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Virginia Journal of Education

More Than a Paycheck

A Pulaski educator responds to the charge ‘VEA is only interested in salaries.’

Angie Vaughan Clevinger is president of the Pulaski County Education Association and a kindergarten teacher at Crizter Elementary School. While speaking in support of improved school funding before a recent meeting of the county’s board of supervisors, Clevinger was told by a member of that board that VEA teachers seem to be mainly interested in salaries, while he believed funding for all school needs was important.

Clevinger responded during that meeting, and also with a letter to the editor of the Pulaski County-Patriot, which printed it in early January. Here’s what she had to say, taken from that letter:

Members of the Pulaski County and Virginia Education Associations are interested in a plethora of educational issues. Every January, PCEA members travel to Richmond to speak personally with our state representatives, and I’d like to invite all the Board of Supervisors members to join us on the bus our Superintendent provides for the occasion.

Every year the VEA has a legislative agenda, created by our members and voted on by our state board of directors. That agenda is dedicated to the promotion and preservation of public education, and while some of the agenda items do advocate for fair compensation which, by the way, should be afforded to every professional, it is by no means the only goal of the education association.

The VEA has a history of 150 years of advocacy for children and public education. Our mission is to unite our members and local communities across the Commonwealth in fulfilling the promise of a high-quality public education that successfully prepares every single student to realize his or her full potential.

We believe this can be accomplished by advocating for students, education professionals and support professionals. Some of our greatest historical achievements have been the active role we played in getting laws passed which forbade child labor and laws that helped desegregate Virginia's public schools. More recently the VEA was instrumental in getting the number of Standards of Learning tests given to our children reduced. We understand that time spent on testing is less time spent with students receiving instruction; therefore, more testing means less learning is taking place. We have also been longtime advocates of students with learning disabilities, and for ensuring that all students get the optimal learning environment to meet both their social and academic needs.

And yes, we have a long history of advocating for fair compensation for education professionals. For this we do not apologize. Research consistently shows that teacher competency is paramount to student success. The best way to retain quality teachers is to treat them as professionals, pay them a professional wage, and give them fair benefits.

Many people from outside our organization have come to see us as a political entity and, in some respects, we are; however, none of the dues dollars paid by our members is ever given to a political candidate. Some people will say that we are only supportive of candidates who are Democrats when we endorse politicians. This is also not true. For example, in our part of the state, Delegates Nick Rush and Joseph Yost, both Republicans, have been true advocates for public education and have a great background of supporting and even introducing bills which have been VEA initiatives.

Both of these legislators have been recommended by the VEA’s Fund for Children and Public Education in their recent elections. When it comes to what’s best for our schools, our Association is issue-driven and party-blind.

Our children deserve advocates who set aside their differences and work together to ensure they receive the resources they need. Our children deserve to go to schools that are not falling down around them; they deserve to learn in environments that convey aesthetically they are valued and deserve the very best.

It is also important that educators become politically active, for every decision which affects us in the classroom was first a political decision. Public education is an ever-changing entity. Change will and should happen; however as professional educators, we should be the ones making and guiding that change. Our voice is important.

Everybody I meet says they support public education. If schools ran on support alone, all our problems would be solved. But alas, this is not the case. Like all public services, schools require funding. Have you noticed everything in the grocery store has been going up? Each year the same items you have always bought continue to go up in price. Well, in Virginia our new two-year budget funds our schools at a level lower than we did in 2009.

Imagine being asked to do more and more with less and less. Schools are being required to provide more supervision, more remediation, more evaluation, and even more meals, with fewer resources and staff members. Here in Pulaski many of our parents want to know why we can't have schools like they have in Montgomery County. We have to take a long look at ourselves and ask where our priorities lie. We hope to be able to collect a tax on cigarettes and have that money go to our schools. We have one of the lowest property taxes in surrounding areas; perhaps this could be a resource for more revenue.

Our Board of Supervisors funds our county's public schools above the amount required. I do not envy them the hard decisions they have to make when it comes to allocating monies to the many different entities which need funding. I can't even begin to give them suggestions on which programs should have their budgets reduced or which services should be discontinued. I truly sympathize with them as each year their operating budget shrinks, and they’re asked to fund more because neither the state nor the federal government will fund the mandates they make. I am frustrated that due to the Dillon Rule counties have very limited ways to collect monies to fully fund the county's operations. I do not envy the Board's task, and I heartily thank them for their service.

I encourage all citizens of Pulaski and Virginia to let their representatives know that they very much value education and wish for their elected officials to fund the Standards of Quality. I encourage our local School Board and Board of Supervisors to unite, and to be loud if necessary, when demanding funding for public education. Our children deserve our very best efforts.

In closing, here is something I know: A state which allows itself to fall to the rank of 39th in per-pupil funding for preK-12 education, yet ranks 13th in state corrections expenditures per offender, doesn't value public education! It's time we got our priorities straight. This should be an outrage to every citizen of Virginia! Education should trump incarceration every time. Let your voice be heard in the fight for full funding for public education.


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