Why The Red For Ed Movement Matters

Students crammed into dingy overflow trailers, using textbooks written 30 years ago. Their schools in disrepair and their teachers struggling to make ends meet. This doesn't sound like what we’d expect for the education system in a country with a standard of living ranking in the top 20 globally. But, this is our reality - American public schools are in a state of financial emergency.

On Monday, January 28, I joined around 2,500 other frustrated students and educators in the Red For Ed march on the Virginia State Capitol. It was my first time partaking in grassroots activism and I have now seen for myself why organized protests are a vital resource for seeking political reform. Seeing that many people, from diaper age to elderly, congregating over a common interest, elicits a visceral reaction that's impossible to ignore. While I was there to work as a journalist, I was also proud to be there for personal business. When I wasn't snapping photos, I was marching alongside my mother, a public school teacher.

My mom has dedicated over 25 years of her life to educating other people’s children. Although, as a single parent paid less than $50,000 a year, she cannot afford to finance her own daughter’s post-secondary education. This painfully ironic situation is a harsh reality for far too many teacher’s kids and because of this we have to go into alot of debt just to get a bachelor’s degree. It would be a pretty poor financial decision to follow in our parent’s footsteps and pursue a career field with an average starting salary of $39,000. The President of the Virginia Education Association, Jim Livingston, recently reported that “enrollment in teacher prep programs is down 40 percent since 2009,” so there’s already statistical evidence to corroborate the apparent downward trend in the educator outlook. 

The underfunding of our school system affects a lot more than just wages. Anyone who’s been a student in a Virginia public school, especially in an urban setting like here in Richmond City, would know that our classrooms are significantly lacking in the educational and technological resources. These are necessary to pull our country out of stagnancy on the global education stage. Hyper-globalization facilitated by the internet is rapidly erasing geographic and cultural borders that were once barriers to becoming a global citizen. Nowadays when American young adults enter the workforce, we’re members of a worldwide community, not just the one that exists within our national boundaries. How can we be expected to participate in international relations effectively and insightfully if the most recent American military mobilization covered in our history textbooks is the Gulf War of last century? I’m positive there are students in Virginia school districts that are far more disadvantaged than the one I come from, students who are expected to capitalize on an education far more outdated than mine was.

It appears the Red For Ed movement did succeed in organizing something powerful enough to catch the attention of Virginia lawmakers. While the couple thousand marchers assembled below the Capitol steps and cheered ardently along to the words of speakers, including Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and VCU professor Courtnie Wolfgang, the General Assembly made an announcement we had simultaneously been campaigning for. Governor Northam’s proposed a five percent pay raise will be included in the House of Representatives budget that’s slated for approval by the end of the session. 

Obviously this isn’t a solution to the many problems at hand, but it’s a start. Our public school teachers are heinously undercompensated for the amount of personal resources, like their own money and time, that they selflessly pour into their careers. They spend hundreds annually on materials for their students and classrooms that should not be their responsibility to fund, especially since many teachers work additional jobs on the weekends and in the summer just to provide for their own families. 

I can’t help but think of my own mother, whose car stays in the school lot well past sunset five days a week, while she gets no time to relax from her long and hard work week, because she spends her weekends at a part time job to keep our bills paid. Next time you drive past a public school before or after hours, take note of how many cars are parked in the lot. Those are the cars of American teachers working for free, using their personal time to do all of the paperwork, organize and set-up for the next day that keeps their classrooms afloat. Take note of all that they give each and every day to shape our youth and build a better future for our country, and remember that the next time you go to the polls. 

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