range of the planned increase with an explanation of the need for the increase, and notice of the date and location of any vote on the increase, 30 days prior to the vote. The notification can be posted on the institution’s website and/or communicated to students by email. 

Ombudsman for Student Debt

HB 1138 (Price) and SB 394 (Howell) would both create a state ombudsman for student debt, to be housed in the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia. Because the legislation has an accompanying fiscal impact, the legislation is moving forward but its scope could change, depending on the funding approved. The ombudsman’s office would be responsible for reviewing and attempting to resolve complaints from qualified education loan borrowers, compiling and analyzing the data on the complaints; assisting borrowers with understanding their rights and responsibilities, and analyzing and monitoring the development and implementation of applicable laws and policies. The Ombudsman’s Office would also required to establish and maintain a qualified education loan borrower education course by December 1, 2019.

Online Virginia Network Authority

The Online Virginia Network was originally established and funded in 2015 as a collaborative effort between ODU and GMU to offer an online platform to help the over 600,000 Virginians who have some college credit but no degree. 

HB 2262 in the 2017 session established a 15-member governing Board of Trustees for the Authority; 4 from the House of Delegates, 3 from the Senate, 3 nonlegislative members to be appointed by the Governor, one nonlegislative member to be appointed by the Board of Visitors of GMU, one nonlegislative member to be appointed by the Board of Visitors of ODU,  and 3 ex officio members to include the president of GMU, the president of ODU, and the Director of the Online Virginia Network Council.  HB 1181 (Rush) and SB 760 (Newman and Dunnavant) both add the Chancellor (or his designee) to the Online Virginia Network Authority, and grant the authority of the State Board of Community Colleges to designate a nonlegislative member. 

The OVNA shall “encourage each public institution of higher education and each consortium of public institutions of higher education currently offering online courses, degree programs, and credentials to offer such courses, degree programs, or credential programs through the Network.” The Authority is also to oversee a process of approval for public institutions of higher education to participate in the Network.

The OVNA is to promote refinement and implementation of articulation agreements so that credits earned are transferable to other public institutions of public education. The Authority is exempt from the Virginia Public Procurement Act and from oversight by VITA. 

TANF for Community College Scholarships

Because of interest in integrating TANF funds with Medicaid expansion, neither bill which would have targeted $800,000 in TANF funds to establish scholarships for community college students at two pilot locations is expected to advance. SB 27 (Stanley) passed the Senate and has been referred to the House Appropriations Committee. HB 285 (Murphy) already stalled in the House Appropriations Committee. Both bills would serve up to 200 students at up to $4,000 apiece. The TANF funds would be transferred from the Department of Social Services to the VCCS, and the VCCS would enter into a memorandum of understanding with DSS to establish the parameters of the program and the method for selecting students to participate.

Bills sent to the Joint Subcommittee Studying the Future Competitiveness of Higher Education

A number of bills in the 2018 General Assembly which would freeze or limit increases in tuition and room and board, change the duties of higher education governing boards, or establish tuition discounts for certain categories of students, have been tabled and referred to the Joint Subcommittee Studying the Future Competitiveness of Higher Education. The Joint Subcommittee was established by budget language in 2015; members have had several meetings during the intervening years but have not arrived at any final recommendations. The group is tasked with reviewing ways to maintain and improve the quality of higher education and intersecting it with SCHEV’s strategic plan, providing for broad access and affordability, looking at financial, demographic, and competitive changes to sustain individual institutions and the system as a whole, exploring efficiency measures such as shared services and transfer, evaluating distance education and online instruction, and reviewing financial aid programs and models to incentivize students to complete their studies. The Joint Subcommittee must also study the effectiveness and value of transfer students and evaluate the effectiveness of dual enrollment in reducing the cost of higher education. 

To date, bills sent to the Joint Subcommittee include HB 249 (Miyares) to cap in-state tuition rates, HB 470 (Reid) to waive tuition and fees for dependents of disabled veterans, HB 476 (Reid) to waive tuition and fees for individuals pursuing community service careers, HB 643 (Hope) to reduce tuition for first responders, and HB 1279 and 1463 (Tran) regarding transfer of community college credit and military experience to four-year institutions for individuals serving in the Armed Forces. 

Bill List

Please refer to the VCCS Bills List Feb22-post-crossover for more information.'

Laura Osberger

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