As we finish the last of VEA's regional Pre-Legislative dinners, legislative activity is rapidly increasing. Bills are being pre-filed, and the meeting schedule is leaving little time to stop to breathe.
On 11/10, the House Education Committee's Elementary and Secondary Advisory Committee met. Carol Bauer represented you with distinction. I extend kudos to Dr. John Banbury, principal of Oakton High School, for speaking out for Virginia's beleaguered teachers. He asserted that "teachers are tired, beat down, and crushed." He said that the teacher evaluation system is so labor-intensive that it begs the question, "What do you want teachers doing?" Do we want teachers spending their time on these evaluations, or would their time be better spent planning for instruction? He said that teachers in urban settings are leaving after three years, and that in suburban settings they are leaving after five years. He said that we are wearing teachers out, not compensating them adequately, and providing them with little incentive to continue teaching. John was an effective messenger, and it is nice to have a principal echoing what we have been telling the legislators.
On Veteran's Day, Chairman Steve Landes held his first Education Summit hosted by the House Committee on Education. State Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Steven R. Staples gave the most interesting and informative presentation of the day. Two facts from his presentation are most revealing:
"In FY 2014, General Fund Direct Aid to Public Education is $308,616,613 less than it was in 2007."
"Since 2008, K-12 public education staffing has been reduced by 5,000 positions in Virginia."
I went back to see what has happened with enrollment since 2008. The bottom line is that our schools have 5,000 fewer staff members and over 30,000 more students.
Staples also spoke to student achievement in Virginia. We are not only doing better than our nation, we are outperforming many other nations. He reiterates what I've been saying -- we're giving them the bang, but we're not getting the bucks.
Are more state budget cuts coming? There is a $272 million budget shortfall for FY2016. Although PreK-12 has been cut substantially since 2008, we were spared in the last round of cuts. Some, including Senators Walter Stosch and Bill Carrico, are saying that public education will not be spared in the next round. As Michael Cassidy, President and CEO of the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis has pointed out, "There are a range of options for raising revenue ... including closing ineffective tax loopholes and reforming costly tax credits," which can be utilized to close this gap. The current cuts-only approach is dangerously eroding the quality of education in our Commonwealth.
Robley Jones, VEA GR&R