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A campaign for restoring our education systems

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October 27, 2015

12:25 AM

Virginia is home to some of the most highly-regarded universities in the United States, including the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech and, of course, the College of William and Mary itself. The commonwealth is also home to many highly-regarded K-12 systems. These schools attract students from around the nation and from around the world. Therefore, we are competing with the best students on a global scale — we need to sustain and expand upon our current level of achievement in order to remain competitive and continue to provide world-class educational opportunities for our students.

Local representatives Delegate Monty Mason (D-93) ’89 and State Senator John Miller (D-1) have been among those leading the charge.

One of the most basic elements that must be in place to maintain and improve a successful education system is sufficient funding. Although we acknowledge that funding does not automatically solve problems, it is a basic prerequisite to any other reform. During the 2000s there were massive cuts to higher education funding in Virginia. However, there have been pushes to restore needed funding to our public universities in recent years. Local representatives Delegate Monty Mason (D-93) ’89 and State Senator John Miller (D-1) have been among those leading the charge. Although the Republican-controlled state government had been cutting funding every year for some time, Mason and Miller held the line and played a key role in successfully preventing any further cuts this year.

Both Mason and Miller support increasing the amount of funding that our institutions of higher learning receive from the state, and wish to increase the level of funding to at least as much as it was before the Great Recession. Until funding is restored to our state institutions, we will continue to see skyrocketing tuition costs. In 2000, tuition at the College for an entering undergraduate was $2,300 a year. Now, incoming freshmen and transfer students must pay nearly $14,000 a year in tuition. Given the student debt crisis on the horizon, and the importance of accessible education to allow people to improve their lives and achieve social mobility, we need people like Mason and Miller to represent us and keep our higher education system funded.

The letter grading system for schools would also have been problematic because it would send a negative message to children who attend those schools, and also label the surrounding neighborhoods as undesirable, thus tanking home values in neighborhoods that often already have high poverty rates.

Both politicians have also been leading proponents of K-12 education reform. Since Miller was elected to the State Senate, he has worked to reduce the number of SOL tests that the Commonwealth requires. Last year he was successful in eliminating five SOL tests that elementary and middle schoolers would have had to take. Mason also supported the bill, and Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe signed it into law. The bill passed with the support of school boards from around the state and numerous education advocacy groups. Both representatives also supported repealing an A-F grading system that would have assigned schools a letter grade based on testing results. This initiative soon went on to gain significant bipartisan support.

There are many reasons that these reforms should be applauded. Younger children need more flexibility in their schedules to accommodate emerging individual differences in achievement and personality. Eventually, students must decide whether they want to be invested in their education and whether they will be intellectually curious for the rest of their lives. Forcing them to worry about taking four tests in third grade is not the way to do this. Thankfully, with these reforms third graders will be spared two of those tests. Miller continues to push for further reductions in the number of required tests. The letter grading system for schools would also have been problematic because it would send a negative message to children who attend those schools, and also label the surrounding neighborhoods as undesirable, thus tanking home values in neighborhoods that often already have high poverty rates.

The Virginia Education Association has given both candidates their “Solid as a Rock” award for their unwavering support of public education, and the Virginia State Reading Association has twice recognized Miller with their “Friend of Literacy” award.

Our school systems should be a place where teachers have more time to address individual needs and where children can feel happy. The improved attitudes that students will develop toward learning and education will carry them further in life than worrying about an excessive number of tests or being told that they attend an “F” or a “D” school. For their efforts, Miller and Mason have received numerous awards from educators’ associations and groups that support educational reform. The Virginia Education Association has given both candidates their “Solid as a Rock” award for their unwavering support of public education, and the Virginia State Reading Association has twice recognized Miller with their “Friend of Literacy” award. We would encourage everybody to go out and vote for both Mason and Miller on Election Day this Nov. 3.

William and Mary Young Democrats meets every Wednesday in Washington 301 at 8 p.m. We meet every Saturday at noon on the Terrace in front of the Sadler Center to canvass for Miller and Mason.

This piece was a collaboration within the William and Mary Young Democrats. Email the Young Democrats at [email protected]

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