School Funding, Educator Pay at Stake on Election Day
October 28, 2019
October 28, 2019
By Tom Allen
Second grade teacher Maggie Gannon doesn’t have to think too hard about why this November’s elections matter to her. “Every aspect of public education is political,” the Culpeper County Education Association president says. “Staffing, salary, class size, planning time, the length of the school day—all of it. So, these elections mean everything to me and to our schools.”
Indeed, this year’s voting means enough to Gannon that she spent a beautiful September Saturday going door-to-door with House of Delegates candidate Joshua Cole, who has the backing of VEA’s Fund for Children and Public Education. “If we want our legislators to show up for us when they’re in office, we need to show up for them as they work to become elected,” Gannon says.
Henrico Education Association member Jennifer Andrews was also out walking neighborhoods on VEA’s Day of Action in September, supporting VEA-recommended candidates. “Decisions are made by the people who show up,” says the high school special education teacher. “So if you want decisions about schools to be made by thoughtful people who have experience in education, you need to work to elect those people!”
And when Andrews says “experience in education,” she means more than memories of one’s school days. “Decisions about education are often made by legislators who think they’re experts in education because they attended 12 or 13 years of public school,” she says. “That’s not a good background to be an expert in education.”
Canvassing was a new experience for Andrews, and she recommends it. “I had phone-banked for candidates before, but had never gone door-to-door,” she says. “I was stepping up my political action—if you don’t vote or help a chosen candidate, you get what you get when election results come in.”
“Stepping up” in the 2019 elections is another way VEA members around the state have enthusiastically jumped into VEA’s Fund Our Future (FOF) campaign and NEA’s nationwide #Red4Ed movement.
When Union members wear red to school every Wednesday, it’s not just a fashion statement. And when we launched FOF at the State Capitol earlier this year, we weren’t just waving signs and looking for photo-ops.
We’re very serious, and here’s why: Virginia’s Constitution charges our General Assembly with not only providing a public school system but to “ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.”
VEA President Jim Livingston doesn’t believe our legislature is living up to that obligation. “Public school funding provided by the state is still less than it was 10 years ago,” he says. “We’re the 12th wealthiest state in the country but we’re 40th in per-pupil state funding. How can you justify that? What does that say about our priorities?”
Gannon agrees, and is looking to these elections with new hope. “We’ve taken enough cuts and it’s time for our leaders to prioritize the future of public education,” she says. “Having pro-public education candidates in office is how we begin to get the funding and support we need.”
Livingston points to the fact that it’s not just our students who feel the effects of underfunding every day. “Despite a recent study by Education Week that ranked Virginia third in America in student achievement, our teachers are still paid more than $8,000 below the national average,” Livingston says. “How do you justify that?”
In addition, students with the misfortune of growing up in poorer areas of the Commonwealth have to go without resources their peers in more well-heeled areas of the state take for granted.
Is this a high-quality public education for all?
No, it’s clearly not, and the best way to hold our legislators accountable is at the ballot box. Fortunately, the opportunity to do so is upon us. “It’s time—past time—for our legislators to either commit to properly supporting our students, schools, and educators, or step aside for people who will!” Livingston says.
VEA members laid out three goals for FOF: securing adequate funding for quality schools, gaining professional pay for all educators, and electing pro-public education legislators and local officials. Achieving the third goal will go a very long way toward making the first two become reality, too.
Getting the right candidates into office is going to involve a movement of educators, parents, community members, and students—all of whom are tired of seeing outdated or missing classroom materials, overwhelmed teachers and support professionals, and educators turning to crowd-funding to make up for budget shortfalls.
“As educators, we are great influencers—we need to use that influence,” says Milondra Coleman, president of the Richmond Education Association and a high school history teacher. “It’s absolutely critical that we elect individuals to the General Assembly who will help fund our future!”
November 5 is upon us. Let’s make it happen!