As Election Day nears, Virginia teachers compare candidates for governor on education

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By Amanda Litvinov

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On Tuesday, Virginia voters will choose a new governor, deciding between two candidates who hold very different views on education.

Dr. Ralph Northam is committed to keeping taxpayer money in the public school system. He rejects vouchers, which drain funding from public schools, and will uphold Virginia’s thoughtful approach toward charter school growth that doesn’t interfere with local authority.

His opponent, D.C. lobbyist Ed Gillespie, is a longtime supporter of private school vouchers—the cornerstone of Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump’s agenda. It comes as no surprise that the DeVos family has given more than $100,000 to Gillespie’s campaign.

The thought of having a governor who would take away from critical funding for public schools is “chilling,” said Christina Bohringer, a 4th-grade teacher at Samuel W. Tucker Elementary in Alexandria, Va.

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“We need a leader who understands that we must invest in public schools that serve all of our children,” said Bohringer, who has 14 years of teaching experience. “It’s indefensible to pull away resources for voucher schemes that haven’t been shown to improve outcomes for students.”

“For me this election is all about who will support public schools and the teaching profession,” Bohringer said. “Judging by his record, Ralph Northam will do the right things for public education.”

While serving in the state senate, Northam cast a tie-breaking vote to protect public education from private school vouchers.

“Vouchers take money out of public education, and that doesn’t align with my priorities,” Northam said in a recent interview with EducationVotes. “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.

As lieutenant governor, Northam spearheaded the expansion of early education in Virginia that created spots for more than 13,000 students in pre-K programs. Bohringer, who taught first grade for six years, says that the inputs that children receive in high quality early education are critical for students’ future classroom success.

Further increasing access to quality pre-K education is a key component of Northam’s education plan.

Meanwhile, Ed Gillespie’s proposals would make such investment in public education impossible.

Gillespie came under criticism when it was reported that 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.”

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