The school funding movement #RedForEd is spreading—now to Virginia, where the Fairfax County Federation of Teachers, the Norfolk Federation of Teachers and others have formed a grass-roots coalition that has planned a Jan. 28 march on the state Capitol for full funding of public education. AFT President Randi Weingarten will march with the educators and deliver remarks.
Virginia Educators United brings together teachers, support staff, parents and students, all demanding that students have expert teachers and staff, especially nurses, counselors and social workers. The coalition is calling for adequate school infrastructure as well.
“After 10 years of systematic defunding, now is the time for Virginia’s children and schools to become the No. 1 priority,” says Tina Williams, a school counselor and FCFT president. “Full funding is essential.”
The coalition says it’s tired of waiting for students to become a higher priority. Overcrowded and under-resourced schools are crumbling under the weight of deferred maintenance and declining investment, while educators’ salaries languish at levels far below those of the 2008 recession. State funding for at-risk students is particularly bad.
Since the recession, Virginia is one of five states that lost the most ground in per-pupil expenditures, at more than $1,000 per student, according to the AFT report “A Decade of Neglect: Public Education Funding in the Aftermath of the Great Recession.” By the measure of growth in K-12 per-pupil spending, Virginia now ranks 42nd among the states and Washington, D.C.
“Virginia is 10 years behind in funding, 1,000 teachers short, and our student population has grown by 5 percent,” says Thomas Calhoun, president of the Norfolk Federation of Teachers. “The only way we’re ever going to catch up is if we stand up. The Legislature is not going to do it. We’ve got to fight for ourselves.”
In a move reminiscent of last year’s West Virginia school walkout, Alleghany County, Va., schools will be closed Monday so that everyone can travel to Richmond for the march. Alleghany County borders West Virginia in the southern region where that state’s uprising began.
Fauquier County, Va., will send about 200 teachers and staff to the march and rally. “This will be a day of solidarity,” says Williams.
Virginia Educators United joins a raft of AFT affiliates—AFT Colorado, AFT Connecticut, the Broward Teachers Union, the Chicago Teachers Union, the Detroit Federation of Teachers, Texas AFT and United Teachers Los Angeles, to name just a few—in loud, proud support of #RedForEd.
Among the steps states can take to restore public education funding, according to “A Decade of Neglect,” are to increase taxes on the super rich, restore state estate taxes, fix corporate taxes and improve tax enforcement.
“Our elected officials have a real opportunity to correct our school funding for the long term,” says Williams in a video noting the Fairfax school board’s support of #RedForEd. Patricia Reuben, a kindergarten teacher and member of the Norfolk Federation of Teachers, also posted a video on the importance of fully funding schools.
Williams notes that the mile-long march is a community collaboration, embracing PTAs and administrators as well as educators. Those joining the educators include members of the Northern Virginia Labor Federation and the Virginia AFL-CIO.