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Teachers rally for public school funding

A crowd of more than 200 people chanted, “Senate stand firm!” as the last speaker stepped off the podium and into the swarm of Virginia Education Association members and supporters at a Capitol Square rally this week.

The rally, which took place Monday at the Bell Tower on the Capitol grounds, focused on funding for public education in kindergarten through high school. Educators bemoaned budget cuts that public schools have experienced in recent years and said the trend must be reversed.

Ten speakers at the rally urged support for the Senate’s version of the 2012 state budget – instead of the House’s version. The Senate plan would increase funding for public schools.

The advocates included the presidents of the Virginia NAACP, the Virginia School Boards Association and the Virginia Association of School Superintendents.

“We expect education to be the top priority of our legislature and make sure that education gets a fair share,” said Marie Harris-Jones, a Petersburg resident representing two nonprofit groups – JustChildren and the Alliance for Virginia’s Students. “Our children and the long-term health of our community are depending on it.”

At the rally, speakers said budget cuts already have damaged public education in Virginia:

• More than 4,400 positions have been eliminated in the state’s public schools during the past two years.

• Class sizes have increased, reducing the attention each student can receive from the teacher.

• School divisions have been forced to cut programs, eliminate electives and increase student fees.

• Instructional supplies and equipment funding have been cut.

• Per pupil funding has decreased from $5,300 in 2008-09 to $4,500 in 2011-12, a reduction of 15 percent.

Speakers said it’s time to undo the damage, not make it worse.

“You can’t have a good community if you can’t have good schools,” said Edwin Daley, vice president of the Virginia Municipal League.

The General Assembly is amending the state’s budget for the 2012 fiscal year. Gov. Bob McDonnell has requested $5.5 billion for K-12 education. The Senate’s amendments would provide additional funding of more than $100 million for public schools.

In contrast, the budget amendments approved by the House of Delegates would provide about $93 million less than the governor’s proposal. A committee of senators and delegates is negotiating on a final budget.

Besides school funding, speakers turned the crowd’s attention to House Bill 2314 sponsored by Delegate James P. “Jimmie” Massie III, R-Henrico.

The bill would establish a tax credit for corporations that donate to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships to low-income students to attend non-public elementary and secondary schools.

The VEA and its supporters oppose the bill because they say it would benefit private schools and undermine public schools.

VEA President Kitty Boitnott said the state-assisted scholarships in effect would be vouchers for students to attend private schools.

“When did we last have school vouchers in Virginia?” Boitnott asked. She said the Rev. J. Rayfield Vines Jr., president of the Virginia State Conference of the NAACP, “can tell you: in the era of Massive Resistance, when many public schools were closed rather than letting children of color into the classrooms of Virginia.

"Now the House wants a voucher rebirth in Virginia.”

Boitnott called HB 2314 “a school voucher bill in the guise of tuition tax credits, and our governor supports it.”

McDonnell has said that scholarships supported by tax credits would help provide more opportunities for low-income students.

“This tax credit will open the door to new educational opportunities for more of our young people. By incentivizing business leaders to donate to organizations that provide scholarships, we will help our children gain access to new educational opportunities, with no cost to the state,” the governor said last month in laying out his education agenda.

“Education is opportunity, and every student deserves the opportunity of the very best education we can give them.”

Massie agreed, saying, “Too often students aren’t able to reach their full potential because the school they attend is not the best fit and their families can’t afford to send them to a nonpublic school. By providing this tax incentive for employers, we will be able to provide school options for students and their parents, in order for them to get the education they deserve, at no cost to the state.”

To track or comment on House Bill 2314, visit http://www.richmondsunlight.com/bill/2011/hb2314 To mo.nitor legislative negotiations on the state budget, see http://leg2.state.va.us/MoneyWeb.NSF/sb2011
Community

Rotary donates to ‘Bright Beginnings’

The Sandston Rotary Club recently donated $1,000 to the Sandston YMCA for its Bright Beginnings program, which helps provide children in need with school supplies for the new school year. > Read more.

Author, child abuse survivor to speak at Henrico event

To help celebrate twenty years of service to advocating for abused and neglected children in Henrico County, Henrico Court Appointed Special Advocates, Inc. (CASA) will host an evening with bestselling author K.L. Randis on Tuesday, Aug. 26, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Belmont Recreation Center in Lakeside.

Randis is best known for her bestselling novel, Spilled Milk, which tells her painful – but ultimately triumphant – personal story of abuse and of child abuse prevention. The book is her first novel.

The event is free to the public, but seating is limited Reservations may be made by e-mailing .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Belmon Recreation Center is located at 1600 Hilliard Road. > Read more.

Philippines ambassador to the US visits Filipino Festival in Henrico


The Ambassador of the Philippines to the United States Jose L. Cuisia, Jr. attended the Ninth Annual Filipino Festival at Our Lady of Lourdes Church earlier this month. Cuisia (pictured above with festival performers) was welcomed by County Manager John Vithoulkas and Brookland District Supervisor Dick Glover (below) at the church, which is located in Lakeside.

While enjoying some of the cultural performances at the festival, the ambassador and his wife had a private lunch with Vithoulkas, Glover, Eldon Burton (an outreach representative from U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner’s Office) and Father James Begley, the pastor of OLL. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


For our Top 10 calendar events this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Bottoms up

Short Pump brewery offers more than just beer
I am still (happily) thinking about my entire experience at Rock Bottom Restaurant and Brewery last week. Knowing nothing about this new brewery out of Denver, I was leery of brew-pub in the heart of Short Pump Town Center – this is not what I’d usually think of as a perfect fit, and yet, it was.

The restaurant and craft brewery opened in early June and features 10 beers made by female brewmaster Becky Hammond (pictured). This is the restaurant’s second location in Virginia; the first is in Arlington. Behind glass walls, customers watched the beer brewing in massive steel barrels. For our up-and-coming beer region, it makes sense that Short Pump would jump on board.

As I walked up to the back of the mall near the comedy club, I was taken aback by what I saw: at the top of the stairs was an overflowing restaurant with outdoor seating, large umbrellas and dangling outdoor lights. > Read more.

Cultural Arts Center announces 2014 fall class schedule

The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen is now registering participants for its fall 2014 schedule of classes.

The center will offer more than 100 classes for children and adults, covering topicssuch as culinary arts, fiber arts, visual and performance arts and more. Instruction is structured to appeal to a wide range of abilities, from beginners to experts of all ages. Class sizes are kept small to ensure maximum benefit for participants with generally no more than 15 students. > Read more.

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