Richmond Free Press Op-Ed 2/17/2022

Focused on Funding our Schools

Tuesday marked the halfway point for the 2022 General Assembly Session. Now each chamber has completed the work on our bills and sent them over to the other house for consideration. So far, a total of 22 of my bills have passed the Senate!

Education has been a major theme of the session. As the daughter of third-generation educators, a product of Chesterfield Public Schools, and mother of children in Richmond Public Schools, education has always been a top priority for me. I’ve fought my entire legislative career to fully fund our public education needs, from teacher pay, to support staff, to school construction and renovation. I’ve worked to address inequities and ensure that every child is being taught what they need to become the workers and leaders of tomorrow, regardless of their zip code.

COVID made that work more difficult and more important than ever before.   

I have seen firsthand how many students and staff are struggling. From mental health issues, to learning loss, to staffing shortages – they are not ok. It’s time to make historic investments in public education. 

For several years, I have introduced legislation to fully implement the Board of Education recommended Standards of Quality (“SOQs”). The Board’s SOQs are created to promote educational parity, support the hiring of educators and support staff, and help all schools to achieve their graduation standards. Last year, I was able to make some progress when the General Assembly amended and passed my SOQ bill to adopt a standard of 3 specialized student support positions (social workers, psychologists, nurses, health/ behavioral profession) per every 1,000 students.

This year, the General Assembly built on that progress by increasing the ratio to 4 per 1,000 students. While I am disappointed that we still have not adopted the full SoQs, I am pleased we are addressing the most critical support staffing needs. Our children can’t learn if they’re sick or have mental health conditions that are impacting their ability to learn, and increasing the number of social workers, nurses and health/behavioral professionals is important as our children deal with the additional stress the COVID-19 crisis has placed on our children. 

A modern school building is another essential ingredient to provide a world-class education for children in every corner of the Commonwealth. Yet across Virginia we have too many children learning in outdated and crumbling buildings. To address this problem, I passed legislation in 2020 creating the Commission on School Construction and Modernization.

Over the past year, I have chaired the Commission as it examines the condition of our schools and the ability of localities to pay for maintenance, renovations, and construction of new schools. Our work found that more than half of the public school buildings in Virginia are more than 50 years old, and the estimated replacement cost of these buildings is $24.8 billion. We found additional significant unmet maintenance and renovation needs.  Many localities face significant challenges in funding these projects.  

The Senate passed five out of the seven bills recommended by the Commission to help address our school infrastructure needs. 

These are just a few of the many steps we must take now to address the needs of our public schools. 

I look forward to sharing more updates from the General Assembly — and hearing from you. Please feel free to share your views on legislation with me at [email protected] or (804) 698-7509. You can also follow me on Twitter and Instagram @JennMcClellanVA or on Facebook @SenJenniferMcClellan. More information on my 2022 legislative agenda can be found at jennifermcclellan.com. 

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