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Extra Funding For Reading Specialists Part Of Big Education Ask

A woman in a red jacket stands at a podium smiling
Delegate Lashrecse Aird speaks before a subcommittee meeting on her bill to fund Standards of Quality recommendations from Virginia's Board of Education. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM)

Legislation that would fully fund Standards of Quality recommendations from Virginia’s Board of Education advanced Monday. The bill, carried by Delegate Lashrecse Aird, passed out of subcommittee on a 7-1 vote.

“Virginia must adequately staff its schools and fully fund these new SOQ standards,” Aird said before the subcommittee. “And we can’t afford to wait.”

The proposal recommends extra funding for several layers of support staff, including reading specialists, full-time principals for all elementary schools and mentors for new teachers. It also funds caseloads for school counselors and other support positions at the nationally-recommended ratio of 250 students per counselor.

For Aird, this legislation is personal. During a press conference about the bill Monday, she discussed a visit to a Petersburg elementary classroom last year. The teacher told her that the third-grade students couldn’t read. Aird says she can relate to the students, and said she may not be where she is today without the help of reading specialists.

“I was that student in one of those classrooms where I sat and watched a teacher tell my young mother how she worried I was behind reading level,” Aird said.

Aird’s bill would require school districts to provide reading specialists to students based on need through expansion of the Early Reading Initiative program. Extra reading specialists would be deployed to fourth and fifth grade classrooms based on a school division’s third grade reading assessment failure rate.

“We say that a student’s education shouldn’t be determined by their zip code, but in the Commonwealth of Virginia this is the very case and it has been for far too long,” Aird said.

John Marshall High School teacher Milondra Coleman says that they’re in desperate need of reading specialists, even at the high school level. 

“High school students, at least at my school, are 2 or 3 years below grade level in reading and that impacts classroom behavioral, high-stakes testing, ability to succeed in classes, future employment and the list goes on,” Coleman said.

Danielle Rowe teachers 10th grade English at Prince William County Public Schools. She says unless students have an IEP, they don’t get any extra reading help.

“I have students who are reading at a 4th grade reading level,” Rowe said.

Now the proposal – along with the numerous other components of the Virginia Board of Education recommendations – goes to House Appropriations for further consideration. The line item just for reading specialists comes with a price tag of close to 90 million over the next two years. The total price tag is close to 2 billion over that time period. 

Megan Pauly reports on early childhood and higher education news in Virginia
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