By Zach Armstrong
PETERSBURG, Va -- Del. Lashrecse Aird (D-Petersburg) and Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) have renewed a push for Virginia to meet obligations the State Board of Education prescribed in 2019 in order to redress inequities from poverty and provide quality education for students K-12.
The “School Equity and Staffing Act” has been introduced to the General Assembly by Aird and McClellan for two consecutive years.
The board standards require additional resources for schools with high concentrations of students in poverty, additional counselors for students learning English and removal of a cap put on state funding for support staff. The board also recommended policies that include different ways of recruiting and training teachers, allocating state-supported positions to school divisions in highest need of them and requirements for more aides to help students learn reading and math.
The cost of paying for the revised standards the board prescribed and eliminating a funding cap Virginia imposed during the 2008 recession on the number of school support positions would be $900 million.
“In our constitution, it says that the commonwealth of Virginia has a responsibility to provide an equitable learning experience for all students so it should be our responsibility to adopt recommendations around standards of quality,” said Del. Aird. “Since the recession, the commonwealth keeps kicking the can down the road for these priorities. There may be a big price tag for this but we are in the midst of unprecedented times and we are risking the loss of a generation,”
Del. Aird has represented the commonwealth’s 63rd district in the General Assembly since January of 2016. The district represents the city of Petersburg as well as part of the city of Hopewell and parts of the counties of Chesterfield, Dinwiddie, and Prince George.
“As an urban community for Petersburg and for a farmer community such as Dinwiddie, the needs of those school divisions are shared,” said Del. Aird. “It can be hard for these divisions to attract and retain talented teachers because they compete with neighboring divisions that pay more and this legislation tries to solve that,”
While education is a priority for many representatives in the Virginia General Assembly with a democratic governor, senate and house of delegates, the legislation put forward by Del. Aird and Sen. McClellan adds more for schools than what's been put forward.
“[Northam] has introduced a budget that prioritizes early childhood education funding and tries to take on higher education from a financial aid standpoint so he wants a broad investment in K-12 and higher education, but the staffing requirements in this legislation is not included in the budget that [Northam] introduced.”
The legislation passed the education committee and has been referred to the appropriations committee for further spending recommendations.