RICHMOND, Va (WRIC)- Hundreds of educators stepped out of the classroom to rally on Capitol Square on Monday.
Richmond City Schools were forced to close for the day after about a third of the district’s teachers expressed interest in attending.
They’re asking the state to increase its investment in public education in part to support more resources for low-income school systems and higher teacher pay.
Teachers could be getting a raise already under Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget, which sets aside $1.2 billion in new funding for public education.
The Virginia Education Association, the union behind Monday’s rally, says that amount falls far short of what’s needed to make sure every student in the Commonwealth has an equal chance to succeed.
“Our children deserve better and it does not matter what neighborhood they live in or what zip code they have,” said Charlotte Hayer, a teacher at Richmond Community High School.
Advocates are asking for smaller class sizes and more support staff, such as nurses and counselors.
The VEA is also calling for the state to increase teacher pay to at least the national average to help recruit and retain staff. Right now, the organization says the state is falling short by more than $8 thousand annually.
“We’re going to continue to see a shortage of teachers,” said Adam Evans, assistant principle of Cosby High School in Chesterfield County. “We’re going to see a lot of teachers leave the profession because they don’t feel valued. They feel overworked.”
The VEA’s website says there are nearly 900 unfilled positions in Virginia public schools.
According to a recent analysis by the Commonwealth Institute, state dollars for public schools decreased when the Great Recession hit in 2008. Since then, advocates say Virginia’s economy has rebounded but state education funding never did.
Today, the VEA says Virginia ranks 40th in per-student funding when compared to other states across the country.
Advocates say the shortage of state funds shifts the cost burden to local governments that often struggle to maintain mandated staffing levels as student enrollment increases across the Commonwealth.
“Since 2008 we’ve been trimming the fat, trimming the fat and we’re down to the bone now,” said Pulaski County High School Government Teacher Steven Lavery. “Our localities don’t have enough tax revenue to prop up the educational services that are required.”
Rally-goers are also asking the state to legalize collective bargaining for public employees. The VEA says Virginia is one of three states that doesn’t allow it. One bill being considered by the House would change that.
Teachers say the stakes stretch far beyond the school yard. Jennifer Robinson O’Brien, a teacher in Stafford County, said the investment is critical for the future of the state’s economy.
“Right now we’ve got to compete on a state level in Virginia, on a national level and on an international level and we’re falling behind. That starts in the classroom,” she said.