by Félix Pérez
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The race for Virginia governor is the marquee election in the nation this year, evidenced by the fact that former President Obama chose it as his first political appearance since leaving office. Obama will campaign this week for Ralph Northam.
The electoral contest, pitting former Army doctor and Lieutenant Gov. Northam against Washington, D.C., corporate lobbyist Ed Gillespie, has elevated public education as a core campaign issue.
Most recently, Gillespie came under criticism when it was reported his tax plan, when fully implemented, would result in a $404 million loss in state aid to public schools. The funding loss would affect both large and small school districts.
“Ed Gillespie’s tax plan would be a disaster for our public schools, for the students who attend them, and for their parents and communities,” said Jim Livingston, a math teacher from Prince William and Virginia Education Association president. “Mr. Gillespie is offering up a tax plan favoring the wealthiest Virginians while practically assuring that our schools will be forced to cut vital programs and increase class sizes. Clearly, that’s not what is best for kids, who are the Commonwealth’s future.”
Dr. Northam said he wants to prioritize state investments in increased teacher pay, and promote policies that attract high quality educators.
Education Secretary Betsy DeVos may not be on the ballot, but her shadow looms nonetheless. Like DeVos, Gillespie supports vouchers and and all manner of charter schools, including those that are online and those that are for-profit. He has pledged, if elected governor, to sign legislation creating Education Savings Accounts — a voucher scheme — depleting available resources for public schools. Gillespie’s campaign received more than $100,000 from the DeVos family.
Dr. Northam opposes private school vouchers. He cast a tie-breaking vote while a state senator to protect public education from private school vouchers. “Vouchers take money out of public education, and that doesn’t align with my priorities. Even if it helps a select few, it certainly doesn’t help all of our children. And that has to be our goal — a plan to help all our children,” said Dr. Northam. He has pledged, among other things, to uphold Virginia’s regulation of charter school growth and accountability and to invest in the neighborhood public schools that the overwhelming majority of students attend. A volunteer medical director at a hospice for children, he spearheaded the expansion of pre-K in Virginia that created spots for more than 13,000 students.
Obama and Dr. Northam will host a rally together in Richmond the evening of October 19.