The Constitution of Virginia guarantees a high quality, free public school system for all children in the Commonwealth. However, Virginia has not always lived up to that promise. As the daughter of a third generation educator, Jennifer understands that a quality education is not just a lofty goal, but the key to success and financial independence. For that reason, Jennifer is committed to ensuring that Virginia provides its children with a high quality, free public education, and that Virginia builds a world-class system from pre-k to higher education. To that end, she has supported policies to fully fund and strengthen our public school systems and fought efforts to divert state funding away from it.
Expanding Early Education Opportunities
Studies show that ninety percent of a child’s brain development occurs before the age of five. Early education programs can have a dramatic effect on all children’s success in school and can reduce expensive remedial education and social costs later in life. Jennifer has worked to improve Virginia’s early education initiatives by:
- Sponsoring legislation to permit localities to expand eligibility for kindergarten;
- Supporting expansion of early reading intervention programs to ensure that all eligible first- and second-graders get the extra reading help they need; and
- Supporting increased availability of pre-K programs to more children.
Guaranteeing Competitive Teacher Salaries
Virginia’s teachers are paid below the national average, despite the fact that the per capita personal income of Virginians exceeds the national average. Teacher salaries should be competitive to attract and retain the best and the brightest people to teach our children. As a member of the House Education Committee, Jennifer has supported initiatives to raise teacher salaries to at least the national average. She has also fought for budget amendments to fund a pay raises for Virginia’s school teachers and fought efforts by House Republicans to alter education funding formulas that could hurt our teachers.
Expanding Career and Technical Education Opportunities
There is a growing shortage of students and employees with the skills and training needed to perform many of the technical and mechanical jobs in the market today. Jennifer has supported efforts to promote and expand career and technical education opportunities in Virginia schools by supporting legislation creating standard and advanced technical education diplomas.
Ensuring Bully-Free Environments
Bullying is visible in all social, economic, and cultural groups, and has proven to be extremely detrimental to a child’s academic engagement, as well as his/her overall self-esteem and confidence. In 2013 Jennifer introduced legislation that was passed by the General Assembly that defines the term bullying, and requires school boards to develop anti-bullying policies and procedures in the student code of conduct. Additionally, the law requires Virginia's Board of Education to create policies and procedures to education board employee about the need to create a bully-free school environment.
Improving the Funding Formula for School Localities
In order for the Commonwealth to provide a "system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth," the General Assembly in the 1970s instituted the Standards of Quality (SOQ). Based on this program, a funding formula was developed called the local composite index (LCI) of ability to pay for education. The Department of Education updates the LCI every two years. In 2010/2011, when the LIC was updated, 70% of school divisions in Virginia, including the City of Richmond and Henrico County, experienced dramatic losses in state funding. Since then, Jennifer has consistently fought for a review of this funding formula. Not updating the formula causes great potential to significantly impact local education funding, most notably classrooms, academic and athletic programs, and the future of Virginia's children.
Our economy is evolving to a point where a high school diploma is often not sufficient to land a job with a decent wage. Yet many high school graduates cannot afford to go to college or technical school. Jennifer has worked to ensure that all Virginia high school graduates can afford college by:
- Supporting legislation establishing the Community College Transfer Grant Program to help community college students transition to four-year colleges and universities.
- Supporting establishment of a tuition moderation incentive fund to keep tuition and fee increases for in-state undergraduate students capped at six percent.
- Supporting increased funding of financial aid for undergraduates at public and private institutions.
- Fighting measures that could price certain students out of college by increasing tuition on students who take more than four years to obtain a degree.
- Fighting measures to limit out-of-states students that would lead to tuition increases for in-state students.