RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- A statewide coalition of parents, students, teachers and advocacy groups says Virginia is failing to adequately fund public schools.
Advocates representing more than 20 organizations laid out their priorities in a press conference on Tuesday –one of many events held on the eve of the 2023 legislative session.
Despite recent investments, advocates say Virginia continues to rank in the bottom ten states when it comes to funding education.
“Our students see the impact of this funding failure every day. We started the school year with 3,300 teacher vacancies. That’s a 25 percent increase since October 2021,” said Virginia PTA President Jenna Alexander.
The coalition wants the state to fully pay for its share of what the Virginia Board of Education says is needed to provide a high-quality education, including 1,487 additional assistant principals, 1,224 more specialized support positions and 1,130 new counselors.
“We can’t significantly improve achievement if we don’t ensure that students are in a school environment where their mental health needs are being met,” said Bristol City Schools Superintendent Keith Perrigan, who also leads the Coalition of Small and Rural Schools.
The group also wants to scrap spending limits set during the last recession, which would pave the way for 6,534 additional support staff positions like instructional aides.
Del. Sam Rasoul (D-Roanoke) is introducing a bill that would require Virginia to pay its public school teachers and other Standards of Quality-funded positions a wage that is at least equal to the current national average. Rasoul said, if passed, it would take effect July 1, 2024.
Virginia Education Association President Dr. James Fedderman said, in 2021, Virginia teachers were paid 10 percent less than the national average and recently approved increases won’t get the commonwealth past that threshold.
“While the state is providing its portion of 5 percent staff salary increases this year and next, it will not be enough to reach the national pay average and many may not even keep up with inflation,” Fedderman said.
All in, the coalition’s early estimates show their priorities would cost the state another $1 billion each year.
“The question we have to ask ourselves is what is the cost of not doing it?” said Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond). “We’re going to continue to see under performance from our students. We’re going to continue to see astronomical teacher departure rates.”
The $1 billion figure far exceeds the budget proposal Governor Glenn Youngkin laid out last month, when he identified education as a priority.
“The dismal test results and NAEP scores we’ve seen over the last six months make it clear how much work we still have to do,” Youngkin said in a speech to lawmakers.
Youngkin’s budget aims to address pandemic-era learning loss, in part by hiring more reading and math specialists. He also wants to invest more in new lab schools with innovative learning models.
For teachers, Youngkin is proposing a 1 percent retention bonus to be paid next August and a $50 million investment for merit-based $5,000 bonuses.
“This is a way to reward the teachers who are having the biggest impact because they deserve it,” Youngkin said.
Youngkin hasn’t specifically committed to fully fund the Standards of Quality or lifting the support cap.