Virginia education summit outlines K-12 challenges


The News Virginian reports that the Education Committee part of the Virginia General Assembly met at the University of Virginia for an education summit that lasted two days. The summit has a broad agenda, but discussions will center on charter schools, higher education and potential changes in Virginia’s Standards of Learning program. Public education is changing, and it comes with challenges, according to Virginia’s superintendent of public instruction Steven Staples.

Since 2008, Virginia’s K-12 student population has grown 4 percent, yet there are 5,000 fewer positions in K-12 education. Professional development budgets for teachers are being cut, along with buses not being replaced when they should and building maintenance being neglected.

Another challenge the state faces is that English language learners comprise almost 10 percent of Virginia’s student population. While overall test scores went up this past year, Staples said “we are not scoring gains’’ in students of color, English language learners and special education students.

One of the most concerning statistic Staples offered is that 40 percent of Virginia’s public school students live in poverty. Of those students, about 16 percent arrive to school hungry each day.

James Madison University President Jonathan Alger expressed the need for higher education to collaborate with K-12 education. Alger said JMU is working with seven Shenandoah Valley school districts on a scholar program. Students in those districts displaying academic potential will receive a full scholarship to JMU if they meet certain requirements over a five-year period. Alger expressed that beyond a student’s major, it is important for students to leave the institution with communication, entrepreneurial and other skills that will benefit them in employment.

It is vital for legislators to be briefed on these challenges because education issues are so complex. The summit also serves as preparation for the 2016 General Assembly session.

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