Senator Dick Saslaw’s Richmond Report

The summer heat is in full swing and the campaigns for the general election in November are heating up. With less than 100 days until we elect 40 senators, 100 delegates, and countless local offices, candidates are focusing on fundraising and getting their message out to voters. We are starting to see staggering amounts of money flooding into races across the Commonwealth, especially in the most competitive districts.

In preparation for the election, Republicans have made a surprising decision. They have launched a state-wide initiative to encourage their voters to use early and absentee ballots. Since the 2020 presidential election, Republicans have claimed absentee ballots and early voting gives an unfair advantage to Democrats and puts election integrity at risk. Just this year, Republicans introduced legislation to roll back these policies, making voting harder for people. Fortunately, those bills didn’t make it past our Democrat-led Senate Privileges and Elections Committee, but the bills’ intent was clear. Make no mistake, I am glad Republicans are finally supporting these policies. I only hope they will continue to do so in the future.

Governor Youngkin recently announced a change in the Department of Education’s model policies for transgender students. Calling these policies disappointing would be an understatement. Under Democratic leadership, our goals for education have been clear–– foster a safe and welcoming environment for ALL students so they can succeed. Based on the new guidelines, Governor Youngkin does not share the same goal. This new policy places parents above all else, requiring students to receive parental permission for a teacher to use the name and/or pronouns that the student prefers. We know that not all transgender students have supportive families at home, and as a result, they are vulnerable to mental health and housing insecurity issues. School is meant to be a comfortable environment, where students can focus on what really matters: their education. 

The policy also requires students to use the bathroom that matches the sex listed on their school record. If you recall, this issue made headlines years ago as conservative states passed laws forcing people to use restrooms based on their sex assigned at birth. As a result, companies began pulling their business from those states. On a related note, Virginia once again fell short of winning CNBC’s Best State for Business, a title we held twice under Governor Northam. Interestingly enough, we lost points in the “Inclusivity” category. I hope Governor Youngkin will think twice about the greater consequences of implementing controversial policies like this in the future.

Continuing the discussion around education, last month the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) released a startling report. JLARC is a non-partisan research committee that performs studies and provides recommendations to legislators in the General Assembly. Their new report examined our education funding formula, comparing our investment in K-12 education to other states.

The report found Virginia has been underfunding our schools for years. Specifically, we spend 14 percent less, or about $1,900 per student, than the national average. Most notably, our neighbors Maryland, Kentucky, and West Virginia are spending far more per student. This report does not come as a surprise to many teachers and students, who have recognized the need for more funding for years. JLARC estimated a budget of $3.5 billion in total funding would be needed to correct the issue. Like most things, the longer we wait to address the issue, the more costly it is likely to become. 

While this year’s budget has still not been settled, Senate Democrats are continuing to advocate for our proposed budget of $1 billion in additional direct aid to schools. On the other hand, House Republicans and Governor Youngkin are holding out for more tax cuts, offering a meager $400 million in additional school funding. As we await Governor Youngkin’s decision to send us into a Special Session to address the budget stalemate, I hope my Republican colleagues on the Conference Committee will consider this report’s findings when negotiations resume. It would be irresponsible for us to recognize this shortfall and refuse to take any action. Our teachers and students are counting on us. 


  • Dick Saslaw

    Dick Saslaw represents the 35th District in the Virginia State Senate. He may be emailed at