Thank you so much for all you do for us in Richmond. It’s great to see so many of you come out to this event and hear from us. In your honor, we worked to get some healthier food here this year. Mr. Moon insisted on having cookies, but otherwise I think it’s an improvement on past years.
Our schools are facing the greatest crisis since the 1950s. I have outlined that crisis in depth in an op-ed in the Fairfax Times that was published two weeks ago, which I’d be happy to share with you. Put simply, we can’t continue to maintain the quality education system we have unless we get some substantial help. And that’s where you come in!
For the second year, our board has adopted a list of our top priorities, and we approved them unanimously. For those of you who follow this Board, you’ll know that a unanimous vote is nothing short of a miracle.
We realize that most of our legislative program is preaching to the choir, and we cannot overstate our appreciation for your support of us in Richmond.
One of the reasons we have moved up the timing of this meeting by almost a month from previous years is to give you time, before pre-filing deadline, to consider some of these issues for potential legislation. While you’re encouraged to read our entire legislative program, we have worked very hard to distill our most pressing advocacy into five points.
Our first legislative priority is to REINVEST in K-12 education. There is a reason this priority is at the top, as you heard from Dr. Garza. Over the past five years, state funding per pupil has decreased $695. During that same time, overall state education funding has dropped by more than $300 million. With our increasingly needy student population, we cannot continue to sustain these kinds of cuts. At the very least, if you cannot find new funding for education this year, we ask you to support funding the biennial re-benchmarking of K-12 funding.
If you can find more money for education, though, we would propose that you INVEST in early childhood education, our second legislative priority. As you know, it is well documented that there is a 7-to-1 return on investment for pre-K programs: for every one dollar spent, seven dollars are saved. That figure includes all costs to society—including the cost of dropouts, crime and teen pregnancy. We are well aware that some of you are passionate about this issue, and we know you’ve sought to lower the cap for the local match required for the Virginia Preschool Initiative funding. We hope you will continue to try to convince your colleagues of the importance of this. After all, support for Pre-K programs is bipartisan; Arne Duncan is pushing it; the Governor-elect is behind it – it’s time to get it done.
For our third priority, we’re asking that you ROLLBACK the so-called 2013 education reform agenda. I cannot exaggerate our board’s concern with two specific initiatives that were passed last year:
- First, the A-F grading system. Our board views A-F grades as an oversimplification of all of the factors that make up a school and its surrounding community. We would prefer to see a system that is more comprehensive and provides useful information about school performance.
- Second, the Opportunity Educational Institution. We view this institution as an affront to the local control of schools, putting the power in the hands of a group that is even further removed from the students it serves. We would much prefer to see locally-based solutions that include policy and resource assistance from the state.
Our fourth – and perhaps most well-understood – priority is REFORMing the SOLs. If you read any of our legislative program, I would highly recommend the section that focuses on our vision for reforming the SOLs. We know that both parties and the Governor-elect have expressed interest in reforming these tests, and Fairfax County wants to be at the table as you examine how to redraft them. In fact, our district-wide strategic focus this year is to determine better measures of student achievement. By July, we hope to be able to provide you with our vision for these better measures. What we are looking for are tests that gauge a student’s mastery of 21st century skills—including creativity, communication, collaboration and critical thinking. For example, last year ten of our high schools participated in a pilot PISA test, which stands for Program for International Student Assessment. This test, many of us feel, better gauged how well our students have grasped the 4 Cs and gave principals extensive information about how they can improve student performance in those areas.
Lastly, we urge you to Prevent New Mandates. Our budget staff has calculated that our school system spends in excess of $100 million on unfunded mandates annually. In isolation, the issues addressed by mandates might be worth pursuing. For example, over the past few years we’ve seen unfunded requirements for:
- An economics and personal finance course requirement
- Epi-pen availability
- CPR Certification for teachers
- 2% raise in teacher salaries
These aren’t bad things. But implementation of them not only requires money, it also requires staff time and resources. We can no longer bear these extraneous financial burdens.
Remember—these five legislative priorities were approved unanimously by the board, across party, geographic—and even age—borders. We hope you will have our backs by supporting them in Richmond.