It has been dubbed "Black Friday" by thousands of public school teachers around the state, who will be wearing black today in protest of what they see as unfair budget cuts and legislation targeting their profession.
Brittany Jones is the president of the Student Virginia Education Association, with a membership of college students preparing to become education professionals. From state funding cuts to increases in class sizes, she sees an alarming trend in Virginia that she believes undermines both public school teachers and students.
"The cuts in retirement and pension, and things of that nature – it's telling me that I'm preparing to go into a profession that's not really going to be much of a profession anymore."
According to the Virginia Education Association, Virginia was once ranked third in the nation in terms of small class sizes. It is now in 41st place. Many lawmakers cite the recession and declining revenues as the reason for the state budget cuts, while many school officials say it's a matter of priorities.
Jones says the final straw for many of today's protesters is recent legislation passed by the House of Delegates designed to limit teachers' contracts to three years, as opposed to a continuing contract. This has many of her young peers concerned, she says.
"You can either change your major – go into a different field – or relocate. So, I don't think people are going to want to come to Virginia to teach, because of the uncertainty of having a career in teaching."
A similar bill was narrowly defeated in the Virginia Senate this week. Legislators in favor of the contract limits say an earlier review of teachers will weed out the underperforming teachers and give others an incentive to do well. Its opponents say there are already measures in place to evaluate teachers and dismiss them fairly, if need be.
Public News Service-VA