Since my last posting on January 17th, I have been busy monitoring the General Assembly; attended the 2010 Mid-Atlantic Conference in Cincinnati; traveled to the Tidewater and NOVA regions for two more Presidents’ Dinners; conducted a press conference; held a Tele-Town Hall meeting; chaired the January VEA Board of Directors meeting; and met with the new Secretary of Education, Gerard Robinson.
As I write this post, I am snowed in—like most of my fellow Virginians—watching the third major snowstorm of this winter and the second one in a week. Last weekend, I was snowed in at the Embassy Suites about six miles from my home because by the time we recessed our Board meeting that had started at 10:00 a.m. on Saturday morning, the roads were too treacherous to try to navigate my way home and have any hope of returning for the rest of our board meeting on Sunday. The members of the board who were also snowed in made the best of the situation, sometimes playing in the snow while digging their cars out of the snow banks that surrounded the cars in the hotel parking lot.
In spite of the snow, we had a hugely successful VEA Lobby Day on Monday, February 1st. About 200 VEA members from all over the state showed up for the briefings either Sunday night or Monday morning. I cannot thank those folks enough. Their determination to show up in spite of the weather conditions speaks to their dedication to their jobs and also speaks to their understanding that we are facing some dire circumstances with regard to this year's General Assembly session.
We also had a few thousand members tune in to our Tele-Town Hall meeting on Thursday, January 28th while Robley Jones, Tom Allen, and I talked about the serious budget shortage that we are anticipating and some of the proposed changes in our Virginia Retirement System. I wish I could convey to our members just how hard our VEA lobbying cadre is working on their behalf. We have worked tirelessly to protect our VRS program; and we are also ever diligent in our efforts to kill off bad bills and promote those that we believe would be beneficial.
It's all an uphill battle, however. Our legislators in the House of Delegates seem to have undertaken a full out assault on public education with their cuts only approach to the budget. They have also taken steps to send the message that they don't trust local school boards to make decisions that they would rather make for them while not seeming to care about not being able to meet their financial responsibility to the school divisions around the state.
It leaves me wondering about leadership and the lack of it that I witness everyday.
While members of the House of Delegates prepare to gut school funding, they blissfully go about insisting on more tax cuts for the wealthy and for corporations. They would permanently change the SOQ funding with no regard for their constitutional duty to "provide a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained."
Where has visionary leadership gone? There was a day, I believe, when legislators governed with a sense of deep responsibility toward their constituents--including children of future generations. Somewhere along the way, however, long range planning has become a thing of the past. Concern about future generations makes for good rhetoric but not for realistic action.
Legislators routinely speak out of both sides of their mouths. They claim the need to govern from Richmond such local issues as when school divisions can start school and what sorts of things need to be included in the day-to-day curriculum, but when it comes to sending the state's fair share of funding so that teachers can be paid a decent salary and students can continue to count on important programs like full day kindergarten or art and music, they claim that that isn't their responsibility. I believe that some have either never read the Constitution of Virginia and therefore really don't understand their duty or they have deliberately chosen to ignore their constitutional duty to the citizens of Virginia. Either way, what they are doing is, in my opinion, unconscionable.
What I entreat those reading this post to do is to start paying close attention to what is going on in Richmond this winter. The unusual snow storms that we have experienced are not the only historic events that are taking place. What is also about to take place is a gutting of historic proportions of our school funding at the state level. Our children are being robbed of their futures, and it is happening right under our noses.
I urge readers to monitor the VEA's legislative update daily at http://www.veadailyreports.com/ and to read your local newspapers to try to keep up with what is happening in Richmond.
Respond to the Cyberlobbying action alerts and information alerts. If you aren't yet a Cyberlobbyist, please sign up. You may do that by going to http://www.veadailyreports.com/2009/11/become-vea-cyber-lobbyist.html.
We need our members to take action.
Write your legislators. Call the legislative hotline.
Let your legislators know that shortchanging our children is not an option. We need them to do the job that they were elected to do--responsibly.
Until next time.