Opinion — Legislation makes changes for the new school year

Published 2:41 pm Thursday, July 28, 2022

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School is approaching and parents are ready to send their children back for another learning year.

When I began knocking on doors around my district for the last campaign, the number of worried and angry parents who wanted to see major changes in education was striking.

At door after door, we heard the same thing – our kids need to be in school, in person and parents need to have a say in what they’re being taught. Thankfully, we seem to be back on track with a budget that increases funding for schools by nearly $3 billion over 2022 levels.

The budget also provides raises of 5 percent (one each year of the biennium) for all teachers, as well as a bonus. It funds recruitment bonuses of $2,500 or $5,000 for hard to staff positions and schools, adds support staff, reading specialists, full-time principals, and increases the “at-risk” add-on to give more resources to schools where students face poverty and other difficult circumstances that can impact learning.

What happens in Virginia’s schools largely determines Virginia’s future, and we owe it to parents and students to make certain students are getting a top-notch education in a safe and secure environment.

That’s why education was such a huge part of the House Republican agenda during the 2022 legislative session, and we made significant strides toward restoring parental rights, protecting students, revitalizing schools and making certain Virginia schools are the strongest in the nation. Republicans supported HB 356 that expands the way for “Lab Schools” to explore better ways to educate students, in collaboration with colleges and universities.

We set the tone for the national conversation about parental rights and masks in schools by passing SB 739 and putting decisions about whether students wear masks at school back in the hands of their parents.

Republicans were also successful in restoring race-blind admissions to all our Governor’s Schools around the Commonwealth. Despite recent events in Fairfax County, it is now illegal to discriminate against any child for admission based on their race, gender, religion or other characteristics. Merit and merit alone should determine who gets into our best schools.

No child can learn when the roof over their head is leaking. We proudly voted to fund a loan and grant program that will leverage more than $3 billion in new school construction and repair.

We also made certain that parents know what their students are learning by passing SB 656, legislation that requires teachers to notify parents when students are assigned explicit materials and requires them to be assigned alternate materials if parents object.

Finally, we’ve made changes to the law that will ensure students have the safest possible learning environment.

With HB 4, we reinstated the requirement that school officials report certain violent, sexual or other egregious misdemeanor crimes to law enforcement and parents.

We also passed SB 649, which requires that schools are notified when one of their students is arrested. These provisions are common-sense ways to keep our students safe and our parents and school officials in the know.

Further, we were successful in beginning the process of placing resource officers in every Virginia school.

HB 873 requires that every local law enforcement agency – if their local schools don’t have resource officers – to train and designate at least one officer to serve as the liaison to schools, effectively creating a ‘resource officer on call’ for those districts who may not be able to afford them.

If we demand excellence in education, the result will be students who have an excellent education. While Democrats continue to make excuses, Republicans will continue to go door to door to listen to the parents about the highest possible standard in our schools.

Del. Tommy Wright can be reached via email at DelTWright@House.Virginia.gov or (804) 698-1061.