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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

Commonwealth Parenting, CMoR-Short Pump to present 6-part parenting forum series

As part of its 30th anniversary year and partnership with the Children's Museum of Richmond, Commonwealth Parenting will present a six-part RVA Parents Forum Series to address some of the toughest issues confronting parents.

Parenting experts and family educators will tackle topics ranging from bullying to alcohol, sex to divorce, and technology and stress. Parents will learn how to identify potential problems.

"We're excited about bringing this much-needed forum series to parents in central Virginia. Through our valuable partnership with Commonwealth Parenting, we can have a deeper impact in the community through parent and caregiver education," said Karen Coltrane, president and CEO of the Children's Museum of Richmond. > Read more.

Celebrating 106 years

Former Sandston resident Mildred Taylor celebrated her 106th birthday Aug. 9. Taylor, who now lives in Powhatan, is still a member of Sandston Baptist Church. She was visited the day after her birthday by several members of the church, who played for her a recording of the entire church membership singing happy birthday to her during worship. > Read more.

YMCA breaks ground for aquatic center

YMCA officials gathered last week to break ground on the new Tommy J. West Aquatic Center at the Shady Grove Family YMCA on Nuckols Road. The center, which will featured 7,600 square feet of competitive and recreational space, including water slides, play areas for children and warmer water for those with physical limitations, is the fourth phase of a $4 million expansion at the facility. West was president and CEO of Capital Interior Contractors and a founding member of the Central Virginia Region of the Virginia Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Check out these three B’s in Henrico this weekend: books, bluegrass and “Born Yesterday.” Other activities to participate in – and feel good about – are the 15th annual James River Regional Cleanup and the 5th annual Richmond Out of the Darkness Community Walk. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

When the cliche stands tall

Inspirational football movie tries too hard for its own good
When the Game Stands Tall is based on a true story – an unbelievable true story that takes the word “inspiring” about as far as it can go.

It’s a film about Bob Ladouceur, coach of the De La Salle High Spartans, a California high school football team with 12 consecutive undefeated seasons (a staggering 151 games won in a row).

Along the way, Ladouceur (played by Jim Caviezel) faced the kind of hardship most football coaches (thankfully) can only imagine – suffering a near-fatal heart attack, the death of a star player, and rebuilding the team after that 151-game streak came to a humiliating end. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


Enjoy political comedy at its finest with The Capitol Steps at The Cultural Arts Center at Glen Allen. Methodist and Baptist churches unite for the fourth annual Mission Footprint 5K, taking place at Trinity UMC. Or in honor of Grandparent’s Day on Sunday, treat them to A Grand Family Affair or maybe a movie – the 1978 film “Superman” is at the Henrico Theatre. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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The Shady Grove Coffeehouse at the Unitarian Universalist Community Church, 11105 Cauthorne Rd., begins its 14th season with Richmond-based bluegrass band East of Afton at 8 p.m. Admission is $12… Full text

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