Friday, June 21, 2024

Primaries, Graduations, & Education Funding, oh my!

Congratulations to the winners of this week’s primary elections, especially Gerry Connolly in the nearby 11th Congressional District. Gerry has been an amazing representative for Fairfax County and Northern Virginia and I’m sure he will continue to make us all proud. 

Congratulations also to Suhas Subramanyam, who will be campaigning to succeed my friend Jennifer Wexton in the 10th Congressional District, and Eugene Vindman, who will try to hold on to the 7th Congressional District seat currently held by Abigail Spanberger (who has announced a run for Governor in 2025). 


For a state with a part-time legislature, serving in the House of Delegates is a surprisingly busy job all year round.  


While our regular sessions alternate between 60 and 45 days in January and February, lately we’ve been summoned back to Richmond for Special Sessions more often than not. And with Democrats back in the majority, and my seniority number putting me in the most senior quartile of legislators, I’ve got plenty to do.  


April was the Reconvene Session. May was the budget special session.  Now, we’ve been called back for another Special Session on June 28th to tweak budget language around the eligibility of certain veteran’s family members entitlement to free tuition at Virginia colleges and universities 


When we aren’t meeting in regular, reconvened, or special sessions, we have commission, council and interim committee meetings to attend. 


At this year’s first meeting of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act Council meeting, I was elected Chair. In May, I was elected Chair of the Virginia Code Commission.  


Earlier in June, I spent a lot of time with the 2024 senior classes as I had the honor of participating in their graduation ceremonies. For those with kids or family members who graduated, you might have seen me on stage. I'm extra proud this year as my youngest graduated from McLean High School, which means that Rachel and I will be empty nesters pretty soon! 


As a parent of two (soon to be) college students who went through the Fairfax County Public School system, I've seen firsthand the importance of investing in our kids' education, in our teachers, and in our school support staff. I'm grateful for the teachers and administrators who persevered through the pandemic and who did their best to make virtual classrooms a positive learning environment. 


JLARC Report & Education Funding 


When the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission's (JLARC) education report came out last year (did I mention I was appointed to serve on JLARC too?), it highlighted that Virginia underfunded K-12 education by $4 billion a year. Although we had been increasing teacher pay and investing in school construction in recent years, it was clear that more needed to be done. 


This is why the 2024-2026 Biennial State Budget that we passed last month, and that kicks in on July 1st, is such a big deal - it includes an historic investment of $20.9 billion into our public education system. 


By The Numbers 


This budget has an unprecedented $2 Billion in new investments, including a 6% salary increase over the biennium for teachers and support staff. Falls Church City Public Schools will receive $10.35 million. 


The budget bill also requires the Virginia Department of Education to enter into contracts to deliver high-quality mental health services at public schools. This includes $5 million for school-based mental health integration grants plus $12 million allocated for child psychiatry and children’s crisis response services.


There is also $10 million for the Virginia Mental Health Access Program (VMAP), which addresses shortages of pediatric mental health specialists. This is a $4 million increase from last year! 


We’ve also allocated $370 million for At-Risk Add-On, which supports economically disadvantaged students as well as over $70 million to support English language learners. 


We substantially increased funding for early childhood education to $1.1 billion and passed a separate bill to improve the availability of childcare and early education services. 


During the 2024 Session, we also defeated Republican attacks on our public education system - from proposals to use taxpayer dollars to fund charter schools to underpaying our teachers to a concerted effort to whitewash our history and ban books in our school libraries. 


While there are still some goals from the JLARC report that we need to meet, this year's budget sets us on the right path. I look forward to working with my colleagues to continue our upward trajectory.