Why Virginia spends $500,000 on students who help state lawmakers

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) –  They are as prolific on Capitol Square as statues of George Washington. Virginia’s House and Senate pages are a well-mannered group of 13 and 14 year olds impeccably dressed in blazers and freshly buffed shoes.

They open doors, make copies, run errands and bring lunches to Virginia lawmakers.

They also learn life experiences such as balancing time and money.

“I probably won’t forget this for the rest of my life,” current page Devyn Lee said.

For nine weeks, more than 70 Virginia teenagers leave school to take part in the page program.

In a state that loves tradition, the page program goes back to at least 1850. Every year a new class is chosen, upon recommendations from lawmakers.

While the experience is described as unforgettable by some, it does not come cheap.

The state pays each page $145 a week, plus transportation costs, chaperone fees, and instructors for school work.

House pages cost taxpayers anywhere between $225,000 and $250,000 dollars a year.

Senate pages and messengers cost $260,000 dollars a year.

Add it all up and the page program costs taxpayers more than $500,000 for nine weeks in Richmond. While many states have either cut or scaled back their page program due to costs, Virginia has not.

“I think it is a very worthwhile program,” G. Paul Nardo, Clerk of the House of Delegates, told CBS 6. Nardo oversees the program in the House Chamber.

“They are our energy and our enthusiasm and our legs during session cause we don’t have time to run back and forth between two buildings – plus some things can’t be sent through the Internet,” Susan Schaar, Clerk of the State Senate, said.

House Speaker William Howell said “they learn how government works many come back in one form or another either working in the legislature or elected officials it’s just a great program.”

But many lawmakers around the country have disagreed.

In 2011, in a rare joint statement between by Speaker John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, the United States House of Representatives shut down its page program writing

“This decision was not easy but it is necessary due to the prohibitive cost of the program and advances in technology that have rendered most page provided services no longer essential.”

Many other states restrict page visits to just one or two weeks, while others allow pages on just rare occasions.

Many former pages have reached out following our report telling CBS 6 the page program does more than just “deliver lunches” and that valuable lessons are learned.

Others have said that while being a page is a great program perhaps a more cost effective way to go about it can be adopted.

What do you think? Leave a comment below or click here to send us an email.

36 comments

  • Andrew Stegmaier

    If 70 people work 9 weeks for 40 hours per week, and the total cost is $500,000, that works out to $19.84/hour all-in. Paying replacement workers a salary plus fringe benefits might be somewhat cheaper, but not much. And the kids get a very valuable experience. So why all the fuss?

  • Brenda

    The pages do not only “work” for the delegates and senators. They help with all aspects of the General Assembly. It is a total learning experience for them. They are learning government first-hand, face-to-face. As an employee myself of the General Assembly, I know how valuable the pages are to every department. Please do not think of them as just “door openers” and “lunch getters.” They provide a much needed, valuable service for which they are very much appreciated.

    • Marcus

      “…do not think of them as just “door openers” and “lunch getters.””

      So you are saying that the representatives really do need people to physically open doors for them??

  • Kayla Paxton

    As a former page I can absolutely say this is not an invaluable experience , it engages participants in the workings of a citizen legislature. The experience is incredible and something that could never be replaced. I learned more about life, politics, money management, time management, and the value of hard work. Myself and 100 former pages make our way back to the Capital each year to see our fellow coworkers and to show our gratitude to those who taught us some of life’s greatest lessons. This isn’t like “Capitol Hill”, this is Virginia!

  • tarzan322

    This goes right under politicians who feel they are entitled to everything. While in some regards it may be good for the pages, mostly it amounts to politicians using students as cheap labor at taxpayers expense. And it doesn’t justify the $500,000 taxpayers have to pay that could be better spent in places where it’s needed. It might help solve the problem of politicians wanting to raise taxes and put tolls on every highway in the state.

  • Anyonomous

    The Page Program is a great experience and worth every penny, the news reporters do not understand the full effect it has on young american citizens. As a current page in the General Assembly I have made many new friends that I will have for the rest of my life, and have met many fascinating people that will affect my future in a very positive manner. The page program has given me the opportunity to work in our Virginian Government and get a taste of what its like to work full time.

  • Rodney Thomas

    Surely, CBS could find something more appropriate to investigate for waste of taxpayers’ dollars. As someone who has been involved in Democratic Party politics in NYC since I was 14, this is indeed a worthwhile program for those interested in government and/or politics. Would you consider this a waste if it were a STEM program???

