RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- On Wednesday, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax unveiled his plan to address inequality in public education.
The policy package was the first of four proposals intended to address systemic racism in the Commonwealth. Future announcements are expected to focus on criminal justice reform, housing and healthcare.
Fairfax unpacked his plan at Richmond’s Chimborazo Elementary, which bares the name of a Confederate-era hospital and serves a mostly black student body. Fairfax said it’s time to reconcile the past and redefine the future for these students.
“We are in the first year of the next 400 years,” Fairfax said. “As we rightly tear down bronze and stone monuments to the Confederacy and to racial oppression throughout the Commonwealth, we must also tear down the living monuments to the Confederacy and to that racial oppression.”
School Reconstruction & Modernization Fund
Fairfax said schools in low-income communities were hardest hit from budget cuts following the Great Recession in the late 2000’s.
He’s proposing a $30 billion dollar investment fund to rebuild all K-12 schools more than 40 years old over a ten year period.
Fairfax said the most recent numbers available stem from a 2013 study that found more than 1,200 school buildings in the Commonwealth were 40 years or older. He said that was more than 60 percent of all school facilities at the time.
The proposal comes after lawmakers from urban and rural districts pushed for a restoration of state grants for school construction in the two-year budget passed last session. The item was not ultimately included in a package of new education spending–now in jeopardy due to revenue losses from the coronavirus pandemic.
Fairfax said his plan is affordable. “Now is the time to make transformational, intergenerational investments that disrupt cycles of poverty, that change what is possible,” he said.
Reimagining school design and function
Fairfax said newly constructed facilities could be turned into “community schools,” serving both students and adults after the bell rings.
Fairfax said these schools would function as civic gathering spaces that could provide adult education, vocational training, internet access, recreation and health resources.
Providing opportunities for every student
Fairfax wants to guarantee a summer job or enrichment opportunity for all Virginians ages 14 to 24. He said he would work with employers across all sectors to support this “Virginia Youth SummerWorks & Enrichment Program.”
Fairfax said providing early workforce experience is necessary to make sure all students have a chance to get ahead.
“We want our young people to be off the street to reduce crime but also to increase the prospects for their futures,” Fairfax said.
Fairfax said the state needs to raise teacher pay to meet the national average, a common call from education advocates who say salaries never recovered after the Great Recession.
The General Assembly made some progress in the last legislative session but we won’t know the fate of those gains until a special session expected in August. That’s when lawmakers will revisit the budget with updated revenue projections.