RICHMOND, Va. – Hundreds of educators flooded Richmond on Monday for the annual “Fund Our Future” rally at the State Capitol, hosted by the Virginia Education Association.
They also spent the morning lobbying delegates and senators for better pay, more state school funding, and the chance to collectively bargain for better benefits. Demonstrators also want to find a solution to address the Commonwealth’s critically understaffed schools.
“You know our kids deserve the best and we want the best for them,” said Alisa Downey, a special education teacher at Oak Grove Elementary in Roanoke County.
Virginia teachers earn nearly $8,500 less each year than the national average for teachers across the country.
Rebecca Gruber, another special education teacher at Oak Grove Elementary School, said that if a job doesn’t pay well enough, schools won’t be able to recruit or retain qualified teachers.
“There’s a lot of hours spent that you’re not getting compensated for,” Gruber said. “So, it’s not a really realistic job to go into.”
Downey added that the workload for teachers is growing, especially due to understaffing.
“We got an email earlier this year asking if we would also want to be a bus driver," Downey said, "Like, our morning duties would be covered if we also wanted to drive a bus.”
Rally attendees also pushed for more state funding for education and reversing the cap on support staff.
If money isn’t coming from the state, then localities have to make up the difference. However, counties don’t have the same flexibility as cities do to use local funding to supplement their schools. For example, Roanoke County schools can’t use a meal or cigarette tax to make up the difference.
“We also want to make sure that we have revenue streams that are untapped at our local level that we can use to find education," said James Strazinsky, a 6th grade history teacher at Hidden Valley Middle School.
There are a lot of education bills moving through the General Assembly this year, but with a thousands of other bills proposed, legislators said it’s a matter of funding and prioritizing.
“We support public education and we want our delegates and senators to support us, too,” Gruber said.
“We’re facing lots of shortages. And our kids matter. Our future of our whole county and the whole state of Virginia matters," Downey said. “And the kids, that’s why we do what we do, because they matter. And that’s why we’re here."