Virginia teachers protest low pay at Capitol rally
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia teachers demanded higher pay and better working conditions during a rally Monday at the state Capitol, as educators look to match the success of similar teacher protests movements around the country.
Thousands of teachers and supporters from around the state urged state lawmakers to make education spending a higher priority or risk losing their seats in elections later this year. Teachers said that years of stagnant pay, overcrowded classrooms, and inadequate supplies have led to a breaking point.
“There comes a time when people scream at the top of their lungs: I have had enough,” said Richmond teacher Rodney Robinson, Virginia’s 2019 teacher of the year.
There’s broad bipartisan support for boosting education spending, but no agreement on the details.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has proposed increasing a planned 3 percent raise set to take effect this summer to 5 percent, which Republican leaders in the GOP-controlled House of Delegates said Monday they also support.
Sen. Emmett Hanger, a top budget writer for the Republican-controlled Senate, said he supports more money for education but wants to give local governments more flexibility on how to spend it instead of mandating a teacher raise.
Lawmakers in both chambers will present their budgets in coming days.
Virginia ranks 34th in average teacher pay, according to a 2018 report by the National Education Association. The state’s share of education spending has dropped 9 percent, adjusted for inflation, since 2009, according to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis.
That’s put greater pressure on local governments to increase their share of education spending, especially in poorer areas that have also struggled with declining enrollment. Many of Virginia’s schools are decades old and need substantial upgrades.
Joy Kirk, a middle school teacher from Frederick County, said teachers aren’t just looking for a one-time pay increase but a commitment to addressing structural problems in education funding.
“We’d like to see a long-term plan” Kirk said.
Monday’s rally was part of a national “Red4Ed” movement calling for more education spending that began last spring in West Virginia and has spread to several states. Teachers in Colorado, California, Texas, Washington and Illinois are planning rallies, marches and, in some cases, strikes. Teachers in Los Angeles scored a major victory last week after a six-day strike.