Opinion: Commentary: Investing in Public Education

Opinion: Commentary: Investing in Public Education

As a Commonwealth, one of the most important investments we can make is in the education and safety of our children. I was thrilled to see Governor Northam’s plan to invest 268 million new dollars in K-12 education. These dollars will be spent giving our teachers a much deserved five percent pay raise effective July 1, 2019, supplementing our At-Risk Add-On Program which targets economically disadvantaged schools, and boosting the state’s per pupil allocation, a flexible funding pool local school divisions can use to supplement general aid. In addition to much needed funding increases there will be numerous pieces of legislation to consider during the legislative session. Today, I am excited to discuss two education bills I will be introducing in the General Assembly three weeks from now.

The first bill is an idea I came up with while serving on the House Select Committee on School Safety. This committee and my subcommittee each met four times since last session to discuss ways we can make our schools safer. Speaker Cox released a list of 24 final recommendations, including my recommendation that Election Day should be a school holiday. The reasoning behind this idea is simple, it makes schools safer for our children. On Election Day, thousands of people are allowed access to schools to cast their ballots. Yet, on normal school days, individuals must buzz in to be granted entrance to the school and have a stated purpose to be there. These extra precautions work to ensure that no unauthorized, potentially dangerous individuals can enter a school. It would be impossible for school officials to fully vet each voter entering a school on Election Day while not causing a huge slowdown in lines that could dissuade people from voting. So, the easy solution is to make Election Day a school holiday to make sure our children are not put at any additional risk. I am very hopeful we will be able to pass this important piece of legislation.

The second education bill I plan to introduce is to create a five year pilot “Grow Your Own Teacher” program. The basic purpose of this program is to increase the number of diverse, homegrown teachers and to incentivize them to teach in low income schools that often face teacher shortages. My bill would create a pilot program that would provide scholarships to students from low income high schools to attend a four year institution. Then, within three years of graduation, scholarship recipients will teach at a high needs school within the same school division from which they graduated high school, for no less than four years. Similar programs across the country have greatly helped to increase teacher diversity with these homegrown educators.

As Virginia works to attract and retain excellent educators necessary to meet growing demand, it must also work to address the lack of diversity in our teaching workforce. According to the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia, minority enrollment in teacher preparation programs has fallen dramatically over the last decade. In 2010-2011, 50 percent of students enrolled in Virginia’s teacher preparation programs were minorities, but in 2016-2017 that number had fallen to 33 percent. Currently, only 21 percent of the state’s teachers are minorities. Conversely, 49 percent of Virginia’s student population was non-white in 2016-2017 up from 39 percent in the 2003-2004. It would be good to have more faculty that are homegrown role models that are representative of our student body. Indeed, the Task Force on Diversifying Virginia’s Educator Pipeline states there are numerous pieces of research indicating “... that a racially representative mix of teachers and administrators can have a strong positive effect on educational outcomes for minority students.”

These bills are two common sense solutions that will provide for a safer and more nurturing environment for our students. Together, with the new funding proposed by the Governor, they will further our goal to make Virginia a nationwide leader in K-12 education by prioritizing the safety of our children, promoting an elite and diverse workforce, and investing in our schools.