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Virginia Journal of Education


‘Fund Our Future!’


VEA members get mad, mobilize, and make history.


With the echoing chants of ‘Fund Our Future’ still ringing in his ears, Stafford teacher Christian Peabody was thinking about his students—and how they’re being forced to pay a price they never owed. “I’m tired of having to see the kids shoulder the burden of the state not stepping up to get them what they need,” he said, standing at the Capitol in Richmond.

In a visible, emotional, and powerful display of unity and solidarity for their students and one another, thousands of VEA members and supporters formed a wave of red that took over the Capitol on Lobby Day January 28. They marched, held signs and chanted as legislators crossed the street to the Capitol building, and took over the Capitol Steps for a noontime rally that drew media coverage across Virginia and nationally.


And it wasn’t limited to Richmond. Union members in Petersburg and other spots held coordinated events aimed at building public awareness of school underfunding and low pay.

VEA President Jim Livingston, a former middle school math teacher, fired up the crowd by underscoring how public schools, and educator salaries, have been neglected.

“Underfunding must end,” he said. “Our members are energized, dedicated—and sick and tired of being told we’ll get the support our students need…sometime later.

“We are also sick and tired of asking,” he told the fired-up crowd, shouting to be heard. “We demand that the General Assembly fund our schools!”

The sea of red inspired members like Abby French of the Shenandoah County Education Association. “There was a feeling of unity in the air seeing members in red all over the Capitol building knowing that we are all on the same page,” she told the Northern Virginia Daily. “I want my students to see the importance of speaking up to voice their concerns and advocate for change. I hope they see thousands of educators, dressed in red, and know that each and every student in our state is worth fighting for and deserves the opportunity of a high-quality education.”

An all-star lineup of speakers helped keep the crowd fired up. Virginia’s 2019 Teacher of the Year, Rodney Robinson of the Richmond Education Association, drew loud shouts of approval when he called for leaders who are guided by integrity and good judgment and “not in love with saying they care about kids but who write the checks their mouths are cashing every day.”

David Jeck, Fauquier County’s superintendent, expressed his dismay about how Virginia pays its teachers. After citing several statistics about the excellence of public education in our state, including a number one ranking from one organization, he said, “Getting to the national average, sure, that’s a good thing, but here’s what we keep forgetting as part of that conversation—you’re not average! We have a 91 percent high school graduation rate. That’s unheard of. And yet, we’re 34th in teacher pay!”

Lauren Brill, an elementary school teacher in Fauquier County, helped to organize a contingent of nearly 200 educators and supporters who rallied that day. She came to Richmond in enthusiastic support for her daughter, who starts kindergarten this fall, for all of her county’s young people, and for those who work to educate them, she said. With adequate funding, “There’s a ton of things I could tell you. We could have working technology in all our classrooms and enough technology for every student.”

Fairfax Education Association President Kevin Hickerson, a special education teacher, said money for schools is also a matter of justice. “We need to stand up and say, ‘Enough is enough,’” he said. “We need to fund education now! A child in Halifax, Colonial Beach, or Buchanan should have access to the same education as a child in Fairfax.”

That demand peppered the remarks of other rally speakers, who included Richmond mayor Levar Stoney, NEA Secretary-Treasurer Princess Moss, a former VEA president, Donna Colombo, president of the Virginia PTA, and Richmond teacher Sarah Pederson.

Those demands got some immediate results: As the rally unfolded, Virginia’s House of Delegates announced that its budget includes Gov. Ralph Northam’s 5 percent teacher salary increase proposal. At press time, the state Senate had not weighed in.

While the 5 percent is an excellent first step, Livingston pointed out, it’s only a down payment on what state teachers need. The General Assembly has committed to the goal of reaching the national average teacher salary and there is still significant progress to be made. And even if the General Assembly does pass a budget including the state share of the 5 percent increase, localities must still fund their share (see box on page 12).

On Lobby Day, VEA also announced its new Fund Our Future campaign, aimed at getting our students and educators the resources they need and deserve.  The campaign will organize the Union’s funding/salary and political efforts and is expected to last at least two years (see page 11).

Livingston brought the event to its rousing conclusion by giving educators there and across the state their marching orders. “This is not the end,” he said. “It’s only the beginning. We know our students are with us, parents are with us, and communities are with us. It’s time to Fund Our Future!

“When you get back to your schools and your communities, share your stories. Tell people what it’s like in your classroom—and what it’s like around your kitchen table.”

Livingston also vowed that educators would take their concerns to the voting booth this fall. “It’s time for legislators to get on board or get out of the way! We will remember in November!”


 

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Fund Our Future: It’s Not Just a Rally, It’s a Movement!


The Fund Our Future rally in Richmond was just a part of how educators stood up for students and educators on a Monday in January, and just the kickoff of what will be a sustained, statewide campaign.

