Virginia educators, students rally at Capitol for increased educational funding

An estimated 1,000 people, many in red shirts, poured onto the streets of Richmond Friday afternoon waving signs and singing songs about the plight of public education in Virginia.

The marchers, led by the Virginia Education Association, winded from the Greater Richmond Convention Center to the Capitol Square lawn.

“Oh when the kids begin to learn, I want to have the supplies that I need to help our children learn,” they sang while they walked, adapting the lyrics from the song “Oh, When the Saints Go Marching In.”

Scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. but starting late, the rally nonetheless settled on the grass below the Capitol at exactly 4 p.m.

Jones City teacher and candidate for the 96th District, Philip Forgit, marched alongside those for correcting the education system. He said that funding for education was being misappropriated and that someone needs to take action.

“We can’t fund our priorities,” Forgit said, “We need to get real about the budget.”

The marchers mainly sought more funds for public education across Virginia. One marcher, Lucy Burns, said the important issue was the Standards of Quality being upheld in the Virginia educational system.

“(We need) to secure quality spending for the SOQ,” Burns said.

“Oh When the Kids…”

Oh, when the kids, (Oh when the kids,)

Begin to learn, (Begin to learn,)

Oh when the kids begin to learn

I want to have the supplies that I need

To help our children learn.

Oh when the kids,

Begin to learn,

Oh when the kids begin to learn

I want to keep the best teachers

To help our children learn.

Oh when the kids,

Begin to learn,

Oh when the kids begin to learn

I want reading programs that work

To help our children learn.

Oh when the kids,

Begin to learn,

Oh when the kids begin to learn

I want a class small enough to teach them

To help our children learn.

Oh when the kids,

Begin to learn,

Oh when the kids begin to learn

I want a General Assembly who cares

To help our children learn.

The people held signs stating “Full SOQ funding, it’s the law” and “Leave no child unfunded” as well as other more political-oriented signs such as “Put our house in order.”

“What our students learn in the classroom is increased, or it is limited by what happens up there on that hill,” said Princess Moss, vice president of VEA, jabbing an index finger at the Capitol.

“Next winter, (the legislators) will be back, or needed replacements will be in some of their places,” she said to the uproarious applause of the crowd.

The VEA, Moss said, must “profess our successes and to profess our needs,” which requires a “great leader.” The VEA president Jean Bankos fulfilled the latter requirement, she said.

Bankos stood on the stage flanked by two oak trees in front of the Virginia Travel Information Center.

“We are the voices of Virginia’s children,” she said. “We need to stand together committed to whatever it takes to make our elected leaders give more than lip service and campaign rhetoric to public education.”

Some legislators on both sides of the aisle genuinely support public education, she said, but many others suffer “great memory loss” when they arrive at their seats in the Capitol.

When Bankos finished her talk, she introduced Belle Wheelan, Virginia’s Secretary of Education. Wheelan encouraged the rally attendees to make their voices known to the Virginia General Assembly.

“Make sure that when (legislators) come back in November – whether they’re returning or brand new – that education is first and foremost on their mind,” she said.

Rep. James H. Dillard II, R-Fairfax, and chair of the House Education Committee, took the microphone next and said, “Teachers are irrelevant.” The crowd became still.

“That comment was made by one of your friends, a Democratic senator,” he said, adding that if people want to make that senator wrong they need to get involved.

Teachers can make a difference, he said, “but you’re not going to do that sitting on a couch watching television, or for that matter, grading papers.”

 

He asked people to give a $25 donation and two hours of their time, and that would suffice to get noticed by the legislators.

“If you’re going to effect change in education, then you’ve got to get your friends elected to the General Assembly,” he said.

After his speech, Dillard said there was “absolutely not” enough money to support the teachers in the manner they sought. The state is broke, he said

During the 2003 session, Dillard proposed a 1-cent general sales tax increase in Virginia, which he said would raise $800 million annually to alleviate the financial problems facing the state. The legislature did not pass the measure.

“We are not meeting what we are obligated to do,” he said.

Click here to view more photos from the rally.

 

 

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