How Virginia laws affect women: Education
By Keya Vakil
June 19, 2019

Check out the rest of our series on how Virginia laws affect women here.

2018 and 2019 saw a surge of teachers strikes around the country, and there’s reason to think Virginia may be next.

Virginia teachers earn $8,483 less than the national average and are the third most underpaid in the nation when compared to other college-educated workers, according to a report by the Economic Policy Institute, a liberal-leaning think tank.

In the last four years, the weekly pay of Virginia teachers is 31% behind the pay of other college-educated workers in the state.

The lack of competitive teacher pay in Virginia is particularly harmful for women, who comprise 79% of the teaching force in the state, according to a report from the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education.

So how did we get here?

The EPI’s report identifies the 2008 recession as a key reason for cuts to public school funding, but it also laid some of the blame at the feet of state lawmakers.

Since the recession, Virginia is one of eight states that has collected less tax revenue than it had the capacity for, which has caused steep reductions in K-12 funding and teacher salaries.

This year, after significant public pressure, Virginia’s General Assembly finally passed a budget that provided teachers with a raise of up to 5 percent. About half of that raise will come from the state, while the other half will be up to each locality to match.

Despite this raise, the state’s teachers will still earn far below the national average, a key factor in severe teacher shortage facing the state. The number of unfilled teaching positions in Virginia increased by 40% from 2007 to 2017, with high-poverty schools facing a particular “crisis,” according to a 2017 report from the Advisory Committee on Teacher Shortages, a state committee formed in 2016 develop policy recommendations on Virginia’s growing teacher shortage.

Heidi Milgrim, a special education teacher from Montclair, told The Dogwood that she watched many “great teachers” leave the field due to pay over her two-plus decades as a Virginia public school educator.

Lawmakers also agreed on an $87 million increase in funding for K-12 schools, though there remains a long way to go to reach pre-recession funding levels. Funding for K-12 schools was down 9.1% per student for the 2018-2019 school year compared to 2008-2009, according to analysis by the Commonwealth Institute.

Emma Clark, who’s been on the job for just three years at Falling Creek Middle School in Chesterfield, told The Dogwood that the lack of funding “limits your dreams for the classroom…You have to scale back your ambitions for your lesson plans. You have to scale back your creativity because there’s just like a financial limit to what you can do.”

While the teachers raise is viewed as a good start, educators, advocates and many Democrats insist that the state must do more.

Outside of the teacher’s raises and boost to K-12 funding, lawmakers in the General Assembly also allocated more money to hire school counselors and school resource officers statewide, and also expanded mental health resources.

The General Assembly also signed a series of bills to improve school safety.

And finally, after years of soaring tuition costs and students defaulting on their loans, the General Assembly allocated $57.6 million in this year’s state budget for colleges that agreed to freeze their in-state tuition rates. All 15 of Virginia’s public colleges ultimately did so.

This tuition freeze will help all students, but a 2017 report from the Capital News Service found that 56% of the nearly 300,000 undergraduates at Virginia’s four-year colleges and universities are women, meaning they will particularly benefit from the freeze.

While students and families are no doubt relieved to not be paying more, the freeze is only in effect for the upcoming school year.

For students to really feel a difference over the long-run, education advocates say the state will have to extend the freeze or provide some other mechanism for colleges to keep tuition costs flat.

The same goes for teachers. If the General Assembly doesn’t do more to increase teachers’ wages, then the state could be in for a teacher’s strike, or worse, the continued exodus of teachers from the classroom.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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