Thursday, January 10, 2013

Testimony to the Compensation and Retirement Subcomittee of House Appropriations

I made brief remarks to the Compensation and Retirement Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee this afternoon. Today's posting is my remarks:

Chairman Jones, members of the subcommittee, I am Robley Jones of the Virginia Education Association.  I deeply appreciate this opportunity to briefly address our compensation and retirement concerns as we begin the 2013 session.

As the Appropriations Committee considers school funding in this session and in the years ahead, a guiding principal should be trying to reduce the significant educational disparity that exist in our Commonwealth.   Our schools are highly dependent on local government for school funding and offer a very low level of state funding.  This most disadvantages those students in Virginia’s poorest localities, urban and rural, where local governments simply do not have the wealth to make up for what the state is not doing.

We are running our schools with lower per pupil funding today than we did in 2009 when the recession began.  The per pupil funding level for 2014 is $463 lower, and when adjustments are made for inflation the figure is $1,034 less.  Those who I represent stand before larger classes.  Students have fewer course offerings.  Salaries have been frozen or stagnant, and take-home pay has declined as health insurance costs have risen.  School modernization, maintenance, and vehicle purchases are being deferred.

Our teacher salaries are not competitive, and we fear that Virginia will not attract high quality personnel to the public education workforce if our salary standing continues to erode.  In 1989-1990 our salary ranking was 18th – now it is 31st.  Although Virginia is the 8th wealthiest state, our teacher salary is $7,083 behind the national average, as you can see on page three.

We deeply appreciate the Governor’s provision of funding for teacher salaries, but we asked that it not be tethered to the passage of any particular bill.  In the parlance of the day, we asked you to double down on this investment in the teaching profession.  We believe the Governor’s approach of requiring a local match is sound.  I’d be glad to share the history of that approach, which was first employed by Governor Baliles.  We support the concept of strategic compensation grants, the support for Effective School-wide Discipline.  We much prefer a teacher fellows approach over the Teach for America model, as the former encourages a career long commitment to the teaching profession.

 We suggest that it would be good to take a year off in regard to VRS changes.

 I know that we will be discussing many of the policy proposals before this subcommittee and other committees.  I look forward to those discussions.

Mr. Chairman, I thank you and the subcommittee members for your commitment to public education, and I thank you for your continued courtesy and your open doors.