At a forum in the Westover Library in Arlington’s East Falls Church district last week, four of the most powerful women in Virginia lined up to share their support for public education, made poignant by how it is constantly under attack from proponents of vouchers and budget cuts as reflective of this November’s Virginia’s gubernatorial election. Led by former Virginia first lady and daughter of late president Lyndon Johnson, Lynda Robb, educator and wife of Virginia lieutenant governor and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Pam Northam, Dorothy McAuliffe, educational advocate and wife of current Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe, and former Virginia education secretary and wife of U.S. Senator Tim Kaine, Anne Holton.
Robb noted that her father, President Johnson, held that “the architects of the nation’s future are teachers.” Northam said that “K-12 education is the bedrock of our democracy.” McAuliffe,a supporter of early childhood nutritional programs, said, “There is no more valuable investment than education,” and Holton decried the “teacher shortage” in Virginia, noting that “we’re always asking our teachers to do more for less,” to the point that many teachers are on food stamps and need to take second jobs to make ends meet. She said that “the strongest teachers should be working at our neediest schools.”
Virginia is 32nd of the nation’s 50 states in teacher salary levels, and Jim Livingston, president of the Virginia Education Association present at the forum noted that even beyond salaries, teachers value the resources they need to do their jobs well. “This is more important to them than money,” he said. Other important figures at the Thursday event included State Senator Barbara Favola, Princess Moss of the National Education Association, Jim Wittington of the Virginia Education Association and Ingrid Gant of the Arlington Education Association. Amanda Blanchard of the Falls Church Education Association was also present.
The outcome of the November election between Democrat Ralph Northam’s support for public education and his Republican opponent’s preference for vouchers and tax cuts (when 37 percent of the state budget is dedicated to education) “will determine whether public education lives or dies in Virginia,” Holton said.