On December 11, Virginia advocates, teachers, parents and students gathered in Richmond to launch the Fund Our Schools campaign, a new statewide advocacy effort to ensure every student has the opportunity to attain a high-quality public education. The campaign is led by the Legal Aid Justice Center, The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, New Virginia Majority, and Virginia Educators United—and supported by a growing coalition.
The Fund Our Schools campaign has emerged in response to the continuing failure of the Commonwealth to fulfill its obligation under the Virginia constitution to provide every public school student a high-quality education consistent with standards established by the Virginia Board of Education.
The Legal Aid Justice Center is a founding member of the Partnership for Equity and Education Rights (PEER) convened by Education Law Center. PEER is a national coalition of state and local organizations working in 7 states to fight disinvestment in public schools and ensure every child has access to an excellent public education. PEER supports and assists its members to lead, grow and sustain campaigns for full and fair public school funding in their respective states and, in the process, build a national advocacy movement for education equity.
Jennifer Doeren, managing director of PEER and participant in the campaign launch noted that, “Fund Our Schools embodies PEER’s vision that all public schools are fully and fairly funded, with the resources and supports necessary to ensure every child has an opportunity to succeed.”
The Fund Our Schools campaign has prioritized three key demands for the Commonwealth to increase funding and essential education resources in Virginia public schools:
- Sufficient Staffing: to address the precipitous decline in support staff over the past decade, the campaign will press to increase funding for counselors, social workers, psychologists, nurses and other vital support professionals, especially in the state’s highest need school divisions.
- Funding Disparities: the campaign will work to eliminate the chronic and severe gap in school funding between Virginia’s high-poverty urban and rural school divisions and its wealthier divisions. These gaps mean that students most in need are deprived of the academic, health and family supports crucial to success in school.
- Teacher Salaries: compensation for Virginia teachers lags behind the national average, resulting in high rates of teacher turnover. The campaign will focus on attracting and retaining a qualified teacher workforce by increasing investment in teacher salaries and robust supports and professional development.
The challenge and opportunity for the Fund our Schools campaign is highlighted in Education Law Center’s recently released report card on public school funding, “Making the Grade 2019, Is School Funding Fair in Your State?” Virginia received very low grades on all three of the report’s measures: overall funding level; the distribution of funding to higher poverty schools; and the effort to invest in K-12 public education.
At the Fund Our Schools launch, Myasia Goode, a high school student in Richmond, underscored that fair school funding “is an essential part of the success of students in all grades. It is not only vital in the performance of students but a constitutional obligation. An obligation that is nowhere near being fulfilled.”
PEER will continue to support the Fund Our Schools Campaign to achieve its advocacy priorities in the upcoming 2020 session of the Virginia General Assembly.
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