Led by the Richmond Public Schools All City Marching Band, a crowd estimated at more than a thousand people marched from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School in Richmond to the Virginia State Capitol on Saturday, demanding more funding for public education.
The crowd included students, teachers, parents and other education advocates, many of whom carried placards and banners that read: “Fund our Future,” “Commit to Kids” and “Boost the Budget.”
“This is about the future,” Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney told the crowd assembled at the Capitol. “Do we stand on the sideline idly while the future passes many of our children? Or do we stand lockstep together, focused on the General Assembly, for more money for education?”
Stoney and Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras organized the march to push the state to increase its education spending.
Speakers and participants at Saturday’s rally called it unacceptable that per student funding from the state is down 9 percent in Virginia, from $6,098 per student to $5,544, despite the long economic recovery since the Great Recession.
To compensate, localities have had to pick up more of the tab. At the same time, enrollment in Virginia is up 5 percent since 2008-09, and while there are 715 more teachers across the state, there are 2,524 fewer support staff.
In Richmond, state spending is down 19 percent while enrollment has increased 9 percent.
“Each and every day, there is a young man or a young woman who wakes up with a dream, and it is our job — as elected officials, as teachers, all working together — to give them the legs to stand on to achieve that dream,” Stoney said. “Unfortunately, the commonwealth of Virginia has cut the legs from underneath many of our children.”
De’Jah Waller, a senior at Armstrong High School who spoke during the rally, said the state should fund “more up-to-date technology” in schools.
“Our schools are supposed to represent hope,” she said. “We all demand that Virginia start funding our schools, so that every student, not just one, can reach their full potential.”
Rodney Robinson, Virginia’s 2019 Teacher of the Year, told the crowd he attended the march to give “a warning” to the state’s elected leaders.
“If we do not get better and more funding for schools, we will remember this come Election Day,” he said. “We will boot you out of office, because our kids deserve better.”
Robinson, who teaches history at Virgie Binford Education Center, housed within Richmond’s juvenile detention center, noted that e-commerce giant Amazon recently announced plans to open part of its second headquarters office in Northern Virginia.
The announcement was “applauded by politicians across the state,” Robinson said.
“They also promised them [Amazon] $1 billion to help them get here,” he said, drawing boos from some in the audience.
“One week later, students at a [Richmond] high school could not have gym class because of a giant rat in the middle of the gym floor,” Robinson said. “No student should be forced to learn in these conditions, and I am here to say our kids deserve better.”