As I prepare for the upcoming session of the Virginia General Assembly, which begins on Wednesday Jan. 11, I am working on a legislative agenda and budget priorities that address the needs of everyday working Virginians, including healthcare, public education, transportation and infrastructure. I intend to work diligently with progressive colleagues in the House of Delegates and Senate to deflect the misguided interpretation of the recent presidential election that Republicans somehow have a mandate to pursue a conservative social and economic agenda. After all, Hillary Clinton won the Commonwealth of Virginia. While the expertly gerrymandered district map for the Virginia General Assembly continues to produce large majorities for Republicans in the House of Delegates and a thin majority in the Senate, in 2016 the Courts stepped in and redrew Virginia’s bizarre U.S. Congressional district map, restoring a bit of integrity, and resulting in one additional Democratic Congressman among Virginia’s eleven seats.
During this session I expect we will face challenges affecting women’s healthcare rights, immigrant due process rights, and efforts to reinstate sanctions and limit options for Virginia’s large population of Deferred Action Childhood Arrival students. Just as I supported extending Virginia in-state tuition to these students, I will oppose any efforts to reverse this policy under the guise of Federal pressure from the Trump administration.
Here at the beginning of the session, I am delighted to report that I have been selected to receive the Michael S. Harris award from the Virginia chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) for “exemplary service in support of higher education by a Virginia Public Official.” The AAUP cited legislation I have sponsored “to provide anti-discrimination protection for sexual and gender minorities in the Virginia Human Rights Act, and to provide in-state tuition for immigrant children in Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. The AAUP considers these measures to be vital for inclusivity in academe and as essential for the free exchange of ideas. Delegate Kory supports openness in government, including her 2016 measure to allow the public the right to speak at open meetings of government bodies.”
The AAUP is a faculty membership organization, founded in 1915, that helps to shape American higher education by developing the standards and procedures that maintain quality in education and academic freedom in this country’s colleges and universities. Colonel Michael S. Harris was Professor of French at VMI and a past president of the Virginia Conference of the AAUP. The award honors his memory.
Support for public education should be a litmus test for “make America great again” voters. Securing adequate funding for higher education is a continuous battle, even though there is near universal acceptance of the value created by high-quality, public, post-secondary education.
That said, state government is shirking its responsibility to offer all qualified residents access to affordable, high quality post-secondary public education. This failure is an important cause of the burgeoning student debt crisis, which, in turn, is a millstone limiting upward mobility for working and middle class students. Strategic and sustained investment in public education must be a foundational element of any “make America great again” plan.
I do not accept the contention that private, for profit post-secondary education companies can effectively meet the needs of the increasingly diverse population of high school graduates and adults pursuing advancement that we expect to emerge as the revitalized, high skill, technologically capable, new middle class. Even if new regulations imposing accountability on private education companies that depend on federally guaranteed student debt happen to survive into the Trump administration, fear of the costs incurred and the related debt will offer a bad deal for students.
At the same time, we have to acknowledge that the rate of higher education cost increases is unsustainable. Our public institutions today must work out new ways deliver the knowledge and facilitate the personal growth experience of traditional four year colleges.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at DelKKory@house.virginia.gov.