RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - As the 2019 Virginia General Assembly session convenes Wednesday, lawmakers are getting a spirited welcome from education advocates. Virginia Educators United rallied on the Bryan Park overpass above I-95, holding lighted signs reading “Fund our schools.”
The beeps from drivers passing by were constant.
Last year brought multiple marches to the state capitol, grassroots protests, social media campaigns and widespread media coverage, on the plea for more school funding in Virginia.
"We've been waiting for a long time. And it's gotten to the point now where, I feel like we're really at a crisis point,” said Keri Treadway, a local organizer for Virginia Educators United. Treadway also teaches at Fox Elementary School in Richmond.
“We really need to do a moral check… We’ve put education on the back burner, especially since the recession. We can’t continue to do that,” she said.
Governor Northam proposed a $268 million increase in education spending in his budget last month, including teacher raises from three to five percent, more in-school counselors, school security and funding for low-cost loans to build and repair school facilities.
"It is an honest step in the right direction, but one of the things we need voters in Virginia to realize is how far below we are,” continued Treadway.
Virginia Educators United are urging lawmakers to “Vote yes... and find the rest.”
Advocates say even with the extra millions proposed by the governor, Virginia would still be far behind compared to other states in education funding. School spending would still be down 7% per student from 2009. Teachers would still be 9% below the national average.
More than 1,000 teacher positions remain vacant across the state, as the student population is up tens of thousands of children.
"Virginia's student population has risen tremendously...and yet our staff population is down,” said Bradley Mock, another teacher involved with Virginia Educators United.
Virginia is also one of six states where wealthier school districts (with the least poverty) receive more funding per student, than the districts with the highest poverty rates.
Richmond city officials say on top of that, Richmond is even more adversely impacted by the funding formula, compared to other urban cities in the state, because of the way it’s calculated.
Virginia ranks 12th in the country in per capita income, yet ranks 43rd in per student spending, according to the group, trailing Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and West Virginia in 2016.
"We are not a poor state. We are the 8th wealthiest state in the country. But despite having all of those funds, we are the ninth worst in cuts to education. We have the money. We’re just choosing not to invest in education,” continued Treadway.
Virginia Educators United is planning another march to the capitol starting on Jan. 28 to continue the push for more state funding.