  • anonymous times 2 (he asked for our opinion)

    I would like to say CBS was doing very illegal things while making this. They not only were filming us illegally but questioning us illegally. There was no permission given to them to film us. I am very dissapointed in this channel. We are not just door openers, and lunch menus. No, we our learning so much as pages. Not everything we do is for delegates and senaors. You help in every part of the capitol. So no your delegates and senators are not lazy. In fact they are extremely kind, and some very active. One thing is for sure. CBS wasn’t asking the right questions they turned it into a story that made everything seem terrible. I do think though that people don’t understand the state of teenagers minds. When I started I wanted to know more about the government. Ask any random teenager what the difference between house and senate is. They will have no idea, I doubt they will even know what that is. The fact is CBS wants to make drama. They just want americans to think the way they are.

  • anonymous times 3

    CBS6 did not have our permission to film us at all in the first place. They took a good experience and made it seem like a bad idea. Delegates and Senators are NOT lazy. They are really busy and need help. CBS6 didn’t ask the right questions. As a current page, this has been a good experience. I’ve made a lot of friends and learned a lot. Many of the pages end up working in Politics. The program gives a glimpse of what the real world is like.

  • Carl Sweeny

    CBS is FULL OF LIES. They are making people sound bad which isn’t true. Your making the pages seem like they just have no meaning. CBS is terrible at making stories and should find real stories like a cute panda. Or something that is TRUE.

  • Trevor

    I am a current page, first of all you people do not even know that in the House of Delegates, those men and women are, “Delegates” not representatives that is in D.C. Also the Delegates are not lazy they are so busy that they need us pages to help them run those errands during session so that they do not have to miss what is going on in the chamber. Also CBS6 did an illegal thing, they do not have the permission to film us. Also we did not even give them OUR permission, not to mention our parents permission.

  • Eli Terring

    CBS IS BREAKING THE LAW!! As minors, the pages are legally not allowed to be filmed or interviewed unless agreed to by a parent or guardian. CBS knows this but continued to break the law. Therefore, this report is extremely fraudulent.

  • James Dalton

    First less get part of it right. This is WTVR a TV station that is an affiliate of CBS and not the CBS Network News.
    This story was done in bad taste, it is not ratings week yet.
    As a 72 year old tax payer, for what I am getting out of it, for my part of $500K, I am more than getting my moneys worth.
    This would be cheep at twice the price. A Page gets more out of these 9 weeks than they would in a 4 year college.
    My Grand-daughter got more out of these 9 weeks about state government, than her and her mother and aunt got out of a total of 13 years in High School in Virginia.

  • Bob Glidden

    First of all, to Jane – I’m guessing Annon has a son/daughter who is a page.

    Then, It seems to me that this money could be better spent on hiring an unemployed individual to do the tasks that the pages perform. This would accomplish killing two birds with one stone, as it were. $500,000 for 9 weeks is abhorrent! I, for one, am not happy that these students are using my money this way, while others are back in the classrooms during the same 9 week period on my tax dollar as well. Wouldn’t that be considered “double dipping” by the pages? We’ve paid for their schools, but they’re not in them…..they’re gaining experience at an even costlier classroom. I would argue that hiring the unemployed to
    do their jobs, while they stay in the schools that are already paid for, would be a better way to spend our dollors. The unemployed could get off the unemployment roles, could begin putting money back into the system and, hey, here’s an idea!…they would then be a role model for their children!

  • observer

    There are certain things in life that can not be evaluated by the financial costs–this is one of them. The time, energy and money spent on educating the youth should not be considered a waste.

    At least Virginia has the guts to put the money where their mouth is, others just talk about the importance of educating the youth, or cultivating leadership qualities, but don’t do a thing about it, or do the very opposite of what they say and actually cut the money spent on kids.

    A program that teaches and trains kids about service and leadership? Maybe every state should follow suit and do a page program like Virginia.

  • Eliteisms

    Is it perfectly correct for entitled Law Makers to Double Dip?
    Do tax payers already pay for legislators staffs? Then the politically select, politically select their favorited for more get/bestow/get/receive additional mutual benefits at tax payer expense too?. It is a totally unnecessary privilege bestowing privilege to the already privileged
    elite sectors?
    But that is what Government has become.
    The Elite Rule over and above the Common Man Citizen/Tax Payers.

    • Patricia

      The Page Program is an opportunity for an young adult to apply for. I had no direct legislative connection and I was still accepted to serve as page. Pages are not picked because of their connections, they are picked selectively for who is best suited for the job. It is based on recommendations, preformance in school, and work for the community. Don’t try to call the system twisted.

      • bbpc

        Wondering if the James Dalton, above, is the same as the Circuit Court Judge in Petersburg.
        Tax Payers already pay for the legislators, their staff, per diem, and free public educational opportunities, etc.
        Government used to be a requirement for graduation in free school.
        Of course not all are entitled to entitlements.
        All are taxed for the entitlements of the some over the All.
        If you want More Free, It takes More Taxes.
        If you label it as loving, good, kind, caring, beautiful, and benevolent
        all the better as the hook. The Inclusive hook sometimes means exclusive in political baited jargon.

