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Teachers push for more pay at state budget hearing in Suffolk

Supporters of the Red for Ed Movement said they want more funding for public schools in Governor Northam's proposed budget.

SUFFOLK, Va. — It was a room filled with people.

Each of them advocated for different issues during a State Budget Public Hearing held on Thursday in Suffolk.

Among the groups were people standing in solidarity with Red for Ed, a movement advocating for better funds to public schools.

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Mary Vause, a teacher and member of Virginia Educator’s United, spoke during the hearing.

“Teachers, we work hard, and we just wanna be compensated for our work. I spend about $100 on school supplies in our classrooms,” said Vause.

In his 2020-2022 budget, Governor Ralph Northam has proposed an additional $1.2 billion for Virginia schools and teachers over the next two years. The increase includes $145 million to give teachers and support staff a 3 percent pay raise in 2021.

The proposed budget also suggests allocating an additional $99.3 million to hire more counselors and $808.5 million to fund re-benchmarking for K-12 schools.

Despite the proposed increases, Dr. James Fedderman, Vice President of the Virginia Education Association, said it’s not enough.

“The governor’s office has been touting his historic investment in schools. They do not mention that nearly two-thirds of the money proposed is just adjusting for more students and inflation. They also don't mention that if you give teachers a 3% raise over two years, there’s an inflation of 4% during that time, [and] you have decreased teacher pay,” said Dr. Fedderman.

Vause said she and other VEA members also want the budget to allocate funding toward improving aging school buildings and removing the cap on support staff funding.

According to a 2019 report by the Virginia Department of Education, Virginia faces a serious teacher shortage, with nearly 900 unfilled teaching positions in the 2018-2019 school year. The same report states Virginia ranks 26th of 50 for state and local per-pupil funding for Pre K-12 education, and 42nd of 50 for state per-pupil funding.

“It’s time to invest in teacher and staff salaries, make our salaries competitive, that'll keep us in the education field, which is going to benefit Virginia's children,” said Vause.

Emily Coleman, a school bus driver, said she drove two and a half hours to speak at Thursday’s public hearing.

“I support public education,” said Coleman.“We appreciate the increase in spending proposed in this budget, but ultimately, it's not enough.”

Lawmakers will head to Richmond for the 2020 legislative session on Jan. 8th.

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