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Experts Say Virginia Needs to Hire Many More Teachers and Support Staff

Students are flocking to Virginia schools. But, those schools are not adding staff to support all those new students.

Over the last decade, Virginia schools have added more than 300,000 new students. But during that same time, schools have added only 3,000 new employees.

Chad Stewart at the Commonwealth Institute says the reason for that is a change made during the Great Recession to limit support staff in schools.

"These decisions weren't based on student need, they were based on aims to save funding during a budget shortfall," explains Stewart. "Unfortunately those changes were permanent, and there was never a change in the budget since then, so it's commonly known as the support cap."

Rachael Deane at the Legal Aid Justice Center says the lack of support staff in Virginia is a crisis, and she says the General Assembly needs to ditch the cap on support positions like mental health specialists or instructional assistants or other classroom supports.

"The Fund Our Schools Coalition as well as many other stakeholders continue to work on pushing this support cap issue," Deane says. "And we hope that finally in 2022 the General Assembly will decide to lift that cap and fully fund the support staff needs of our public schools."

Getting rid of the support cap has been a recommendation of the Board of Education for years, although the General Assembly has – so far – failed to take action.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.