In this week’s newsletter, I address school accreditation, share a message to students across the Commonwealth, relay information from local and state partners, and highlight community engagements from this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read our newsletter and for staying informed.
Last week, the Virginia Department of Education released its statewide accreditation data showing that 89% of the Commonwealth’s schools are fully accredited. Rather than use this opportunity to commend educators and discuss ways to close the remaining accreditation gap, Governor Youngkin seized the opportunity to commit another assault in the long siege of our public schools, and another attack on the value of public services. Our state leaders should commend educators, administrators, and staff for supporting students through one of the most challenging times in recent memory, not attempt to manufacture an accreditation crisis because the facts do not adhere to false talking points.
The schools in the Commonwealth that were not fully accredited received $822 less per student on average in state and local funding than schools that were fully accredited. Students thrive when they have the support and services they need to succeed in the classroom. Teachers excel when they are not struggling to manage large classes, when they are mentored and provided opportunities for professional development, when they are compensated appropriately, and when they are respected as the professionals that they are.
During the 2022 General Assembly session, Virginia Democrats were able to secure almost $400 million through the At-Risk Add-On in the state budget for this school year and next. This critical funding should help close the gap, but we must continue to build on these successes and fund our schools. The focus should be on funding supports that we know work: invest in support positions, ensure students have access to nutritious food while at school, provide support for families, and more. These statistics should be used as a marker to develop a path forward.
Supporting Transgender Students
On Tuesday, thousands of students from across the Commonwealth walked out of their classrooms protesting the Youngkin administration’s recently-issued policies related to the treatment of transgender students in our public schools. In addition to student protests, thousands of public comments have been submitted opposing the policy. The message is clear: bigotry and hate against transgender youth will not be tolerated. I commend these brave students for mobilzing across the state, exercising their right to protest, and for showing support for their transgender peers. You can view my recorded message to students and families here. Through my work at the General Assembly, I will continue to ensure that schools are a safe, welcoming place for all students.
Hurricane Ian impacted the Florida Coast earlier this week, leaving destruction in its wake. I am keeping loved ones in Florida close in my thoughts and wish all Floridians safety over these next few days. Remnants from Hurricane Ian are expected to impact the Commonwealth beginning today, with the greatest threats being high winds, heavy rain, and coastal flooding. The Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) is encouraging residents across Virginia to prepare for the storm. Emergency preparedness materials are available on the VDEM website. VDEM also encourages residents to download the FEMA App to receive weather alerts from the National Weather Service, locate nearby shelters, and more. Additional information on hurricane and disaster preparation is also available in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s ready.gov website.
This Week’s “Banned Book” Selection & Library Card Sign-up Month
I recently stumbled on a curious fact: the Where’s Waldo illustrated books are on the list of the top 100 books banned or targeted for banning in America. Between 1990 and 2000, Where’s Waldo was one of the most banned books in this country. Why? “Nudity.” As readers searched for Waldo in an illustrated beach scene, some spotted a partially topless woman sunbathing. In a book that hardly has any words, that tiny image was enough to trigger horrors for some people. I share this example to highlight the wide variability of what may be deemed as “offensive.” It’s this variability that makes book bans particularly pernicious.
For my final “banned book” selection, I have chosen a book that is much-beloved by generations of children who, in turn, grow up and share this love with their own children: Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are.
This book, like the Harry Potter series, A Wrinkle in Time, and many others, has been challenged in schools and libraries because of its “witchcraft and supernatural elements.” Deemed by some parents as “too frightening” for children, the book acknowledges a child’s capacity for anger; it examines how anger might be channeled into imagination, exploration, darkness, fear, and then demonstrates how to emerge from fear into the security of the familiar.
Published in the early 1960s, Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are continues to be challenged on a variety of grounds, but most objections focus on its darkness. The book and its illustrations surely evoke some primal anxieties – even in adults. It is the evocative nature of the book that has sustained it for so many decades. Books like Where the Wild Things Are help children to grapple with their own complicated feelings and the complex world in which they live. Good literature provokes and challenges us on multiple levels. Such art should be promoted, not banned.
A comprehensive list of banned and challenged books compiled by the American Library Association can be found here.
As we wind down the commemoration of Library Card Sign-up Month, I encourage community members who do not have a library card to visit one of our local library branches and sign up: Powhatan County Public Library, Richmond Public Library, and Chesterfield County Public Library. Our libraries are critical community hubs, providing access to literature, student support services, specialized programming, technology, and more.
Voting is Underway
Although Election Day is November 8, Virginians can vote now. Here are the in-person voting locations for Senate District 10:
In addition to voting early in-person, constituents are also able to request an absentee ballot via mail. The deadline to request an absentee ballot is 5:00pm on Friday, October 28. To check voter registration status, request an absentee ballot to vote by mail, and learn more information about upcoming elections, visit Virginia Department of Elections.
