The 60-day Regular Session has ended and the members of the General Assembly have left Richmond to return to their home districts. The last two months have been quite a ride, but I survived my first General Assembly session! Our state lawmakers worked through over 3,000 bills, addressing and debating issues from the cost of our utility bills and the conditions of our highways to bear hunting in Southside (I learned a lot about bear hunting), and of course Medicaid expansion. It’s not quite over yet, however, as legislators have not come to an agreement on the two-year budget and will have to reconvene for a special session.
The legislative process is fascinating to watch up close. Though it can seem complicated and complex (check out our State Politics Education Series for a breakdown), the policy-making process here in Virginia is really accessible to everyday citizens.
Following the feedback we received from #the30percent Campaign and the Millennial Engagement Survey, Virginia21 created a legislative agenda that reflected the views and opinions expressed by the students and young professionals we represent, including college affordability, student loans, economic prosperity, and student privacy. In the area of college affordability, we focused on several pieces of legislation and budget items, including debt collections for outstanding tuition payments, open and affordable course content programs, and increased funding for financial aid and the Tuition Assistance Grant. We recognize that to ensure Virginia’s economic prosperity, we must address the student debt crisis. That’s why we pushed for student loan reforms through the creation of a student loan ombudsman who will help borrowers navigate the student loan process. We also fought for student protections on college campuses by supporting legislation to restrict the ability of third parties to access students’ personal contact information.
HB339 Va. Debt Collections Act; public higher educational institutions, payment of student debt. Requires institutions give the student the option for a tuition payment plan during the term or semester.
HB454 Higher educational institutions, public; governing boards, open educational resources.Requires institutions to implement policies, procedures, and guidelines that encourage the adoption and use of low-cost and no-cost open educational resources in courses.
Student Loans/Economic Prosperity
- HB1138/SB394 Qualified Education Loan Ombudsman, Office of the; established, report. Establishes office within SCHEV to review and resolve complaints from education loan borrowers and assisting borrowers with understanding their rights and responsibilities.
- HB1/SB512 FOIA Student Privacy; release of scholastic records. Prevents the release of certain student directory information through FOIA.
During Regular Session, the House and Senate proposed different budget bills and members of both chambers were unable to reach an agreement by the end. The most notable difference is the inclusion of Medicaid expansion in the House’s budget which would allow for additional spending for priorities like education due to projected savings. Because a budget was not passed during Regular Session, Governor Northam has called a Special Session for April 11. The Senate and House conferees will have to reach a bipartisan solution to the final budget. The budget priorities we’ve advocated most strongly for are funding for financial aid, the Tuition Assistance Grant (TAG), the Student Loan Ombudsman, and a pilot program through the Virtual Library of Virginia (VIVA) to provide low and no-cost textbooks to students.
Proposed House Budget Bill - HB30
Includes Medicaid expansion
Financial aid - maintains Governor’s proposed additional funding of $45.5 million
VIVA pilot affordable textbook program funded at $1.2 million
Student Loan Ombudsman Office - funded at $239,333
TAG - $1.8 million increase, $225,000 for an additional $500/award for future teachers
Proposed Senate Budget Bill - SB30
Does not include Medicaid expansion
Financial aid - $22.8 million increase
VIVA pilot affordable textbook program funded at $900,000
Student Loan Ombudsman Office funded - no amount given
TAG - $1 million increase in FY19
The success of our efforts could not have been achieved without the feedback of the nearly 1,500 students and young professionals who contributed their voices to #the30Percent campaign and the survey, the hundreds of students who engage with Virginia21 on college campuses each year, our Student Leadership Committee and Young Professional Advisory Council, and of course those who showed up on Lobby Day to ensure that the voice of our generation is being heard and considered when decisions about the direction of Virginia are made.
About the Author
Gerica Goodman is the Policy Director at Virginia21. Prior to joining Virginia21, she worked in the College of Business at Virginia Tech and in enrollment management and development at George Mason University. She has also worked as a management consultant supporting various nonprofits to improve their communications and fundraising programs. Gerica holds a Master’s in Public Administration and Bachelor of Science in Psychology from George Mason University.