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Virginia Teachers Plan to March at the Capital. Will They Shut Down Schools?

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The wave of statewide teacher activism seems to be carrying right on into 2019: Virginia teachers will march to the state Capitol building in January.

The protest of stagnant teacher salaries and underresourced public schools is scheduled for Jan. 28, a Monday. The grassroots group "Virginia Educators United" is organizing the march in Richmond. If enough teachers participate, the rally could force schools to shut down, organizers wrote on the group's website. 

This plan of action is similar to what took place in North Carolina in May. Grassroots organizers planned a rally in the state capital on a school day, and thousands of teachers took personal days to be there. Districts were not able to find enough substitutes to staff classes, and dozens of school districts ultimately closed for the day.

North Carolina was the sixth state in the spring to have a statewide teacher demonstration that closed schools, following West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, Colorado, and Arizona. In all of these states—and now Virginia—activists have embraced the label of #RedForEd, which promotes school funding. 

"In Virginia, the time of waiting for political winds to shift in our favor is over," organizers wrote on the Virginia Educators United website. "Our goal is to ensure that all students have access to highly qualified and experienced teachers, that educators are compensated fairly, and to improve the educational environment for every child in the state of Virginia."

Virginia teachers make, on average, $51,049, according to 2016-17 salary data from the National Education Association. The national average that year was $59,660. Virginia Educators United is asking for teacher pay to be increased to the national average, as well as competitive wages for education support professionals.

The group is also asking for the state legislature to restore funding for public schools—this school year, state support was down 9.1 percent per student compared to 2008-09, adjusted for inflation. That figure is from the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a Richmond-based think tank. The think tank also reported that Virginia relies heavily on local governments to fund public schools—Old Dominion ranks in the middle of the states in combined state and local spending per student, but is No. 40 in terms of state per-pupil spending. 

Already this school year, there have been pockets of teacher activism—mainly in Los Angeles, where teachers are preparing for a strike, and Washington state, where teachers in 14 districts went on strike to fight for salary increases after the state allocated $2 billion for teacher pay. Hawaii teachers have staged smaller protests to spread awareness of what they see as a lack of funding for public schools. And two charter school networks in Chicago have authorized strikes if contract negotiations fail. 

But the Virginia rally could be the first statewide work stoppage in the 2018-19 school year if enough teachers participate. So far, organizers are already receiving support from their colleagues across state lines. A lead organizer with Arizona Educators United tweeted: 

Image: Arizona teachers rally during the statewide walkout in April. The "Red for Ed" slogan has become a national rallying cry for teachers, including those in Virginia. —Matt York/AP (File)

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