New Commonwealth Education Secretary Gerald Robinson has an impressive resume (BA Howard University; M Ed, Harvard) and a national reputation as an advocate of public authorization and funding for Charter Schools.
Formerly, he was President of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) a “national nonprofit, nonpartisan organization whose mission is to actively support parental choice to empower families and to increase quality educational options for Black children.”
Though we may have disagreements on means, I share with Secretary Robinson a belief in the urgency and priority of closing the achievement gap between majority students, black and, I would add, Hispanic students in our school systems across the Commonwealth. In our meeting in my office last week, I found Secretary Robinson to be down-to-earth and eager to learn about the mix of educational challenges we face in Virginia. I was happy to hear him acknowledge that Charter Schools are a potential solution for Districts unable to make progress with their existing portfolio of public education options. He was quite complementary regarding Fairfax County’s record in fostering minority achievement gains.
Of course, the “elephant in the room” (pun intended) for public education in Virginia is funding. There will be cuts, but, as many of my educational activist friends know, there was good news this week for Northern Virginia. Kudos to the entire legislative delegation and local officials from both parties for convincing Governor McDonnell to “unfreeze” the formula used to distribute state aid to local school divisions. This proposed change to the current budget calculation of the Local Composite Index (LCI) will bring $61 million in new education funding to Fairfax County and nearly $140 million to all of Northern Virginia.
The original proposal would have used 2005 data rather than updating the formula with 2007 data, thereby denying Fairfax County Schools and other growing school districts their fair share of funding. As you know, I have been working to further update the LCI to include cost factors like percent of ESOL students. Even though the current index does disadvantage some Northern Virginia districts, it is an impartial and predictable method of calculating education funding on an annual basis. This action is an important bipartisan step towards balancing the Commonwealth’s budget.
Our House Democratic caucus has focused on this issue since the 2010 session began. Governor McDonnell’s proposal, if enacted, provides an improved foundation for educational funding in Northern Virginia during the fiscal downturn. Now we must look to our local governments to step up and protect our schools. It is the most important investment we make as taxpayers.
There are two important dates I would urge you to put on your calendar. First, I am hosting a town meeting on Saturday morning February 20 from 10 a.m. to noon at Belvedere Elementary School. Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw and his wife State Board of Education Member Eleanor Saslaw have agreed to join us. We hope to hear about your issues and concerns, and we will discuss the current legislative agenda.
Finally, please remember that we have a special election on Tuesday March 2 to fill the Mason District School Board seat. I strongly support Sandy Evans, a long-term Mason District resident, public school parent and school activist, who understands the diverse needs of Mason District. Sandy has also been endorsed by five current and two past School Board Members, by Congressman Gerry Connolly, Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross, FAIRGRADE, Fairfax CAP and the Fairfax County Democratic Committee.
Delegate Kory represents the 38th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. She may be emailed at DelKKory@house.virginia.gov.