Virginia teachers call Governor’s $1.2 billion for education ‘woefully short’

Updated: Dec. 31, 2019 at 5:55 PM EST

RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - As Virginia's General Assembly is set to kick off its 2020 legislative session in just over a week, some education advocates are calling foul on Governor Ralph Northam’s proposed $1.2 billion for education. Opponents say it's not nearly enough to put teacher pay on track with the national average, calling it “woefully short” for educators and students.

“Using some of these superlatives is purposely deceitful, and it really is unbecoming of our chief executive,” said Brian Teuchke, a teacher in Gloucester County.

Teuchke is also a member of Virginia Educators United and the Virginia Education Association. Both groups plan to have a slew of members speak during budget hearings across the Commonwealth, this Thursday.

Northam has touted his budget as one of the largest new investments in education ever, in the state. Thirty-eight percent of all new spending would be directed towards education, more than any other area.

“There was an election November 5th. Virginians spoke,” said Northam earlier in December after he presented his budget. “They said they wanted their children to have access to a world class education.”

The governor’s proposal includes a 50 percent increase to help at-risk students. He was also behind giving public school teachers a five percent raise last year, the highest in 15 years. This plan includes a three percent salary increase for teachers over two years.

However, despite a seemingly shiny $1.2 billion figure, education advocates say most of that money will be absorbed by a growing number of students and inflation.

“Two-thirds is just keeping status quo, and not new funds,” Keri Treadway, a teacher at Richmond Public Schools. “We’re so far behind still from the recession, it’s not necessarily making a dent in what we’re trying to fight for.”

This comes after a 2017 vote by the Virginia General Assembly to approve the goal of boosting Virginia teacher pay to the national average. Teucke and Treadway say Virginia teachers would need a 20 percent pay increase to be on par with the national average, according to calculations by Virginia Educators United. Virginia ranks as the 12th wealthiest state, according to the Virginia Education Association. But it comes in at number 32 for teacher salaries, which some believe is triggering a teacher shortage across the state.

"We make about 40 percent less than our peers with the same level of education," said Teuchke. "The governor doesn't get to fund some areas that are worthy of funding, and then drastically under fund others, and then call it a win."

Education groups also say the plan doesn’t provide enough funding for improved infrastructure and school building maintenance short.

They are planning to make their voices heard this Thursday, January 2, starting at 10 a.m. at multiple different public hearings over the state budget, across different regions of the Commonwealth.

In the Richmond area, the public is invited to J. Sargeant Reynolds Parham Road Campus, Workforce and Conference Center at 1651 E. Parham Rd., Richmond, at noon.

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