VEC Virtual Job Fair
The Virginia Employment Commission will be hosting a statewide virtual job fair on Wednesday, October 5, from 10:00am until 2:00pm. Interested employers can create a virtual booth for the event and interact with job candidates by visiting this website. Attendance and registration information is available here.
Senate Page Program: Applications are Open
Applications for the Senate Page Program are due in less than a month. The Senate Page Program is a remarkable educational experience for young Virginians who are interested in being a part of the annual General Assembly, learning about policy making, and engaging directly in state government processes. It is a tradition that has been in place for over 150 years.
Selected pages perform administrative duties, participate in team building, and help with day-to-day operations of the General Assembly. Pages are an integral part of the Capitol during the convening of the General Assembly. Pages live in Richmond throughout the duration of the General Assembly, visiting home on the weekends. The well-structured program provides time for Pages to keep up with schoolwork while also engaging in the direct experiences of government and policy making. More information about the program is available at the Senate Page Program.
Applications are now being accepted for the 2023 Senate Page Program, and the application process remains open until 5:00 pm, October 17. Applicants must be residents of the Commonwealth and either 13 or 14 years old on January 11, the first day of the 2023 session. The application is available here.
Community Engagement Highlights
Last Thursday, I joined Delegate Betsy Carr, Secretary of Labor Bryan Slater, and several others at the Virginia Asian American Store Owners Association (VAASOA)’s Mid-Atlantic Convenience Store Expo. Small businesses are the heart of every community, and I thank these entrepreneurs for their commitment to their employees, customers, and Virginia.
Last Thursday evening, I was awarded the Environmental Hero Award by the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. I so appreciate all of the work that the organization does to protect the environment, to fight for environmental justice, and to educate the public and policy makers on how to safeguard our natural resources.
Last Friday, my Chief of Staff spoke with first-year students at Virginia Commonwealth University about the processes of the Virginia General Assembly, community advocacy, and how to craft legislation. My office will be working with the students in Professor Kreydatus’ class throughout the Fall semester through a service-learning partnership.
On Friday, I joined members of the Virginia Asian American and Pacific Islander Caucus (VAAPIC) and our Executive Director for the Virginia Asian Advisory Board’s “Asian American & Pacific Islander Representation in Virginia Government” Conference. Delegates Kathy Tran, Suhas Subramanyam, Irene Shin, and I discussed the importance of diverse representation in government, building the bench for future AAPI community members to run for office, our Caucus’ legislative priorities, and how to broaden the support network of AAPI organizations across the Commonwealth. I thank Justin Lo and other members of the Virginia Asian Advisory Board for their work in planning this important conference.
This past Saturday, I spoke on a panel for the Raise Your Hand 4 Education Leadership Symposium. I shared the urgency with which we must defend public education funding and strive to make our schools more equitable. I also shared the legislative work I’ve done to safeguard Virginia public education, particularly as the Chair of the Senate Public Education Subcommittee.
On Sunday, I hosted a gathering for Mark Miller, who is running in the special election this November for the Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, Midlothian District. Mark is a long-time resident of Midlothian and deeply committed to the community’s prosperity and wellbeing. For those who reside in the Midlothian District, remember that Mark is on the ballot. Early voting has already started at the Registrar’s Office: 9848 Lori Road Chesterfield, VA 23832.
On Tuesday, I attended the "The Economics of Early Childhood" Briefing, co-hosted by the Virginia Chamber Foundation and the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation. The afternoon’s presentations highlighted the critical importance of supporting high quality childcare and early childhood education in the Commonwealth.
Wednesday morning began with a tour of a Planned Parenthood clinic in Richmond’s East End. Delegate Betsy Carr and I had the opportunity to speak with nursing staff and clinicians about the numerous and essential services provided by Planned Parenthood, including health care for diabetes, high blood pressure, contraceptive care, reproductive health care, and mental health services.
Later that Wednesday morning, I also connected with the current cohort of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Humphrey Fellowship Program. This US State Department-administered program brings together emerging leaders from across the world to develop their professional skills and expertise. I have spoken with Humphrey Fellows for a number of years and continue to learn from the wonderful cohorts that join us annually as a part of the VCU community.
Later on Wednesday afternoon, I joined members of the Chesterfield County government in a tour of local businesses in Chesterfield. We visited the planned site of the new Lego manufacturing plant, met with staff at the new Bon Secours Chester Emergency Center, and spoke with the owners and employees of La Michoacana. It’s evident that Chesterfield County is a growing locality, enriched by diverse communities and growing economic and business opportunities.
Connecting With My Office
My staff continue to hold meetings with constituents via Zoom or by phone. You can sign up for a meeting with either of my staff members with our easy scheduling app: