Op/Ed: Medicaid expansion holds education funding hostage

Posted on Thursday, May 1, 2014 at 3:04 pm

By Del. Christopher Peace

As your state Delegate, I am committed to investing and improving Virginia’s K-12 education system.

Over the last nine years, Virginia has increased funding statewide to public education by nearly $1 billion. At the same time, members of the legislature have worked to steward this money efficiently and effectively. By enacting a number of reforms, Virginia is now spending more money directly in the classroom. In fact, nearly 65 percent of all public education dollars are spent in classrooms where our students receive instruction. I am particularly proud of my good relationship with our school superintendents Jamelle Wilson, Rick Richardson, and Mark Jones.

Last year was dubbed by many as the “Year of the Teacher” in the General Assembly. The legislature provided funding for a 2 percent teacher pay raise, created a “Teacher Cabinet” to advise on educator-related issues, and implemented a strategic compensation program created by teachers from Salem, Va.

This year, your General Assembly worked to build on those reforms by passing legislation that significantly reforms the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests. This initiative, championed by the House of Delegates, reduces the number of tests students must take in grades three through eight from 22 to 17, and improves the SOLs by emphasizing problem solving and critical thinking skills necessary for quality employment. I successfully patroned legislation to help create a Governor’s School for Career and Technical Education and to provide greater information to consumer students and parents about the return on investment in higher education.

These reforms are working. Despite less cumulative per pupil spending than in 2009, Virginia students are scoring better today on standardized tests and college entrance exams, and Virginia now ranks as the fourth best public education system in the country, according to the Education Week Quality Counts survey.

With regards to the proposed budget for the upcoming year, differences exist in the House and Senate budget proposals. At this time, however, the Senate of Virginia refuses to act on the budget unless Obamacare is expanding in Virginia with Medicaid expansion.

I recognize that Republicans and Democrats disagree on Medicaid expansion, but I do not think those disagreements should stop us from funding our schools or investing in our students and teachers.

The differences between the House and Senate proposals on education could be resolved very quickly and as a member of the House budget committee, I know that the House budget negotiators are committed to our investment in public education. In fact, the House has urged the Senate to separate Medicaid expansion from the budget so we can pass a budget that provides the funding for our schools and raises pay for teachers. Unfortunately, the Senate refuses to do so.

The Governor’s and Senate’s decision to delay the entire state budget over Medicaid expansion is already having a negative impact on our school systems. Without a state budget, school boards cannot make informed decisions about hiring teachers or planning for the next year. In Roanoke City, the school board was forced to adopt two calendars for next year because of the uncertainty caused by the budget gridlock.

I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement on the budget in Richmond, but if you believe that maintaining high quality schools is important then we need to pass a “clean” budget without expanding Medicaid. We need to act now so that our schools and students can move forward. Join me in signing the petition to pass a budget now at www.passthebudgetterry.com and contact the Governor and Democratic Senate members let them know how important it is to pass a budget quickly.

About the Writer:

Del. Christopher K. Peace represents the 97th District in the Virginia House of Delegates. You may contact Peace at (804) 698-1097 or delcpeace@house.virginia.gov.

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