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2020-1-28

Hundreds rally at Virginia Capitol for education reform

Crowd Picture

By Emma Gauthier, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. -- Bells chiming through Capitol Square were drowned out Monday as hundreds of education advocates dressed in red chanted for lawmakers to “fund our future.” 

The Virginia Education Association and Virginia American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations organized the rally to restore school funding to pre-recession levels, increase teacher pay and reinstate collective bargaining. The VEA is made up of more than 40,000 education professionals working to improve public education in the commonwealth. Virginia AFL-CIO advocates for laws that protect current and retired workers. 

An estimated 600 to 800 people attended the rally, according to The Division of Capitol Police. Participants wore red in support of Red for Ed, a nationwide campaign advocating for a better education system. 

Speakers took to the podium, including VEA President Jim Livingston and Vice President James Fedderman.

“We do this for our children, they are the reason we are here,” Livingston said. “They are the reason we put our blood, sweat and tears into this profession that we call public education.”

 Stafford Public Schools Superintendent Scott Kinzer and Fairfax County School Board member Abrar Omeish also spoke along with teachers from multiple counties.

Richmond Public Schools announced last week that it would close for the rally after a third of teachers, almost 700, took a personal day to participate. 

“We are proud that so many of our educators will be turning out to advocate for RPS and all of Virginia’s public schools,” RPS Superintendent Jason Kamras stated in a press release.

The 2020 budget puts average RPS teacher salary projections back near the 2018 level of $51,530. Richmond teachers had a 22% salary bump to $63,161 in 2019. They are projected in 2020 to earn on average $51,907, an almost 18% decrease from the previous year. 

“Last year we demonstrated our power to tell the General Assembly that it is time, it is past time, to fund our future,” Livingston said.

A rally held last year called for higher teacher salaries and better school funding. Legislators announced that teachers would receive a 5% salary increase in the state budget.

The Virginia Department of Education stated that the budgeted average salary for teachers statewide in 2020 is $60,265; however, teachers in many counties and cities will be paid less than that, with the lowest average salary in Grayson County Public Schools at $39,567. Arlington County Public School teachers will have the highest average salary in the state at $81,129, with other Northern Virginia schools close behind. 

The VDE report showed that in 2017, Virginia ranked 32nd in the country with an average teacher salary of $51,994, compared to the national average of $60,477. 

Commonwealth Institute

“We are often putting our own money into things and we need help,” said Amanda Reisner, kindergarten teacher at E.D. Redd Elementary School. “We have buildings that are falling apart, we don’t have enough supplies, we don’t have enough technology.”

The Commonwealth Institute, a Richmond-based organization that analyzes fiscal issues, reported that state funding per student has dropped 7.6% since 2009, from $6,225 to $5,749. In addition, public schools in Virginia since 2009 have lost over 2,000 support staff and over 40 counselors and librarians, while the number of students has increased by more than 52,000. 

HB 582, patroned by Del. Elizabeth Guzman, D-Woodbridge, proposes the reinstatement of collective bargaining for public employees. According to the VEA, Virginia is one of three states that does not allow collective bargaining, the power to negotiate salaries and working conditions by a group of employees and their employers. 

The bill would also create the Public Employee Relations Board, which would determine appropriate methods of bargaining and hold elections for representatives to bargain on behalf of state and local government workers. 

“Collectively we bargain, divided we beg,” said AFL-CIO President Doris Crouse-Mays. “The Virginia AFL-CIO and the VEA, we stand hand in hand together.”

Nike

Subcommittee Advances Bill Prohibiting LGBTQ Discrimination

By Jimmy O’Keefe, Capital News Service

RICHMOND -- A General Assembly subcommittee advanced a bill Thursday that would prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in housing, public accommodations, employment and credit applications.

Lawmakers suggested expanding the focus of a bill introduced by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, that would update the Virginia Fair Housing act to prevent discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity in housing.

McQuinn’s bill was rolled into HB 1663, patroned by Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax. Sickles’ bill, called the “Virginia Values Act,” includes additional protections against discrimination for LGBTQ Virginians in employment, public spaces and credit transactions and also outlines a process for civil action in a discrimination case.

The Virginia Fair Housing Law currently prevents housing discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, elderliness, familial status and disability. Sickles’ bill would add “pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity” or status as a veteran, to current law.

“As an African American woman, I have personally been subjected to discrimination all my life because of my race and my gender,” McQuinn said in an email interview with Capital News Service. “This will be another step toward dismantling systematic discrimination and creating fairness and equal opportunities for all citizens.”

Equality Virginia, a group that advocates for LGBTQ equality, said the legislation is a step in the right direction and praised the delegates’ work.

“These protections are long overdue and an important step forward for Virginia’s LGBTQ community,” Vee Lamneck, executive director of Equality Virginia, said in a statement.

Similar bills have been introduced by both chambers in previous sessions. Though praised by the ACLU and LGBTQ advocacy groups, such bills passed the Senate with support from some Republican senators, but never could advance out of Republican-led House subcommittees.

Capital News Service reached out to Republicans who voted against previous legislation to gauge their support for the current bill, but none responded.

Earlier this week the Senate passed a bill to allow a person who changed their sex to receive a new birth certificate. Introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, SB 657 aims to eliminate problems for the transgender community that occur when their legal identification doesn’t match their transition, such as renting a home or applying for a credit line.

The Transgender Assistance Program of Virginia is a nonprofit that works to end transgender homelessness by providing individuals with resources to find emergency shelter, food and referrals to housing programs. De Sube, chairperson of the organization, said any nondiscrimination bill will help the transgender community.

The resource is needed, Sube said, because many clients are kicked out of their homes after they tell family, loved ones or roommates that they are transgender. Then they run into discrimination while seeking housing.

“Many transgender people apply for housing, apartments, rental homes, etc., and they’re just denied because of their transgender identity,” Sube said.

Sickles said in a statement that discrimination has no place in Virginia.

“All Virginians deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, including LGBTQ people,” Sickles said.

Advocates expect HB 1663 to be heard in committee Tuesday. The companion bill sponsored by Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, is expected to be heard in a Senate committee the following day.

"In Virginia, although a gay couple can get married on Sunday, the sad reality is they can get fired on Monday, evicted on Tuesday morning and denied a hotel room Tuesday night,” Ebbin said in a press release. “This isn’t a theoretical issue, discrimination is happening today.”

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