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Richmond Teachers, Students Rally For More Education Funding

Youth at podium
Youth leaders ask for increased funding for schools (Photo: Megan Pauly/VPM)

The following is a transcript from an audio conversation between Megan Pauly and Craig Carper. Please check back at  VPM.org and follow us on Twitterand Facebook for updates throughout teacher lobby day on Monday, Jan 27.

Carper: Happy Monday. From Capitol Square, I’m Craig Carper, VPM News Director. I’m here with education reporter Megan Pauly to talk about some of Governor Northam’s proposed investments in preK-12 education as teachers are expected to be out in full force today, as part of the Virginia Education Association’s annual lobby day. Megan, what can we expect from this lobby day compared to last year’s?

Pauly: So, from what I’m hearing, teachers are taking a different approach than last year. If you recall, thousands of teachers from across the state came to Richmond to march over a mile to the Monroe Park to the steps of the state Capitol for a big rally. This year, they’re planning to show up early this morning where a major funding proposal is being heard in subcommittee. They want to try to appeal to lawmakers more directly.

Carper: Why the different approach?

Pauly: Well, I think many educators feel like they weren’t truly heard last year. Yes, they did get a 5% pay raise in the second year of the budget. But they didn’t get a lot of other things they asked for: like more funding for support staff: school counselors, psychologists, nurses.

Here’s a local preschool teacher Darrell Turner expressing some of his frustration in a recent budget hearing:

Turner: I have to say to myself, is the true investment really getting a giant like Amazon to come or is it investing in our children? Because they are our future. They are the ones who are going to grow up to be the representatives, the entrepreneurs, the teachers, the lawyers, the movers and shakers and the cogs in our society.

Pauly: Even though Northam’s budget does make historic investments in PreK to help increase access to preschool for at-risk 3 and 4-year-olds, there’s a feeling that’s it’s still not enough.

Important to note that Northam’s budget doesn’t include any pay raise for teachers in FY2021, and only includes a 3% pay raise in FY2022.

Carper: So what are teachers asking for this year?

Pauly: One big thing is more money for high poverty schools. Virginia’s Board of Education recommended double the funding for these schools than Northam has included in his budget.

Here’s Chris Duncombe with the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis explaining the state board’s proposal.

Duncombe: And so they created this equity fund that would have taken funding from the at risk add on program, another funding program for prevention and intervention services and put in additional state funds to really grow investments allocated based upon student need.

Pauly: There’s about a 130 million difference between the Governor’s proposal and the board of education’s equity fund. There are lawmakers – like Delegate Aird and Senator McClellan – who do have legislation in to fully fund that equity fund. And a group of teachers will be showing up to support Aird’s bill this morning in a subcommittee meeting.

I caught up with Delegate Aird on Friday:

Aird: We must somehow demonstrate that we are moving in this direction because we needed it, like, yesterday. 

She’s hopeful that her colleagues will support her proposal, over the Governor’s. 

Carper: What else are educators and students asking for?

Pauly: Well, they’re also asking for support for English language learners. Right now, the state standards of quality only provide for one full-time support staff person for about every 60 students in need of this support.

Teachers and students say…that’s just not enough. Especially in Richmond, where there’s a really high number of English language learners in the district.

16-year-old Aissatou Barry is a junior at Richmond Community High School and is at the top of her class. But when she was in elementary school after moving to Richmond from Guinea, she said she had to be taken out of class for extra help with reading and pronunciation.

Barry: It really helped. I would not be able to comprehend English as I do now if it wasn’t for it.

Pauly: Now, Northam’s budget includes some extra funding for ELL support staff. It would lower the caseload from 60 to 50. But there are other proposals, from Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Lashrecse Aird, to fund a smaller caseload – as low as 25 students per support person – for lower-achieving students.

Carper: Thanks, Megan. Make sure to follow our reporters on twitter and social media throughout the day, and tune in for more coverage this afternoon during All Things Considered. You’re listening to VPM News. 

*Editors note: A prior version of this story incorrectly identified Sen. Hashmi Ghazala and Del. Elizabeth Guzman as sponsoring a bill for English language learners support. The correct sponsors were Sen. Jennifer McClellan and Del. Lashrecse Aird. The story was updated.

VPM News is the staff byline for articles and podcasts written and produced by multiple reporters and editors.
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