Here’s a sampling of what was going on elsewhere in Virginia as thousands gathered at the state Capitol:

• The Petersburg Education Association and the city’s schools partnered to hold #Red4Ed events at every school. Students created signs, marched around schools, wrote encouraging notes, and held rallies.

• Chesterfield Education Association members staged a “walk-in” to start the school day.

• In Spotsylvania, a paper “Red4Ed Renee” was created in the likeness of Renee Beverly, SEA’s president. Beverly’s image traveled with VEA staff from school to school and was used to explain what “Real Renee” was doing in Richmond and the importance of budget negotiations and Association engagement.

• In Portsmouth, members emailed local officials and created 60-second videos about why they wear #Red4Ed.

• Shenandoah County Education Association members created a supportive video.

• Around the state, educators decked themselves out in red, took photos, held signs, and made social media posts in support of the Fund Our Future effort. Participating areas included Arlington, Tazewell, Bristol, Fairfax, Loudoun, Russell County, Stafford, Prince William, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, Lynchburg, Chesterfield, Frederick County, Alexandria, Chesapeake, and many others.

 

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VEA Launches ‘Fund Our Future,’ a Statewide Campaign for Funding, Better Pay


January’s VEA Lobby Day and rally electrified member-activists and earned our union significant media exposure. By sunset, we’d won a promise from the House of Delegates to follow Governor Northam’s lead and commit to a 5 percent pay raise.

It was a memorable day—but just one day. A starting point.

For the next two years, VEA is organizing its legislative, political, organizing, and communication work around Fund Our Future, a campaign designed to win greater school funding, boost pay significantly, and win elections to ensure pro-public candidates take seats locally and at the General Assembly.

The campaign flows from the work of a select committee appointed by VEA President Jim Livingston to make recommendations on the role our union can play in achieving the goals outlined above.

A campaign website at www.FundOurFutureVA.org is your first stop to learn more and join the campaign. Specifically, we’re looking for VEA members to:

Share Your Story
To make our case, we all must speak out about the costs of underfunding schools, and the impact low pay has on our profession. Go to the site and share your testimony! We’ll work with you on prepping your story and getting your photo.

Take Action
As the campaign proceeds, our “Take Action” button will always link you to the latest way we can exercise our power—through an online petition, a tele-town hall meeting, an email to legislators, and more. When you take action, and encourage your colleagues and friends to do so, you’re moving us closer to our goals!

 


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Question: Who Would Get 5 Percent?

 

Answer: You, if you’re ready to fight for it locally.

To raise pay in Virginia we need to win at both the state and the local level. Local school divisions write the paychecks, but state funding goes a long way toward determining what a locality is able to pay.

If the state commits to its share of a 5 percent increase for teachers and other positions covered by the Standards of Quality (SOQ), localities will need to add their own share to make a 5 percent hike.

The local decisions are being made by your school boards and your board of supervisors or city councils right now.

VEA’s local unions must lead the fight to gain local funding to achieve the 5 percent hike. What you can do:

• Contact your local or your VEA-NEA UniServ Director now to find out how you and your fellow members can win this funding fight!

 Ask three nonmembers in your building to join the union. The more we grow our membership, the more we build our power to win the salaries and funding we seek.

 

 

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Media Notes VEA Activism


News outlets statewide featured VEA’s rally and launch of the Fund Our Future campaign. Some highlights:
 

Associated Press
Joy Kirk, a middle school teacher from Frederick County, said teachers aren't just looking for a one-time pay increase but a commitment to addressing structural problems in education funding. "We'd like to see a long-term plan" Kirk said
.

 

WAVY NBC-10, Hampton Roads
“A 5 percent salary increase for educators is not nearly enough, but it’s a start, and I think that’s the significance of today. Today is the beginning of the change we’re making in the commonwealth.”
               —VEA President Jim Livingston


The Washington Post
“…. VEA members spent the morning pushing lawmakers to support $269 million in expanded school funding proposed by Governor Ralph Northam. That money would be used to boost teacher pay 5 percent, refurbish schools, and increase spending on students.”


(Staunton) News Leader
“Virginia’s public schools are underfunded, and we’ve taken our case to the General Assembly,” Staunton Education Association President Christine Hawley said. “It is time for our elected officials to support our students and our schools.”


(Charlottesville) Daily Progress
Albemarle County teacher Cheryl Knight doesn’t enjoy being in a large crowd, but on Monday, she marched with thousands of others in Richmond to advocate for more state funding for public education.
Knight, president of the Albemarle County Education Association, said she wanted to make her voice heard. Teachers clad in red chanted “Virginia can do better” and “Fund our schools” as they walked to the steps of the Capitol Building. “It was wonderful,” she said of the rally. “People were really united. It was a powerful experience.”


WTVR CBS-6, Richmond
"We have buildings that are falling apart. We have mice, we have roaches in the building," Richmond Schools teacher Darrell Turner said. "Our children deserve more."

 


ACTION ALERT

SIGN OUR PETITION
Take action to boost K-12 funding and support better pay.
 

 
 
 

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