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Education advocates push lawmakers for higher teacher pay, school infrastructure investments

As lawmakers try to balance the budget, advocates for schools are asking for an investment in public education.

Virginia's schools are in a crisis with underpaid teachers and crumbling schools -- that's the message of the Fund Our Schools Coalition, an alliance of interest groups pressing the General Assembly to invest in public education.

Shane Riddell of the Virginia Education Association says Virginia should use federal relief funds to provide premium pay for teachers.

"When compared to other professionals of similar educational experience, Virginia's teachers are paid less than teachers in any state in the country," Riddell explains. "This is inexcusable and a state as wealthy as we are should be able to meet these increases."

Fluvanna County school superintendent Peter Gretz says Virginia should use some of the state’s budget surplus to fund the $25 billion in needed infrastructure updates.

"We believe the ZIP code in which Virginia's children are born should not be the deciding factor in whether or not they get to learn in high-quality, modernized facilities designed to meet the instructional needs of the 21st century – a century we are almost a quarter of the way through," Gretz says.

How much money is available will depend on whether the House or Senate prevails on several of the governor's proposed tax cuts. The House wants to eliminate the grocery tax, for example, while the Senate wants to eliminate part of it. Similarly, the House wants to double the standard deduction while the Senate wants to study the issue before taking 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.