This week’s newsletter discusses gun violence prevention efforts, reflects on my recent trip to Georgia for the Council of State Governments (CSG) Education Committee conference, shares information about acquiring free, at-home COVID tests, and highlights select community meetings and engagements from this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read this newsletter and for staying informed.
Recent Gun Violence Prevention Efforts
Last Friday, the White House made an historic announcement: the Biden-Harris Administration will establish the first White House Office of Gun Violence Prevention, which will focus on collaborating with state and local lawmakers, policymakers, and law enforcement agencies to implement gun violence prevention strategies. Advocates have been calling for this direct effort at the federal-level to address gun violence, the roots of violence, preventative strategies, centralized data collection and analysis, and trauma-informed support measures. The establishment of this office is an impressive and much-needed step forward to counter the escalation of violence we witness each day in this country.
On Thursday evening, I was honored to stand beside former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords who has dedicated her life to advocating for common sense gun legislation and to supporting candidates across the country through the organization she co-founded, GIFFORDS. Gabby joined us for a fundraiser in support of current Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg. His campaign for the Senate District 16 seat is one of the most competitive races in the state and could determine which party holds the majority in the Virginia Senate. Courage was the common word of the evening last night. Gabby’s remarkable courage is on full display as she continues her work each day to end the scourge of gun violence and the tragic loss of lives that we see daily in this country. This year’s election has placed common sense gun legislation back on the ballot again. Once more, we will be fighting to protect all of the critical gains we made to address gun violence and to expand those protections so that no parent worries about sending their child to school or any other space in our communities.
Policy Masterclass on Learning Loss
This past week, Tuesday through Thursday, I attended the Leveraging Learning Loss Policy Masterclass sponsored by the Council of State Governments (CSG) Southern Legislative Conference, in Atlanta, Georgia. As Vice Chair of the CSG Education Committee, I joined Chair Rhonda Baker (R-OK), CSG staff, and many conferees from our Southern Region to discuss several items of major concern with regard to public education in each of our states. We heard presentations from experts and agency officials, and the issues that we discussed indicated that each state is grappling with several core areas of crisis in our respective education systems:
These were a few of the issues upon which we focused. One key takeaway from the discussion was our emphasis on data. Using data more effectively to identify challenges in our systems and building from that data to target solutions is vital. Disaggregating data and developing narratives from the information that it generates help us to better understand the unique circumstances of our schools, whether they are urban or rural, high- or low-achieving, under-resourced or not, and so forth.
These excellent presentations and discussions helped us each to compare notes about what was (or was not) being addressed in each of our states. The focal points of conversation emphasized effective pedagogy, a firm commitment to public education and to all the students our systems serve, the foundational skills for reading and mathematics, teacher preparation, and professional development. It was truly refreshing to be in a space with fellow legislators from the Southern region who are committed to the real issues of teaching and learning, and who have little interest in the distractions of culture war topics such as banning books, attacking teachers, or marginalizing groups of children.
Free COVID Tests
Beginning September 25, all households in the United States now qualify for an additional four free at-home COVID-19 test kits from the federal government. These tests will detect the currently circulating COVID-19 variants, are intended for use through the end of 2023, and will include clear instructions on how to verify extended expiration dates. This distribution comes at a crucial time, as cases begin to rise again across the Commonwealth and across the nation. Free at-home tests can be ordered through the USPS website. Additional information about COVID-19 vaccines, masking, and more can be found on COVID.gov, as well as at the Virginia Department of Health.
Highlights from Community Events & Meetings
Friday, September 22, marked the first day of early voting for voters across the Commonwealth. I was pleased to join many Chesterfield candidates up and down the ballot as we greeted Day One voters in Chesterfield. I will soon be at Richmond Early Voting locations as well to thank voters.
Later that Friday afternoon, my staff and I joined the Chesterfield Colonial Heights Alliance for Social Ministries (CCHASM) for a roundtable discussion on food and housing insecurity, healthcare assistance, social services, and resource awareness. This array of community organizations are on the front lines, helping address critical needs and much more. As many organizations are stretched thin, I look forward to continuing to assist and ensure resources are available.
On Monday, I joined Boys to Men of Virginia (BTMVA) for its 10th annual golf tournament. An organization dedicated to creating safe, mentoring environments for young men ages 12-17, BTMVA focuses on open and confidential sharing, self-reflection, mentor and peer support. I was able to meet a few BTMVA participants and learn more about how the program has impacted their lives.
On Tuesday, as I headed to my conference in Atlanta, my staff toured the Richmond Times-Dispatch (RTD) production plant and media studio facilities. Founded in 1850 under the name Richmond Dispatch, RTD continues to be a key news source for Virginians.
While in Atlanta, I and the other conference attendees were treated to a tour of the Georgia Capitol building. Our tour was guided by current legislators in both the Georgia Senate and House of Representatives. The striking gold on the Capitol’s dome comes from gold mines in Dahlonega, Georgia. The Senate Chamber includes furnishings that have been in place for well over 150 years old.
On Thursday, my staff also joined faith leaders in Chesterfield for a Fall Harvest Community meeting, at which the Chesterfield Colonial Heights Alliance for Social Ministries (CCHASM) delivered an update on the state of need in the six localities it serves. Our faith-based organizations are essential partners in supporting critical areas of social services throughout our communities.
Connecting With My Office