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Several Bedford County teachers joined a cadre of professional educators at Lobby Day in Richmond on Feb. 4 to urge elected representatives to approve financial support for schools throughout the commonwealth.
The local contingent met with Del. Lacey Putney, Del. Kathy Byron and state Sen. Steve Newman to encourage funding of teacher salary increases, protection of teacher planning time to support quality instruction for all students, and full funding of the rebenchmarking of the Standards of Quality.
Outgoing Bedford County Education Association President Fred Glover, incoming president Cheryl Sprouse, Julia Hayth, Imogene Morris, Dina Linkenhoker and Fernanda Heck were joined by retired teacher and former BCEA president Jess Tucker. The team also lobbied for opposition to house bills sponsoring vouchers and tuition tax credits.
In meeting with elected officials, lawmakers’ responses ran the gamut from agreement to disapproval, much of which was directly attributable to the anticipated shortfall of budget funds. Final figures are still pending from Governor Tim Kaine’s office.
Following the teachers’ meetings with their representatives, Kaine spoke at a rally sponsored by the Virginia Education Association. He lamented the financial health of the state.
“I am finding some challenges economically. The budget is not our friend right now,” he conceded.
Following slashes in the budget to the tune of $300 million, Kaine stated that a second round of cuts is now anticipated.
Kaine spoke of the strides Virginia has made in the last half-century, and credited education as the means to improve the state’s health and wealth.
“From the last fifty years, we know the way from back to front has been investments in people through the educational system,” he noted.
After commending teachers for their “political advocacy,” Kaine identified his top three objectives as funding the Standards of Quality, committing funds for at-risk children, and boosting teacher salary. Kaine’s budget proposal does not include any money for teacher salaries for 2008-2009. Next year, he proposed a differential in the raises of state workers versus teachers in an effort to bring educators up to the national average.
“We’re not shooting at a fixed target, we’re shooting at a moving target,” Kaine said, acknowledging that the national average will likely increase over time as Virginia struggles to keep up.
Some educators were frustrated by Kaine’s message, and one member of the crowd asserted the fact that all members of society from myriad walks of life were once students in the classroom.
Kaine acknowledged the role of education in society as a positive and proactive force as well as a preventative measure against crime.
“It’s easier to build a child than to fix a man,” he stated.
VEA President Princess Moss asserted her organization’s position. “Our statement is that quality schools, quality personnel and quality funding matter,” she said.
According to the VEA, while Virginia ranks as high as sixth in ability to pay teachers, funding to schools in the commonwealth ranks 32nd and teacher pay ranks as low as 33rd compared to public schools nationwide.
“Our state is one of the wealthiest in the country. Virginia can afford to do better by its schools and its school employees,” Moss stated.
Moss also echoed the educators’ viewpoint that the budget is often balanced on the backs of the teachers.
“Every time there is a downturn in the economy, school employees are told we have to share the pain,” she said, adding that in times of prosperity, “we do not share the largesse.”
Moss reminded the governor to remember schools when money once again becomes plentiful.
“Put education, not tax cuts, first in line,” she said, and was met with the applause of approximately 200 educators.
Virginia Parent Teacher Association President Melissa Nehrbes also addressed the crowd, showing appreciation for the teachers and disapproval of the tuition tax credit bill that directs public funds to be diverted to private schools.
“A voucher is a voucher, no matter what you call it,” she said, the latter part of her remarks drowned out by vigorous applause.
Nehrbes also reaffirmed the cooperation between parents and educators in teaching the state’s children regardless of the economy.
“All students means all students; every child counts,” she said.
Dr. Billy Canaday, superintendent of the Virginia Department of Education, also spoke at the rally.
“(Students) come as they are, and you represent all of them. You see potential and find ways to help them get in touch with that potential,” he said.
Canaday stressed that educational funding is “not an expense, it’s an investment.”
After relating the story of the hire of one of his former sixth grade students, he thanked educators for their role in the development of society.
“The quality of community depends in large part on what you do for children and families,” he said. “Thank you.”