“Teachers matter. They deserve our support. And I want to make sure that we are constantly lifting up how important teachers are to making sure…this country succeeds.” – President Barack Obama
Anyone tracking bills affecting teachers introduced in this session of the General Assembly quickly discovers that the GOP in Virginia doesn’t agree with the President’s premise that teachers “deserve our support.” Instead, they’ve declared war.
Greg Habeeb (R-Salem) and Ralph Smith (R-Roanoke) introduced bills that would let school divisions wait until June 15 to inform people that they have no job the coming August. Presently, teachers have to be notified by April 15, giving them time to seek another teaching position. Chris Stolle (R-Virginia Beach) has a bill allowing any local school board to switch all its employees to a defined contribution retirement, effectively destroying the Virginia Retirement System for future teachers in that locality. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) sponsored a bill allowing public charter schools to opt out of VRS and have up to 50% of their teachers unlicensed by the state.
Perhaps the worst bill before the Assembly is Dickie Bell’s (R-Staunton). It would eliminate teacher tenure and the right to a hearing before the school board if a teacher who has attained a continuing contract is summarily fired. It would also change the probationary period for new teachers from three to five years, the time when they can be fired without cause. After that, teachers would be given three-year contracts for the rest of their career, meaning that in times of tight budgets many school boards would get rid of their most expensive (i.e., most experienced) teachers.
These GOP bills are meant to take away the very things that make teaching an attractive option for college graduates.
Teachers give up the ability to get promotions throughout their careers. In return, they have had job security if they continue to prove they are competent. Also, the VRS retirement system has freed retired teachers from the vagaries of the stock market, which devastated many retirement funds in the market crash of 2008-2009.
In most school divisions, teachers have had no raise for three or four years, including step raises that reward experience. Additionally, new teachers now contribute 5% of their gross salary to VRS. (One bill before the legislature wpuld raise that to 6%.) There have been reductions in teaching staff, resulting in larger class sizes. Evidently, those stresses aren’t enough for the GOP. Now, those guys are attacking job security and retirement plans. To top it off, Bob McDonnell has even proposed taking money in the General Fund for schools and other social needs and use it for asphalt instead.
At a time when the ability of the United States to compete in the global market requires a highly educated populace, too many Republicans in Virginia are declaring war on public education. Don’t ever believe that Republicans in Virginia are friends of public education. Their actions prove that they are education’s – and teachers’ – enemy.