Education-funding methods, statewide disparity in education, the Virginia General Assembly, teachers and students who technically do not exist were just a few topics Jean Bankos discussed when she recently visited VCU’s Academic Campus.
The VCU Young Democrats sponsored the event featuring Bankos, the president of the Virginia Education Association, an organization that focuses on improving children’s success in learning and upgrading the overall learning institution.
“Mrs. Bankos offers a unique perspective on public education in the commonwealth,” said Peter A. Feddo, president of the YD. “She represents Virginia’s educators, and she’s in touch with the issues they face in the classroom. Jean came to us and shared those issues and what our representatives are doing to address the issues.”
During her speech, Bankos described how flawed she thinks the Standards of Quality are for Virginia’s public schools and how Virginia’s educational funding methods underfund all local school districts.
“The basic problem we have in this state is the public education,” Bankos told the audience. “And that is the underfunding to the tune of $1 billion a biennium.”
The more affluent counties and the cities with money that have a large number of students, she said, benefit from both the state’s funding formula and their communities for all their needs.
“There is a huge disparity issue in our state,” Bankos said. “In our state, where you live or where you were born makes a difference, and it shouldn’t be that way.”
This, she said, leaves poor communities receiving money only from the state because of their student population alone – and not their local wealth – left with less-equipped classrooms and less-advanced programs than other schools.
In explaining the state’s formula, which permits the ratio of hiring 57 teachers for every 1,000 students, Bankos said, every thing is done out of necessity to ensure students at least gain some sort of minimal education. This method, she said, could be misconstrued as greedy budget cuts.
The speaker attributed the problem to the Virginia Constitution.
“The state shall provide a quality for public education,” paraphrased Bankos. “It doesn’t say anything about… you have to provide an equal opportunity or an equal anything to all students.”
Statewide disparity remains an issue in education, she said, that needs great urgency to fix.
Bankos told the audience that teachers in the funding formula are often forgotten.
“The state, under its current funding formula, out of … every five instructional positions, teacher positions, one is not covered at all through state funding,” Bankos said. “Then the other four positions are only partially… reimbursed through state funding through locality (taxes).”
One audience member asked Bankos if she had “Mark Warner’s ear” what would she ask him to fix?
Bankos responded, ” (I would ask him) what do you need for us to do to help you?”
“Citizens… need to make a bold plan for the citizens about where we need to go in the next three years,” the speaker said.
With an audience of about 30 people, Bankos’ main emphasis evolved around the state of public education in Virginia and measures that must occur to improve it.
Now in her third year as VEA’s president, for most of her 30 years of experience in public education Bankos has taught fifth graders.
“I am not sure how Peter got my name but I was happy to come and speak,” Bankos said. “When I speak at colleges it is usually to the student VEA members.”
Saying she realizes that the Democratic Party is traditionally involved in public education, Bankos explained that the VEA is bipartisan.
“We support candidates who support public education,” she said.
The YD, Feddo said, chose Bankos because of her expertise regarding various political issues in education.
“I don’t think we could have found a more dynamic speaker to discuss public-education policy,” Feddo said. “I wish we could have had more guests to participate in the discussion.”