Although Session 2023 adjourned on Saturday, February 25, the pace of activities throughout the Commonwealth continues. Thank you for taking the time to read our newsletter and for staying informed.
A Town Hall on The State of Education in the Commonwealth Last Thursday, Governor Youngkin spoke with CNN’s Jake Tapper on the state of education in the Commonwealth. Audience members included many Virginia residents who sought to address key concerns that impact schools and education in the Commonwealth. Among those concerns are inadequate and uncompetitive salaries for educators, lack of full funding for our school districts, culture wars targeting LGBTQ+ youth, and the push for the creation of charter schools at the expense of public education.
A teacher from Chesterfield raised the first question regarding teacher pay in the Commonwealth. We certainly have to address the low pay of Virginia’s educators; our teachers are paid at rates significantly lower than the national average, and we cannot address the teacher shortage without providing our educators with competitive, professional pay. In response to this teacher’s question, Youngkin touted the 10% pay increase provided by the General Assembly (5% for each of the two years of the biennium budget). However, this 10% teacher pay increase was actually an outgoing budget item from Governor Northam’s administration and pushed aggressively by Democrats in the General Assembly. It’s time for this current administration to demonstrate its own full commitment to public education and teachers in Virginia.
Regrettably, however, while the Youngkin Administration claims to prioritize education, it is actually pushing for a budget that focuses on tax cuts and diverts funding away from our students and educators. This side-by-side provided by The Commonwealth Institute highlights that the Senate, under majority leadership of Democrats, are investing heavily in education; the Youngkin and House budgets are not.
Questions about “school choice” were also raised. School choice is a catch phrase that actually means privatization of public education. Directing public education dollars, as this proposed legislation would have done, defunds our public schools, creates a two-tier model of education built on tax dollars but with little or no accountability, and invariably leaves struggling communities, children, and school districts behind.
Two Years of the American Rescue Plan This week marked the two-year anniversary of President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) which has brought tremendous benefits to both the Commonwealth and the nation. The Biden administration spearheaded one of the largest investments in American economic wellbeing in our country’s history. Below are just a few highlights of how ARPA has secured a better future for all Americans:
When ARPA was passed, the unemployment rate had reached 6.1% and was expected to remain high. However, thanks to ARPA support, the unemployment rate is down to 3.4% after nearly 12 million jobs were created, and the country experienced the fastest economic recovery among advanced economies. Recovery was also much more equitable, with the Black and Hispanic unemployment rates significantly reduced and evictions falling 20% below historic averages.
ARPA funds saved over 13 million Americans an average of $800 a year on healthcare insurance premiums, provided coverage to 3 million previously uninsured Americans, and expanded Medicaid coverage to hundreds of thousands throughout the country.
Virginians saw direct benefits from ARPA, as they received over $9 billion in direct payments to help cover the costs of basic necessities, and many will continue to benefit from the expansion of the earned income tax credit and enhanced unemployment benefits. ARPA also made significant investments in public education, with $2.11 billion going to K-12 schools and another $846 million to colleges and universities.
I am pleased to see new efforts to address gun violence on the federal level. On Tuesday, President Biden joined members of the Monterey Park community to announce an Executive Order to reduce gun violence by increasing the number of background checks performed before firearms purchases; expanding knowledge of extreme risk protection orders, commonly referred to as “red flag laws”; and holding the gun manufacturing industry accountable. These efforts echo what we were able to accomplish in Virginia during past Sessions in 2020 and 2021.
Unfortunately, during this most recent Session, the Republican majority in Virginia’s House of Delegates blocked bills that would save lives and prevent tragedies. The House committee even refused to hear testimony on legislation. Here are just a few bills that passed out of the Senate but were killed in the House:
Senator Dave Marsden’s SB 901 would have imposed a civil penalty of no more than $500 to individuals that leave, place, or store a handgun in an unattended motor vehicle, unless the vehicle is locked. House Republicans killed the bill on a party-line vote in the House Public Safety Subcommittee #1.
SB 1139 from Senator Jennifer Boysko, which would have required that gun owners who reside in a home with a minor or with a person who is prohibited by law from possessing a firearm store their firearm and ammunition in an inaccessible locked container, compartment, or cabinet. House Republicans killed the bill on a party-line vote in the House Public Safety Subcommittee #1.
Senator Deeds’ SB 1382, preventing the sale and possession of assault weapons manufactured after July 1, 2023. The legislation also raised the minimum age from 18 to 21 to possess such a weapon. The bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support, but was killed by House Republicans on a party-line vote in the House Public Safety Subcommittee #1.
No other developed nation in the world is witness to the levels of gun violence that we experience in the United States. It is long past time for our legislators – both at the federal and state level – to move beyond inaction to address gun violence in our communities.
Community Events and Meetings
On Saturday, I joined in the festivities at the 18th Annual Punjabi Mela at Main Street Station. We were welcomed by Bhangra dancers, delicious Punjabi food, and a variety of community members. The Main Street Station was packed all day with visitors streaming in and out to enjoy this special day of celebrations highlighting the diverse cultures of the Commonwealth.
On Sunday afternoon, I joined Senator Jennifer Boysko, Delegates Suhas Subramanyam and David Reid, Commonwealth’s Attorney Buta Biberaj, former Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, and many others supporting Dr. Sumera Rashid’s campaign for Loudoun County School Board. Dr. Rashid is a proven public education champion, whose voice and expertise will be an asset to the Board.
On Wednesday, I joined elected officials and community members from across the Commonwealth for the unveiling of Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn’s official portrait. Delegate Filler-Corn broke numerous glass ceilings as she became the first woman and the first Jewish Speaker of the House in the 404 year history of the Virginia General Assembly. Under her leadership of the House, the General Assembly passed historic legislation for Virginians.
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