Last year, educators in multiple states went on strike over poor pay and working conditions they said made it more difficult to educate their students.

However, in Virginia, any teacher who decides to strike may not have a job, according to Delegate Lee Carter (D-Manassas).

“The code of Virginia explicitly says that if a public sector employee goes on strike, they will be prohibited from employment by the Commonwealth,” Carter told Grit Post on Wednesday. “So basically if you go on strike, you’re automatically fired. I thought that was completely unjust and needed a change.”

Carter is introducing House Bill 1764, which would amend the Code of Virginia to allow for teachers to go on strike as a means of having a “last line of defense” when working conditions are so untenable that schools need to be temporarily shut down to draw lawmakers’ attention. He argued that allowing teachers to strike is not only the best option for educators, but also for students.

“The working conditions that our educators work in are the learning conditions for our children. So this isn’t just a workplace issue, this is about the entire life that every child in Virginia has ahead of him or her,” Delegate Carter said. “They need to have that option to blow the whistle and say ‘we’re gonna shut this whole thing down until it’s fixed.’ ”

While USA Today and 24/7 Wall Street reported last year that Virginia’s median teacher pay was $63,827/year throughout the commonwealth — making it the 11th highest in the country — Carter said pay varies greatly by locality. One primary reason is, according to the lawmaker, outdated funding mechanisms that mandate cash-starved counties come up with money they don’t have.

“Prince William, which is one of the localities I represent, has a very low teacher pay for Northern Virginia, which has a very high cost of living,” he said. “A lot of the state funding dollars are contingent on the local government contributing dollars, but the local government just doesn’t have the money, so there’s a lot of state money that’s left on the table and teachers suffer and children suffer.”

CBS affiliate WUSA confirmed the pay disparity between localities in an August 2018 report. The outlet found that many teachers, particularly in more rural school districts in the Southwestern part of the commonwealth, had to work a second job just to have enough to meet their monthly obligations. Educators said the current funding mechanism means wealthier areas can pay teachers more, while poorer counties cannot.

“When a teacher graduates with a $60,000 student loan and takes a job that is paying just over $30,000 a year, the numbers just don’t add up,” said Virginia Education Association president Jim Livingston.”I think teachers have lost a great deal of hope, quite honestly…of any expectation of raises.”

In addition to educators, Carter told Grit Post that parents of students are also demanding more funding for teacher raises and education budgets.

“We hear it all the time. One of the biggest issues out here is teacher pay. Our lowest-paid localities are extraordinarily low,” he said. “We’ve made a little bit of progress on that over the years, but it’s a drop of water in the bucket when it comes to all the work we need to do.”

In his latest budget proposal, Governor Ralph Northam (D) proposed a five percent raise for the commonwealth’s educators. However, Carter doesn’t think it likely that the legislature — in which Republicans have a slim majority in both chambers — will pass the pay raise, particularly without a local funds match, in which underfunded counties have to come up with additional money.

“It’s contingent on the appropriations process, so it has to get through both chambers of the general assembly,” Delegate Carter said. “As great as it is to have someone advocating at the executive level for increased teacher pay and better conditions at schools, we really need to have that political will in the general assembly to actually pass it.”


Carl Gibson is a politics contributor for Grit Post. His work has previously been published in The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Houston Chronicle, Al-Jazeera America, and NPR, among others. Follow him on Twitter @crgibs or send him an email at carl at gritpost dot com.

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