Hundreds marched in Richmond for more state funding for schools yesterday. Here’s why they say they did.

Hannah Eason, Contributing Writer
Chris Wood, Contributing Writer

The Virginia House of Delegates announced a 5 percent increase in teacher and support staff salaries Monday as attendees of a march and rally outside the Capitol pushed for increased funding in public schools.

The marchers, who used the hashtag “#Red4Ed” on social media, wore red and chanted as they walked from Monroe Park to Capitol Grounds in the Downtown area. The group comprised of teachers, students, and parents advocating for increased salaries, renovated school buildings and additional staffers.

Jim Livingston, president of the Virginia Education Association, decried outdated technology, old textbooks and insufficient funding in a speech he gave to the crowd of hundreds.

“It’s time for legislatures to get on board or get out of the way,” Livingston said. “We’ve reached a point where legislatures need to come up with the money or we’ll replace them.  

Livingston said the state needs to re-evaluate its formula for distributing funds to school districts.

The increase in teacher and support staff salaries is in addition to the 3 percent increase which was already included in the state budget. Gov. Ralph Northam proposed the additional 2 percent increase, which passed in the House, but still needs approval from the Senate.

Sarah McMillen, a second-grade teacher in Chesterfield County, said teachers in the school system face multiple problems including missing out on lunch breaks because they have to watch children or attend meetings regarding SOL requirements. McMillen said most people do not realize how difficult being a teacher is.

“I dare anybody to swap jobs for a day and say I don’t deserve twice what I make,” McMillen said.

The state’s public funding formula was revised in 2009 as result of the recession and has not been reversed, despite the fact that Virginia’s economy has recovered since then.

“It’s impossible to support a family on what we make,” said Clairy Carleton, an English high school teacher at Open High School. “It’s criminal and it’s a civil rights issue, and we’re pissed off.”

Virginia ranks 34th in the country for teacher pay, according to the National Education Association, despite having one of the lowest poverty rates in the country. Education funding in the state has dropped by 9 percent since 2009.

“The constitution of Virginia says that school funding is a shared responsibility between the state and locality,” Livingston said. “Our push is on the General Assembly because there have been a lot of localities who have been paying for years for things the state has not been funding.”

Cody Sigmon, an eighth-grade English teacher in Chesterfield County, said Virginia needs a state-wide solution to funding issues.

“Across the state you gave gigantic disparities, because you’re only as capable of funding your schools as your tax base,” Sigmon said.

“It’s time for legislatures to get on board or get out of the way.”

Jim Livingston, Virginia Education Association

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“There are school buildings that are falling apart, and it’s the state’s responsibility to take care of them,” said Carly Keating, a middle school math teacher and VCU alumna. “The students don’t deserve to be in a building where there are holes in the ceiling, or mold on the wall.”

Elinor Harris, a fourth-grader at Mount Vernon Community School, attended the rally to show her support for her teachers who “make life better.”

“I’m here because I want to support the educators who teach in Virginia because they’re not getting paid very well,” Elinor said.

“Our teachers are resilient and they still want to teach even though we’re bad and underfunded,” said Lux Aghmo, a high school student at Richmond Community High School.

Tiffany Kopsak, a high school journalism teacher in Stafford County, commented on where the public funding is most needed in the school system.

“I can’t choose between more pay or more teachers, but it needs to be both,” Kopsak said. “We have a caseload of 170 students with classrooms of about 30 [students], and that is just not manageable.”

“I dare anybody to swap jobs for a day and say I don’t deserve twice what I make.”

Sarah McMillen, Chesterfield County teacher

“We had 600 teachers leave last year,” Kopsak said. “We have 41 positions open right now.”

Kopsak said teachers are unable to fully support themselves independently under the current set salary.

“I can’t support one of my students to become a teacher. I cannot encourage them to do that,” Kopsak said. “Because it’s not physically sound to be an independent person and a teacher.”

Michael Snead, a high school journalism teacher in Stafford County, commented on the reason why teachers are quitting their jobs.

“We do have people who just leave the profession entirely,” Snead said. “But for the most part it’s people who go to a county or a few counties away that do the same job, more or less, but for a lot more money. So we lose the people who had the real desire to be in the classroom.”

Cathy Crane, a reading specialist in Fauquier County said that often teachers can’t afford to live in the same areas they teach.

“This is everything. We want to do what’s best for our kids,” Crane said. “We want to have money for supplies in our classrooms, for technology, and for us.”

Elementary school student Holden Carleton said he appreciates his teachers.

“They mean a lot to me,” Carleton said. “Without those teachers school would be totally pointless.”

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