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Education Rally Supports Senate Budget Plans

Rally attendees gave the Senate an “A” and the House a “F.”

by Valerie Garner

Governor Bob McDonnell’s idea for Charter Schools was called a “mugging of Peter to pay Paul” at the education rally held in Roanoke on Monday.

Teacher, parents, administrators, officials and students from all over the valley filled the Patrick Henry High School auditorium. They were holding signs that said, “Stick with the Senate,” and “Repair the Damage.” All were in support of the Senate’s two-year budget plan favoring education.

They wielded Report cards giving the Senate’s budget an “A” and the House budget an “F. Others held signs saying, “We will remember in November.”

Thom Ryder, a Roanoke County third-grade teacher had his class size increase from 19 to 26 students. Ryder, Executive Board Member of the Roanoke County Board of Education System, said “we’ve cut $17 million and 150 positions.”

Loraine Lange, Roanoke County Schools Superintendent, said the defunding of K12 public education has been disproportionate to other services and “we need a change.”  She urged passage of the Senate’s version of the budget. With the additional revenue announced by Governor, “he still proposes cuts to education …the House of Delegates budget version cuts even more,” said Lange.

Jeff Bain, President of the Virginia School Boards Association said the percentage of General Fund and direct aid dollars “has fallen from over 35% in 2009 to 30% in the current budget. While funding for public education decreases, the number of students has increased. Localities can’t make up the difference indefinitely. “The state has failed miserably in its obligations,” said Bain.

David Carson, Roanoke City School Board Chairman, summarized the resolution adopted by seven Southwest Virginia localities.

Charter Schools were a sore topic. Dawna McDowell, Craig County School Board member, said “the vast majority have not shown to be any better than a public education.” All school systems are not the same and McDowell called for “flexibility,” especially for rural school systems.

Jerry Canada with the Roanoke County School Board said, “it’s just plain wrong …   when and how have our children become such a low priority” in the General Assembly. Canada pointed to the philosophical difference between those cutting K12 funding for education and those who support private education.

Canada asked supporters to call the six House conferees and demand funding for K12 education and have them support the Senate’s education-friendly budget. Canada said that “Virginia is the 7th wealthiest state in the nation but it is 38th in state support for its public schools … the assault on K12 public education has to stop and needs to stop right now.”

Roanoke City Council member and retired school counselor Anita Price said the city would receive an additional $1 million under the Senate budget. Price reminded that the House version of the budget cuts pre-school education completely. By cutting pre-school Price called it “penny wise and pound foolish because dollars spent today on our young children are dollars that are saved in the future.”

“Counties and Cities appropriate more funding to public education than required by the state,” Mayor David Bowers pointed out.  He said the city of Roanoke has greater needs but less means to meet those needs.

Chuck Lionberger, Community Relations Specialist for Roanoke County Public Schools, had everyone hold up their signs. “We have waited patiently for the economy to turn around and now it’s time to repair the damage,” said Lionberger.

He called McDonnell’s idea of Charter Schools not just “robbing Peter to pay Paul” but more like “mugging Peter to pay Paul.”

Only time will tell whether the cries from such rallies are ultimately heard in Richmond.

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