Our Northern Virginia public schools are facing the challenges that come with our rapidly changing society, increasing school-age population, and decreasing revenues. Meeting these challenges is essential for our community and our nation, so that we can fulfill our greatest duty as parents -- to secure our children's future. However, we must acknowledge that the state is under-funding its share of public education by over half a billion dollars a year. We must dedicate substantial additional funds to our public education system. We owe it to our children and our future.
As your State Senator, my priorities for public education include:
* Increase public education funding
* Change funding formula to help Northern Virginia schools
* Reduce class sizes
* Increase funding for school construction, renovation and technology
* Expand educational opportunities for four year olds
* Develop curricula that prepare our children for their future
* Pay competitive salaries for our teachers
* Ensure safety in our schools
I believe Virginia must do more than it does now for our public school children. We know intuitively, and recent educational research confirms, that children learn better in smaller classes. During my years in the Senate, we have made strides in reducing teacher/pupil ratios in the lower grades. Recently, cuts in local and state funding caused by the recession have reversed that progress. Restoring funding is my top priority.
Ultimately, education depends on the quality of our teachers. Virginia leads other states in the standards we are setting for our new teachers. We must maintain these high standards. To attract and retain the best educators, I support increasing teacher salaries, providing on-going professional development, and paying bonuses to National Board Certified Teachers.
I believe schools must be held accountable for the education of their students. I support the Standards of Learning initiative. In our efforts to hold schools accountable, we should not limit our children's prospects by stressing rote learning at the expense of critical thinking abilities. Higher thinking skills are essential for our children's future success. Teachers should be encouraged to expand our children's analytical capabilities and to develop lesson plans based on recent research on how children learn. We should also provide music and the arts in our schools.
For the past several years we have worked to make our schools safer places for our children and staff. Horrific events in schools around the country underscore the importance of those efforts. I co-patroned a bill that requires each school to conduct a safety audit and develop plans for emergency situations. I supported tough new laws to combat youth gang violence. And I have backed bills to provide alternative schooling for troubled youth.
Now we need to expand efforts at the local level to make sure troubled youth are identified and receive appropriate help and appropriate punishment. Policies against bullying must be adopted. Requiring each school to have qualified counselors trained in these matters is an essential next step.
Before being elected to the Virginia Senate, I was a public school teacher and I spent more than a decade as a public school activist in Northern Virginia. I was President of Forest Edge Elementary School PTA, President of the Reston Council of PTAs and PTOs, and a board member of the County Council of PTAs. In the Senate, I serve on the Education and Health Committee and its Public Education Subcommittee. As a Senate budget negotiator, I always make public education my top funding priority.
My commitment to public schools runs deep. A desire to assure our schools meet the educational needs of each and every child is one of the main reasons I run for office.