Authored by Tori Pierson, Newsletter Editor for VATESOL and 6th grade ESL teacher and advocate in Richmond Public Schools
This Sunday, February 16, was “Budget Sunday” at the Virginia General Assembly. Members of the House and Senate gathered to report their proposed amendments to the Governor’s budget for 2020-2022. This year, a group of education advocates attended both the House and Senate hearings wearing red and carrying signs to send a message to legislators: We are here; we are listening; and we are holding you accountable.
As an ESL teacher, I have always believed that advocacy is an integral part of my work as an educator. I try to stay informed on current policy and be an active member of organizations who are advocating on behalf of our English learners, their families, their communities, and their schools. With that in mind, I have attended several committee meetings during this year’s General Assembly session. Overall, I have learned that we have a hard battle to fight and our English learners need our advocacy now more than ever.
Education advocates in Virginia rallied fiercely in support of HB1316 and SB728 this year. These were identical bills proposed by Delegate Aird and Senator McClellan to fully fund the Virginia Board of Education’s Standards of Quality. Among many excellent improvements, the bills included smaller student-teacher ratios for English learners based on their English proficiency level. The current ratio is 59:1.
HB975 also proposed to reduce student-teacher ratios for English learners, but it was cut in the House education committee to only fund a ratio of 50:1. Disappointingly, this is the ratio reflected in both the House and Senate versions of the budget.
Overall, the proposed budgets from both the House and the Senate provoked disappointment and even anger from education advocates. Teachers are challenging the 2% salary increase, saying that it barely covers inflation. The average teacher's salary in Virginia is about $9,000 lower than the national average, even though Virginia is the 12th wealthiest state in the country.
For me, it is both energizing and exhausting to attend these meetings and participate in these organized actions. On the one hand, I have built friendships with so many amazing advocates - teachers, parents, and community members - who are doing great work on behalf of our students. These friendships keep me informed and motivated. On the other hand, it is discouraging to have to rally and fight for our students to have access to a quality educational experience.
We have so much work left to do, but I am certain that we have a lot of incredible people ready to keep working. As educators, it is imperative that we do our part by staying informed, communicating with our representatives, and never settling for less than excellence for our students.
I am grateful to VATESOL Advocacy Liaison, Jessica Klein, for publishing informative updates during the General Assembly sessions and throughout the year. I am also grateful to The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis for providing information and analysis in partnership with our advocacy efforts.
Photo from The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis