FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sarah Pedersen
Phone: (804) 301-4851
Richmond, VA 1/29/2019- The January 28th Virginia Educators United march on the Capitol was one of the largest since 1916 and the single largest march of educators in Virginia history. Public school educators—from Accomack to Bristol to Staunton to Norfolk to Fairfax to Allegheny—stood shoulder to shoulder with parents, students, and community members to make one simple demand: fund our schools.
Yesterday’s march saw immediate results. State leaders in the House of Delegates Finance Committee have agreed to include the Governor’s proposal for a 5% pay increase for teachers and school staff, but this is just the beginning.
Virginia Educators United is nine months old. Our strategy team has zero paid organizers and operates on a shoestring budget. We started with a group of overworked teachers, many of whom are parents and/or also work a second job, and yet somehow, we managed to organize a march in less than a year’s time that attracted thousands of chanting, impassioned educators and supporters to march on the Virginia Capitol.
What this tells us is how urgent and dire the state of education is in Virginia. Yesterday was a powerful confirmation of the fact that 70% of Virginians wholeheartedly believe that Virginia is not funding its schools sufficiently to meet the needs of its families. These citizens feel the absence of that funding so acutely that 63% are willing to pay higher taxes to meet these needs.
These statistics are evidence that the apathy to our schools does not come from the citizens, nor do our citizens lack the courage and commitment to do what is necessary to fully fund our schools. The problem lies with our legislators, who have underestimated our determination to fund our public schools so severely that they believe a meager 5% raise spread thin over two years is sufficient to silence a demand for a comprehensive re-envisioning of our school funding models.
The proposed raise moves Virginia educators from being paid $9,000 below the national average to being paid $6,000 below the national average. As the eighth wealthiest state in the nation, we can afford to do much better than that; more importantly as Fauquier County’s Superintendent pointed out, Virginia’s educators are worth more than that.
Even more to the point, a raise for educators was only one of the five demands that drove our campaign. Virginia Educators United’s demands are not aspirational; they are the bare minimum. We crafted these demands because they are the absolute basics; we need to meet our constitutional mandate to maintain high quality public schools. We will not be pacified by a raise while our students continue to be educated in unsafe facilities, our support staff levels still languish behind where they were a decade ago, and our general school funding still represents a moral crisis.
That said, we see the increase from 3% to 5% and the recent proposal to hold localities harmless as heartening steps in the right direction. We are even more touched by the legislators who have been fighting fruitlessly for the cause of education for years, such as Jennifer McLellan proposing removals of the support staff caps year after year, the proposal last year from Delegates Lashrecse Aird and Israel O’Quinn to increase targeted funding to high poverty schools, and efforts by teacher-delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg to implement a statewide school climate survey. We also feel encouraged by proposals this session from Senator Bill Stanley to make much needed repairs to our school facilities and from Delegates Delores McQuinn and Rosalyn Dance to reduce the counselor to student ratio to 1:250. What we are here to say is that for those champions who have been waiting for a public movement to get behind you, we are here. To those of you who have yet to find your courage, it is time to get on board with meeting the needs of Virginia students.
As we have said before, we hope that our legislators will vote yes to these proposals from their colleagues and then begin the hard work of finding the rest. Finding the rest will mean walking the talk that many members of our General Assembly won their seats on. We must prioritize Virginia’s children over petty politics. If we are going to realize the public education system our students deserve, we cannot afford to fence off $1 billion for a “Taxpayer Relief Fund” to be conveniently released right before the November elections. Any politician who would withhold desperately needed school funding in a misguided attempt to win reelection has severely underestimated the integrity of Virginia citizens and the RedforEd movement.
RedforEd activists will continue to advocate for restoration of state education funding, increased pay for all public school employees, recruitment of high quality and diverse educators, improved working conditions including repair of our schools’ infrastructure, and adequate support staffing. As we move forward, these demands will need to be articulated through concrete legislative proposals.
We are actively looking for representatives, current and running, who have the commitment to education to carry bills which meet the demands we have made. We do not care whether these bills come from Democrats or Republicans, representatives or candidates- if you are an ally of public education, you are an ally of ours.
The movement has begun. We are ready, we are organized, and we are unyielding.