Saturday, February 27, 2010

House Republicans Prove Education Isn't One of their Priorities

In these tough economic times there are going to be cuts across the board but it’s important for our elected officials to propose a budget that protects the most important programs like education. Although there are some things I disagree with in the Senate’s budget, our Senators did the best they could to make sure our schools remain among the best in the country. Unfortunately, the House of Delegates passed an absolutely horrible budget that would cut $620 million from education.

What’s very telling about the cuts to education in the House is the fact that the Republicans did their best to keep the Democrats out of the negotiations surrounding the proposal. Even the Democrats on the Appropriations Committee (which is the committee which is supposed to do most of the work on the budget) weren’t given the opportunity to participate until the absolute last possible moment. Of course this also comes on the heals of McDonnell proposing even more cuts to education and trying to keep his budget plans secretive.

The GOP’s insistence of blocking the Democrats from any real negotiations on the budget not only show that they’re not interested in bipartisanship, but it means that they have to take responsibility for proposing so many cuts to education. It’s the action one takes that illustrates the priorities of elected officials and the Republicans have therefore proven that they don’t value education. At the same time that they cut $660 million from education, after all, they included measures that would cost millions of dollars to lure film executives into filming in Virginia and others that wouldn’t help Virginians but would simply shift the financial burden of programs onto local government. If they were truly interested in protecting public education, we wouldn’t have seen the House Republicans use these tactics.

Fortunately, we do have some elected officials in the General Assembly who are willing to fight for Virginia’s students. Not only did the Senate pass a budget that did its best to protect as much education funding as possible, but there were also several Democratic members of the House of Delegates who spoke out passionately about the need to fully fund our schools. In an email that he sent yesterday, for instance, Delegate Adam Ebbin drew attention to the fact that the impact of cutting education expands well beyond our schools.
In my opinion, we shouldn't make large indiscriminate cuts without regard to their long and short term impacts. We should make strategic reductions, merge agencies and prioritize education and healthcare for hard working Virginians.

Companies and taxpayers locate in Virginia because of our outstanding education system and quality of life. The Republican House budget adopted yesterday relies heavily on cuts to the very aspects that make Virginia the Best State for Business.
I completely agree with Del. Ebbin here. The Republicans might claim to be the party that looks out for business, but their budget clearly says otherwise. Not only are they making cuts to schools at a time when it’s perhaps the most important for our students to receive the best education possible, but they are taking away resources from what makes Virginia so attractive to business leaders – schools that develop a highly qualified workforce.

As negotiators from both the House and Senate begin to work on combining the budgets passed by each body, there is an opportunity to make sure that education remains a priority like the public wants. Since both the House and Governor want massive cuts to our schools in favor of attracting Hollywood executives to Virginia, however, this will take a lot of leadership from the Senate negotiators. Individual members of the Senate have told me that they’re confident in their team, but that this was going to be a tough negotiation. The budget negotiation is supposed to be finished in a couple weeks, but the length of past negotiations suggest that this might take a little longer than is currently scheduled (especially since the budgets are starting out relatively far apart). I therefore encourage you to make sure that members of the General Assembly know that education is a priority to Virginians and that they should keep the Senate’s education funding levels. This could be a long fight and it can help for our elected officials to hear directly from their constituents about what priorities they should fight for.

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