Del. Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) addresses the dishonest propaganda being spread by the Virginia Education Association about the House-passed budget. The budget holds the line on taxes and responsibly funds core government services, including public education.
Cox notes that the House budget decreases K-12 spending by around $100 million, not the $1.8 billion the VEA claims. The transcript of his speech follows:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.
You heard the gentleman from Fairfax talk about Pre-K and I’m sure you’ll probably hear a series of speeches dealing with K-12 and I do want to respond to that because I do think it’s very, very important.
As a matter of fact, if you’ll recall last Thursday, during the budget debate actually, we had some interesting rhetoric about how this side of the aisle, basically, in the house budget, was going to dramatically cut K-12.
As a matter of fact, numbers were thrown around like 30,000 teachers, etc. and I thought what I would do is respond to that a little bit.
And, if you go back to last Friday, right after that budget debate, I went to my office and I saw this flyer from the VEA. And it was interesting that the rhetoric seemed to sort of match the rhetoric on the floor. And here’s what the flyer said. It said:
“Stand up for public education. The General Assembly is preparing to cut $1.8 billion from education funding. That means 34,000 education employees or 1 in 6 educators will lose their jobs. And it will destroy public education as we know it.”
So, of course, on Sunday, I looked in my Sunday paper. I had my cup of coffee and my fire. And it was sort of interesting to see how the reporters were reporting the rally. And, sure enough, it talked about hundreds of people coming to the Capitol to protest education cuts.
And one of the quotes I thought was very interesting because it was from Rob Jones, the head of the VEA, and he said, “I hope I have made clear why the House should take their budget and shove it in a trash can.” Certainly a very calm and rational remark. Only topped by this remark at the rally—another person noted that the legislature has voted to raise the speed limit to 70 mph on Interstates. He is then quoted as saying, “the cost of changing all the signs should go to the students that don’t have anything to eat in the morning.” Now, what’s curious about that statement is that we didn’t cut, of course, the school lunch program or the breakfast program. The charge is just outright false. And I thought to myself, well, Should I really say something, because frankly those numbers are so exaggerated and frankly so silly, they border on being untruthful. But, I’ve learned a lesson down here—if you don’t respond and it stays out there long enough, good people start to believe it. So, here’s my rebuttal.
First, let’s look at the charge that 34,000 education employees, or one in six educators, will lose their jobs due to the General Assembly. Now, I’ve told you all many times that I’ve been in this public school profession for 27 years. The gentleman from Caroline has spent his entire career in public education. Coach Tata, behind me—they call him coach for a reason—spent his entire career in public education. And you know really there was a secret plot for 27 years. We wanted to see how many teachers we could cut. Think about that a second. Here we are, we’ve dedicated our lives to it and we’re going to allow one out of every six teachers to be cut. Why would anyone even contemplate people like us support that type of cuts and rhetoric? The reality is, in K-12, we have gone beyond the Kaine budget, but very prudently. As a matter of fact, it’s not $1.8 billion; it’s around $100 million.
And I also want to say something I think is extremely important. That is–K-12 does deserve the scrutiny that any other area of government does. As a matter of fact, I almost, during the budget debate when people talked about K-12, etc., wanted to ask: “tell me exactly what Project Discovery does?” And I guarantee, if you’re honest, probably 90 percent of the people in this Chamber have no idea what Project Discovery does. It’s something we funded every year to the tune of about $720,000, and, frankly it’s an enhanced guidance counselor program that I’ve never thought works. If you look at programs like Project Graduation, I mean, how many of you all can honestly sit down and tell me exactly what Project Graduation does? It was a Gov. Warner initiative that sort of petered out; we still fund it. How about this $15.7 million a year we reimburse school systems for travel? $15.7 million a year. Now, when I’m thinking of travel, I think of paying some teacher for gas to go to a conference. When, in reality, it turns out they bill us for the conference, hotels, airfare, everything they can think of. Do you think it’s responsible for us to be reimbursing $15.7 million for travel.
In Pre-K–I’ll talk about Pre-K. We’ve expanded Pre-K from probably $35 million to $75 million and I would disagree with the gentleman; it’s not a core function of education and, frankly, you better be careful because every dollar you put in Pre-K is a dollar you take out of the classroom. And I would say the studies are very, very mixed, especially when you get to that 8th grader, that 11th grader. Those results go down dramatically. As a matter of fact, a lot of the Pre-K studies basically find that if the child is truly free lunch and truly in poverty, it has some effect. Studies really don’t support much beyond that. So, I would refute that Pre-K is the be all and end all.
Let me finish with this—we need to have a legitimate discussion about what the level of K-12 should be. That’s legit. It’s legit to have a position that we didn’t fund it enough. We cannot have a rational discussion when you’re throwing out silly figures like $1.8 billion; when you’re throwing out figures like 34,000 people being laid off. We can’t have a rational discussion.
We owe it to our constituents on this side of the aisle to be candid about what we did and why we did it. And I think everyone in this house has a responsibility to be candid on the other side of the aisle when an organization like the VEA comes out with those types of numbers to hold them accountable.
Thank you, Mr. Speaker.