Thursday, January 7, 2016

VEA Speaks Out: President Gruber's Remarks at Today's State Budget Hearing

VEA President Meg Gruber will address the General Assembly regarding Governor McAuliffe's proposed 2016-2018 proposed state budget this afternoon at the Richmond budget hearing.  Her remarks are as follows:

Good day.  I am Meg Gruber a HS science teacher and the President of the 50,000 member Virginia Education Association.

We support Governor’s McAuliffe’s 2016-2018 budget and to implore you to do more.

For the first time in a very long time there is substantial new money for K-12 but you know as well as I that it is not enough. I would first urge you to restore the Standards of Quality to truly reflect the actual cost of providing a quality education across the Commonwealth.  Not only has the state been shirking its obligation, the state has pushed the burden on to the localities.  You must restore the SOQ formula to reflect actual costs of our schools.   It’s what our students need and deserve.

You know that these cuts impact poor school divisions more than more affluent ones, endangering the achievement of some of the most disadvantaged children. Economically disadvantaged children are falling farther behind as classes get larger, teacher aides are eliminated, and technology is both inadequate and outdated. Lack of funds compromises the educational opportunity of all our children, especially those who struggle in school.  How does this ensure the future of Virginia’s schools, workforce and the economy?  You know it does not!

The Governor’s proposed budget must be viewed in the context of the significant decline in state commitment to our public schools over the past decade. To our detriment of our children, the state’s contribution to our students, on a per-pupil basis, is down nearly 15 percent since 2009. We now rank a lowly 41st in the nation on that measure.

On another measure of our priorities, we are even worse. The competitiveness of Virginia teacher pay is ranked worst in the nation by the Education Law Center at Rutgers University. Virginia teacher salaries are almost $6,800 under the national average.

The state must be a vital partner in raising teacher pay, but the state’s share of a pay increase for teachers since 2009 is as follows:

•           2009: 0%
•           2010: 0%
•           2011: 0%
•           2012: 0%
•           2013: 0%
•           2014: 2%, but only for 11 months
•           2015: 0%
•           2016: 1.5% but only for 10.5 months

And this is only applies on the SOQ funded positions that you deliberately cut by placing arbitrary caps on needed support personnel pushing the burden on to the localities.

And over this time health insurance costs have risen, the state deleted inflationary costs of health insurance for school employees but not for state workers. This has ensured that many teachers and staff’s take-home pay DECREASES every year. 

The competitiveness of Virginia teacher pay is ranked worst in the nation by the Education Law Center at Rutgers University. Virginia teacher salaries are almost $6,800 under the national average.
All this occurred while the number of students in Virginia public schools has increased along with more children of poverty, and more children with special needs.
It’s time for the members of the General Assembly take an honest look over the last 8 years and acknowledge the tremendous negative impact this has had upon our students and to right this injustice to our children and fulfill the promise of the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia which states the state must “seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained.”  The state has not maintained an educational program of high quality.  The only reason that Virginia has high quality public schools is from the PERSONAL sacrifices of teachers and staff. 

Virginia should not be 41st in the Nation in per-pupil funding and last in the competitiveness of teacher salary.  We can and we must do better for our children!