In my first year at the Virginia Military Institute, I had tutors in almost every class because I was unprepared for college. Growing up in Petersburg, we didn’t have textbooks to take home, certified teachers in our classrooms, and counselors who kept up after us. I was an exception to the rule: the vast majority of my high school classmates didn’t graduate or go to college. Many of the inequities we faced persist today, and it shouldn’t be luck that gets a kid like me into college.
The coronavirus pandemic has further exposed the systemic inequities within our system. In the transition to online learning, we witnessed significant disparities with respect to technology and the internet by our most vulnerable learners.
We need to ensure that all Virginia students don’t just have a chance at success, but a likelihood of success. First, we must work to strengthen our public schools by preparing and supporting our teachers. I believe that if we get teachers the benefits and wages they deserve, and the tools they need to help our kids succeed, we will revitalize our classrooms. Second, we must prepare our students for the global economy and meet the growing demand by employers for skills to power a modern workforce. Third, having a diverse set of educators is vital to creating a compassionate and understanding student body, and will make for a stronger Commonwealth.
As a Delegate, I:
- Proudly supported efforts to give teachers a five percent pay increase and passed legislation removing politically-motivated, anti-teacher tenure rules and was named a Legislative Champion by the Virginia Education Association in 2019 and 2020 as a result
- Passed legislation making it easier for students to take computer coding courses in high school
- Spearheaded efforts to help teachers secure credentials to teach computer coding
- Passed a bill allowing local school divisions to enter into College and Career Access Pathways Partnerships with community colleges. In recognition of this work, I was named 2020 Policymaker of the Year by the Virginia Association for Career and Technical Education.
- Passed my Dress Code Equity Act, ensuring that all school dress codes promote a safe school environment that respects students’ religious and ethnic backgrounds.
- Advocated for reducing the number of days a child can be suspended, and ensuring that discipline infractions are dealt with in-schools rather than in the courtroom.
- Dedicated years to breaking the school to prison pipeline — so that students of color spend less time in the courtroom and more time in the classroom
- Passed my Diversifying the Teacher Workforce Act, helping to eliminate unnecessary barriers to gaining a teacher certification that disproportionately hurt minority educators
- Supported bills to increase teacher mentorship programs and Grow Your Own recruitment efforts that recruit more teachers of color
- Sponsored legislation to prioritize school safety measures
- Put forward an amendment to the state budget to restore all of the K-12 direct aid funding initiatives that were unallotted due to the pandemic and eliminated in the introduced budget.
I know that education stands as one of the great equalizers in our society, and I am deeply committed to ensuring a quality education for all students. We must continue expanding and diversifying our teacher workforce, raise teacher salaries, address the teacher shortage, and invest in early childhood education.