education spending

With more teachers using social media, most notably Pinterest, to find curriculum, the Virginia Department of Education wants to create a new statewide system where teachers can find vetted classroom materials.

The idea is part of Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed budget, which includes $1.2 billion in new education spending, that is in the hands of the General Assembly. Teachers from across the state are rallying Monday to ask for more.

The initiative — formally the Virginia Learner Equitable Access Platform — would create a depository for teachers, allowing them access to curriculum and other resources from other school districts and organizations across the state.

“Everyone is creating all these great resources and they’re trying to push it out to school divisions one by one,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane. “This will allow us to hub everything in one place so all the best resources are right there at a teacher’s fingertips.”

Individual school districts would still responsible for their own curriculum, Lane said, with the proposed system supplementing what they already have.

Take a teacher in Richmond, for example.

That teacher could find — in one place — resources from African American history museums across the state or a different school system that has a lesson plan developed for a specific subject.

“When we think about the power of our large school districts to share their resources and how that could help our smaller, our rural or even some of our school districts struggling with accreditation, we just think it’s a great opportunity to build capacity in the commonwealth,” Lane said.

Teachers going online to find instructional materials has become commonplace.

Nine in 10 elementary school teachers and roughly half of middle and high school teachers seek online resources for their classroom, according to a 2016 Rand Corp. report. The most popular websites are Pinterest and Teachers Pay Teachers, where educators buy, sell and share original classroom resources.

Parents and students would also have access to the system, according to an overview of the proposal by the state Education Department.

“It has the potential to be a really good resource,” said Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, a teacher who heads the House subcommittee primarily tasked with teaching and learning. “It’s the right step. It’s needed.”

Northam’s budget allocates $7.1 million for the program in the budget year that starts July 1 and $6.1 million in 2021-22.

While the governor’s budget includes money for the initiative, teachers across the state are coming together Monday to ask for more.

The Virginia Education Association is set to rally teachers and school officials at noon Monday at the Bell Tower on Capitol Square, an event that drew an estimated 4,000 people last year. On the same day as the protest last year, the House of Delegates announced that it planned to include a 5% teacher raise in its budget, a proposal Northam initiated that legislators eventually approved.

In this year’s proposed two-year budget, most of the proposed $1.2 billion in new education spending is intended for required technical changes. The remaining money would fund a 3% teacher raise in the second year of the budget ($145.1 million), $99.3 million for more school counselors and $140.4 million to increase the “At-Risk Add-On” fund, which gives incentive money to districts for every low-income student, among other things.

The budget would restore some of the reductions schools saw during the financial crisis of 2007-09, from which schools are still recovering.

When adjusted for inflation, the state spends an average of $5,749 on every student, compared with $6,225 in the 2008-09 school year, according to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a Richmond-based research organization.

“We’re shortchanging our students, our educators and our future,” said VEA President Jim Livingston. “We are demanding that the General Assembly reverse its budget cuts and give Virginia public schools the resources our students deserve.”

Richmond Public Schools opted to close school for the rally after roughly a third of the district’s teachers asked to take personal leave days to participate. The large number meant the district wouldn’t have enough substitutes to fill the empty classrooms, leading Superintendent Jason Kamras to cancel the day of school a week before the rally.

“As a result, nonparticipating teachers would face unreasonable class sizes that would make meaningful instruction nearly impossible and potentially create significant safety concerns,” said Kamras, adding that no additional days would need to be added to the school calendar because it already has extra time built in to account for inclement weather and other “unforeseen circumstances.”

Kim Bailey, a first-grade teacher at George Mason Elementary School, said she’s glad the district has the day off.

“Our kids need to know that we are fighting for them,” she said.

The district is providing bus shuttles to Capitol Square. The shuttles will leave from the Arthur Ashe Athletic Center, Huguenot High School, George Wythe High School and Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School.

(804) 649-6012

Twitter: @jmattingly306

Politics/Education Reporter

Justin Mattingly covers state government and education. A northern New York native and a Syracuse University alumnus, he's worked at the RTD since 2017. You can follow him on Twitter at @jmattingly306.

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