My Plan to Address Virginia’s Teacher Shortage
I fundamentally believe that a sound education system is the foundation of a strong society. We owe it to our children to give them the education they need to build a better future, and nobody is more devoted to that selfless mission than our educators. Unfortunately, with over 1,200 unfilled teacher positions, Virginia has a fundamental problem that COVID-19 only exacerbated. In Richmond, I will be a champion for our public schools and their employees as we seek to give every student the tools they need to succeed.
Raise teacher pay and give them the resources they need to succeed
As it stands, Virginia is one of the worst states in the nation for teacher pay. Across the country, Virginia has the 8th highest average salary for full-time workers, but we rank 34th in average teacher pay. This disparity is unacceptable; we must raise teacher pay. As your Delegate, I will work to ensure that we deliver a state budget that closes the educator pay gap.
We must also address the all-too-common situation of teachers paying out of pocket for basic classroom necessities. Nearly all public school teachers report spending almost $480 a year of their own money on classroom supplies. No other profession offloads such significant costs to its employees; we should not expect it of teachers. We must readily equip our facilities to educate our students with all the materials they need.
Leverage common-sense licensure and salary policies
As Virginia continues to invest in STEM and technical education, our demand for sector-qualified teachers rises. We need to take a modern approach to how we license our teachers and scale salaries in response to experience. A chemist with a decade of experience in labs that transitions to teaching chemistry ought to have that experience recognized in the same way we acknowledge teaching experience.
Virginia’s Career Switcher Alternative Route to Licensure Program is an unprecedented step in expanding our pool of educators. However, to fully realize this, we must ensure that our program providers offer the endorsements our educators need to fulfill VDOE’s critical teaching shortage areas, including special education, career and technical education, and foreign languages.
Create and expand teaching career pathways
Loudoun County Public Schools’ Teacher Cadet program demonstrates a forward-thinking plan to give students interested in pursuing education a hands-on experience. “Grow Your Own” (GYO) programs like these are the first step in expanding pathways for students to immediately be effective educators in their communities, opening pathways to raising the next generation of teachers. We must expand teaching career pathways like these to our paraeducators, substitutes, and local community members, incentivizing their creation in every Virginia school district and giving them the funding to continue.
GYO programs across the Commonwealth help us invigorate local communities of teachers and significantly diversify our educational workforce.
Pass people-first policies
Educational policy isn’t the only thing that affects teachers. When we improve the quality of life for all Virginians, our teachers prosper. That’s why it’s so essential for us to invest in our school infrastructure, improving the quality of our educational facilities through data-backed methods and state dollars.
Further, we must work to bring down housing costs, so our teachers can live in the same communities where they work. Our teachers need us to act on paid family and medical leave to give them and their families one less thing to worry about, and we’ve got to ensure every teacher has the transportation infrastructure they need to get to work on time.
I know that our path to actualizing this change will not be easy, but it is the right one to embark upon. The work that our educators, school administrators, substitute teachers, and staff do is foundational to the success of our communities. We owe it to them to treat it that way.