by Schuyler VanValkenburg, the Democratic candidate for Delegate in Virginia’s 72nd District, located in Western Henrico County. He teaches history and government at Glen Allen High School and is a father to three young children.
The Trump administration’s budget outlines many policies that would be disastrous, but the one that I am most impassioned by is education. Other parts of the budget are arguably more shocking, like the hundreds of million stolen from health care for the poor, treatment for the opioid epidemic which kills one person per week in Henrico, or the tax-giveaway bonanza to the extraordinarily wealthy at the cost of the national deficit. However, the Trump budget’s demolition of the Education Department gets to the heart of how it would injure Henrico (and Virginia) citizens.
The first program it attacks is Title IIa. This program provides assistance to reduce class sizes and provide teacher training, and it provides Henrico County Public Schools alone $1.1 million per year. Though only a small percentage of Henrico School’s overall budget, in a time of already-tight financial conditions, finding that money “elsewhere” would be painful. It goes towards training teachers how to help students whose English fluency is limited. It helps the county recruit a wider variety of quality candidates, and provides crucial help and training for specialists throughout the system. Why would the Trump administration unilaterally destroy such flexible and important funds, aimed at a central part of maintaining a good school system? Though they claim “redundancies,” it’s clear that they simply don’t understand how such policy choices will tear the rungs off the ladder for so many students.
Henrico has also received hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years from the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which the new budget threatens to entirely eliminate. These grants are aimed at providing before and after school and preschool supplementary programs for low-income students – all the more needed as Henrico experiences a rise in poverty and growth in population. Once again, Trump’s cuts will be felt among the most vulnerable students and the already-tightest budgets here in Henrico, and there will be few options for our county government to respond quickly.
The newly proposed set of national priorities would also degrade other programs which are less directly aimed at the K-12 schools we value so much in Henrico, but would be indirectly devastating. For example, ending the public-service student loan forgiveness program would make it far less likely for talented graduates to choose to enter our schools as teachers. The damage to student loan programs would gut enrollment and graduation at institutions like VCU, University of Richmond, John Tyler, and J Sargent Reynolds that help drive our larger regional economy.
Finally, the budget would push $1 billion toward private school vouchers and other school choice programs, forcing states to privatize education in order to gain access to those federal dollars. This cuts against Richmond metropolitan region in two ways. First, it damages the strong public school system that has underpinned our economic growth. Secondly, it goes against our economic self-interest. The metropolitan region attracts businesses and families because the school systems in the region, especially Henrico’s, are among the top in the state. Privatizing our educational system would adversely affect the region’s ability to attract those business. It would also deflate property values based on good public schools, and drain school resources.
We have consistently seen Henrico citizens and leaders fight for public schools because they understand these realities. Recently Henrico County Public Schools stated in its legislative program that it will “oppose any additional legislation that establishes tuition tax credits … or vouchers.” These privatization policies and larger lack of support for local schools by the GOP lead to painful choices for the county — like the necessity of the Meals Tax here in in Henrico.
Virginia began as a state which deeply valued public education – Madison and Jefferson believed that for the sake of good citizenship, civic society, and social and economic mobility, we needed to nurture and make available the tools of education to all talented young people. We’ve moved their vision closer and closer to reality over time, and Henrico County’s public schools have been central to our county’s opportunity, growth, and expansion. State Republican leaders – especially those in districts like Henrico – need to stand up to their national leadership. Unfortunately, they won’t, because they don’t understand or value the importance of building an educational ladder, and prefer to build educational walls, just like their President.