A sea of red marked the Bell Tower in Capitol Square as teachers, advocates, parents and students from across the state rallied for adequate state funding for education at the General Assembly.
More than 1,000 supporters attended the Fund Our Future rally held by the Virginia Education Association, an organization of more than 40,000 teachers and school support professionals across the state. Currently, Virginia ranks 40th in state spending per pupil, 32nd in teacher pay and 47th among all states in teacher pay measured against similar professions, according to the 2020 report of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.
Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras cancelled school for the Monday rally after more than 700 teachers — roughly a third of the workforce — requested off work for the lobby day.
“We are proud that so many of our educators will be turning out to advocate for RPS and all of Virginia’s public schools,” Kamras wrote in a statement ahead of the event. “Unfortunately, however, it is simply not possible to secure enough substitutes for this many classrooms. As a result, non-participating teachers would face unreasonable class sizes that would make meaningful instruction nearly impossible and potentially create significant safety concerns.”
Also at the rally showing support was Mayor Levar Stoney, who sported a red tie in solidarity with the cause.
“Localities have been leading the way for over a decade now and all we’re asking for is the commonwealth to pay the true cost of public education,” Stoney says.
The true cost of education is more than adequate pay for teachers, which according to the Economic Policy Institute is 31% less in Virginia for college graduates than their peers, ranking the state third-worst in the nation.
The total cost of education exceeds what the state Board of Education outlined in the Standards of Quality index, which Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget does not fully fund. Additional costs layer atop that, too, for necessities such as broadband, facilities and maintenance that fall on localities to fund.
“The true cost, the total cost — that’s what we’re here for and I stand in solidarity with all the teachers and parents and children,” Stoney says. “All we’re asking for is for the state to pay their fair share.” In a Monday news release, the city administration noted it will continue to allocate 57.76 percent of both current and delinquent real estate taxes, the amount allocated in fiscal year 2020, to education.
“It is my top priority to ensure that Richmond Public Schools are the biggest beneficiary of the transformational project we’ve proposed in Navy Hill,” Stoney said. “That’s why I committed 50 percent of the approximately $1 billion in incremental revenues this project will create for RPS. ... That is why I propose we hold RPS’ funding harmless by budgeting for RPS based on the same formula City Council adopted in 2019, inclusive of properties in the increment financing area.”