RICHMOND, Va. — About 2,500 educators and their supporters gathered on the steps of the Virginia Capitol Monday, demanding action from lawmakers to fund schools in a rally billed “Red for Ed.”
This comes as the members of the House Appropriations Committee made a major announcement, backing a teacher pay raise proposed by Gov. Ralph Northam.
One of the main concerns is teacher pay. The National Education Association ranks Virginia 34th in the nation for teacher pay, with an educator making about $9,000 less than the national estimated average for the 2017-2018 school year.
Courtnie Wolfgang is a professor at Virginia Commonwealth University and “teaches teachers how to teach.” She used to work in a public high school and sees educators leaving the Commonwealth because of a lack of support.
“We want teachers to stay and if they can go to other states and make more money with a reciprocal license then maybe they will,” she said. “We deserve to invest in our state, our students, our schools, our teachers.”
This is a trend Jim Livingston, the President of the Virginia Education Association has seen too.
“Enrollment in teacher prep programs is down 40 percent since 2009,” Livingston said. “It is no longer economically viable for people to choose education as a career path.”
Gov. Ralph Northam proposed a total 5 percent teacher pay raise in his budget amendments. Last year, the General Assembly passed a 3 percent raise, which will go in effect July 1, 2019. The Governor’s proposal would boost that by 2 percent, costing an estimated $88 million.
Overall, the Eastern Shore Democrat’s budget amendments add $268.7 million in education spending, which include school safety funds and hiring more school counselors.
In the middle of the Red for Ed rally, a major announcement was made in Republican-held House. The Vice-Chair of Appropriations, Del. Steve Landes (R – District 25) said the Governor’s proposed 5 percent pay raise will be in the House budget. It is set to be released next Sunday.
“Virginia has some of the finest teachers in the country and that has led to Virginia students consistently outperforming nationwide peers on standardized tests, college admissions, and graduate rates,” Del. Landes said. “To maintain that success we must ensure our teachers are fairly compensated and know the hard work they do each and every day is greatly appreciated.
The news brought cheers to the crowd, but teachers say more still needs to be done.
“A 5 percent salary increase for educators – that’s not nearly enough – but it’s a start and I think that’s the significance of today,” Livingston said. “Today is the beginning that we make change in the Commonwealth.”
The full legislature still has to approve the budget. We’ll continue to follow this story throughout the rest of the General Assembly session.