  • Teacher

    As an educator I support this program 100%. I have seen several children from our school get selected and they have come back as mature young adults. They have been well educated on how bills are created and passed in addition to how our government works. I only wish that the program would select a larger number of students. I’ve seen a young man turned down and his spirits shattered. As a teacher your heart goes out to a child that works so hard for something only to be turned down because there are too many applicants. This a great learning experience for any child. The Page program exceeds expectations. You can not get this experience sitting in a classroom or reading from a textbook. To the VA Senate, keep up the good work educating our future leaders and lawmakers.

  • Parent

    CBS, shame on you! You had no right to disclose the name and location of where our children are residing during the 9 weeks. The Page program does a great job of teaching our children but they also go above and beyond when it comes to the safety of all the Pages and Messengers. You were out of line and I feel you have jeopardized the safety of all the children.

  • reeltime

    I’d rather see these young men and women doing something positive with their life other than on the street mugging and drugging. Paltry sum of money with positive outcomes when compared to a lot of the waste and inefficiencies practiced everyday in our government.

  • Trevor

    The reason that we pages open doors is because it is polite. Have you ever seen at a party where the doors are opened for people, because it is polite. Also, each and every vote in that chamber matters, if a delegate is up at lunch or giving a paper to his LA he might miss the chance on voting on that bill. Pages basically run the General Assembly, if it weren’t for us nothing would get delivered, everything would be have to be done by the Delegate or the secretary or the LA which causes delay. We pages fill in the gaps that are missing. I am glad Mr. Speaker is for this. And to the lady who says,” do our delegates really need there lunches to be brought to them because they are so busy, or is it just laziness, no they are actually or busy to do that stuff. Thank you Mr. Nardo and Mr. Speaker for supporting us, and being for it.

  • Page from the class of 1990

    I served as a page for the Virginia General Assembly in 1990, and a classmate contacted me when this story aired (It’s my understanding the footage was collected in January and held until the budget bill rolled around – how convenient). Not only have I kept in touch with my classmates, I’ve been following the program and how it’s evolved to be an integral part of a 21st century legislature. I am not only disappointed, but I am disgusted at how this story illustrated these fine young men and women as nothing more than “overpaid” servers and door greeters. However, I am pleased to have received calls, e-mails, texts and other communications from fellow alumni who are spreading the word about how this story grossly misrepresents the program, its participants and the people who set their lives aside during the session to make the experience so memorable. I suspect the newsroom of Channel 6 will be inundated with well deserved criticism; they’ll definitely receive a call from me.

  • Carolyn

    My experience as a Senate Page in 2012 taught me so much about the legislative process that more Virginians should know and it helped me learn responsibility in the real world. The program does cost money but the opportunity was priceless, nothing was wasted. I am entirely grateful for my time serving the Virginia Senate and I’m thrilled to know that more young adults will have the unique experience. Truely the pages are what kept the General Assembly sane. We were the reminder of the future the legislators want to protect and we kept smiles on their faces’ to encourage them to continue on through the strenuous process of the legislature in order to work towards a better future. The Page Program meant the world to me and should continue to inspire everyone.

  • terry

    hey pages you sound like a bunch gov workers,shut it already and get mommy and daddy to foot the bill.bunch of whinny babies.oh you filmed me,oh you had a story on us.you bunch of little rich kid brats you

    • Former Page

      I hope you realize that the Page Program has nothing to do with what your family’s income is. It is solely based off of the application, essays, and recommendations from teachers, counselors, and legislators. Based off of your comments, I would call you a “little rich kid brat” because that is exactly what you’re acting like. You’re probably only mad because you were not accepted into the program, I can see why.

    • Alice

      Terry, I am a past page and my family is no where near rich I have a two teachers as parents and we can’t afford a simple trip to the doctor. Please don’t think we are spoiled brats because in reality none of them my year wore.

  • Kim

    As a business owner paying taxes in this state and attempting to employ people, I love that our state has a program which molds young people into responsible, socially and politically conscious teenagers . I encounter too many young adults in my stores who never learned to be on time, manage money, dress appropriately, speak politely, open doors or any other social graces. Use my tax dollars for the page program any day! And shame on you Joe St. George and WTVR for giving out the name of their hotel. They are minors! It was also obvious that the reporter did not try to give a balanced account of the program. These kids are not door openers andl lunch getters. Give thiis guy a lesson on balanced reporting and how to handle issues regarding minors, please,

  • Heather

    Disgusting. I used to have way more respect for WTVR but that is certainly gone out the door. God forbid we actually have a program that teaches our youth! And $500,000? Do you know how much is wasted on stupid stuff in congress and you’re going to shame a program that is teaching our youth? Shame on you WTVR.

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