Future teacher urges Virginia voters to consider public education, college access on Election Day

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By Amanda Litvinov

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Catie Kruger, who is studying to be a teacher at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., has settled into the academic year and her duties as president of the Student Virginia Education Association.

But she reports feeling anxious about the outcome of Tuesday’s gubernatorial election, because as she sees it, the future of both public education and college access are at stake.

Republican candidate Ed Gillespie has aligned himself with conservative extremists who would defund and destroy public education in an effort to privatize it. Americans for Prosperity–a group founded by the Koch brothers, global oil tycoons whose agenda includes spreading private school vouchers, defunding public schools in favor of for-profit education–endorsed Gillespie’s campaign even before he officially announced he was running.

Gillespie’s support for taking money from under-resourced public schools to give to private schools in the form of vouchers should come as no surprise. One of his biggest campaign donors is the family of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. DeVos’ family, which has a decades-long record of funding campaigns for vouchers and unaccountable charter and for-profit schools, contributed more than $100,000 to the Gillespie campaign.

Like most corporate reformers, Gillespie is a strong supporter of virtual education.

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In addition, Gillespie’s D.C. firm, Quinn, Gillespie & Associates, lobbied members of Congress on behalf of the student loan industry as it frantically fought efforts in 2007 in the House and Senate to lower student loan interest rates and encourage students to apply for federal loans before turning to private lenders.

Catie Kruger says educators should speak up now to help inform voters about just how extreme Gillespie’s views and record on education really are.

“Education is at the forefront of this election, and we are in a unique position to help people better understand the issues before casting a ballot,” Kruger said.

Gillespie’s Democratic opponent, pediatric neurologist, former state senator, and current Lieutenant Governor Ralph Northam, has a long history of supporting public education, and is committed to preserving local control of schools by elected school boards:

  • Northam has pledged to uphold Virginia’s strict regulation of charter growth and accountability.
  • He plans to invest in the neighborhood public schools that the vast majority of families depend on–he has been clear that he will not consider any charter school proposal that could drain resources from public schools.
  • Northam voted against vouchers and charters during his time as a state senator and as lieutenant governor, and even cast the tie-breaking vote this year to defeat voucher legislation.
  • Moreover, one of the first bills Northam sponsored when he became a state senator was to find a dedicated revenue stream for teacher salaries.

Northam’s plan represents the kind of long-term investment that will sustain the public school system and the keep top teachers in Virginia, says Kruger.

Both Northam and Gillespie participated in VEA’s candidate recommendation process this spring. The VEA Fund for Children and Public Education, the association’s political arm, recommended Northam.

“Ralph understands the foundational role public education plays in the future of our state,” said VEA President and middle school math teacher Jim Livingston, who also serves as chairman of the VEA Fund. “He’s the best candidate for our students, schools and educators, and he has an excellent track record of working to meet their needs.”

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