By Amanda Litvinov
Public education advocates know what a crucial role a governor can play in promoting good policies that support education–and stopping those that would do damage to public schools. But it bears repeating in 2014 in particular, a year in which 36 governors (and thousands of state legislators) will be elected in November.
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Just look at how the conversation about public education has changed in Virginia, where newly elected Gov. Terry McAuliffe is looking to undo damaging legislation that his predecessor, Bob McDonnell, pushed for. Virginia and New Jersey elected new governors in 2013.
In his first weeks in office, McAuliffe spoke out against the deeply flawed A-F grading system for schools that is set to take effect in the 2014-15 school year. Research has debunked the letter grade assessment schemes, which have been plagued with problems in states that have adopted them.
The A-F grading system is just one of an array of unproven, so-called reforms promoted by ALEC (the American Legislative Exchange Council) that were foisted on Virginians during McDonnell’s time.
Educators and parents were among those who helped elect McAuliffe, along with public-education friendly candidates for lieutenant governor and attorney general.
“Instead of governing with gimmicks, Terry McAuliffe is committed to developing real solutions to the problems facing public schools and those who work in them,” said Meg Gruber, a high school science teacher and president of the Virginia Education Association. “It shows what’s possible when our members commit to the hard work of making sure the leaders we elect are going to make public education a top priority.”
New governors in Virginia don’t get to propose a two-year budget until the second year of their tenure, but in the meantime McAuliffe has proposed amendments to the current budget that would increase higher education spending by $30 million, increase the state’s contribution to educator pensions and put $15 million toward school building renovation and new construction.
Improving school funding was a big part of McAuliffe’s campaign platform, and education advocates in the state intend to hold him to it. During the McDonnell years, state funding per pupil dropped 20 percent, dropping the state’s ranking to 38th.
McAuliffe has also pledged to revamp the state’s Standards of Learning to include multi-dimensional assessments that hold schools accountable while providing a much richer picture of student progress.