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Teachers ask state lawmakers for a raise

RICHMOND, Va. -- Nearly 300 teachers from across Virginia gathered at the General Assembly building in downtown Richmond Monday to lobby on behalf of the Virginia Education Association.

The group met with state delegates and state senators to advocate for Virginia's public schools.

Afreen Gootee, a longtime teacher in Hanover, said she wanted to make sure state lawmakers were aware that teachers were watching how they voted and decided to spend taxpayer money.

"Those delegates need to understand that as constituents, we want them to be responsible for the promises that they've made," she said.

One of those promises was increasing teacher pay.

In the past decade, the General Assembly has provided funding for public school employee raises only twice.

VEA members said those appropriations also required a local match.

"Those school divisions who don't have those resources in many cases have not been able to provide that local match," VEA president Jim Livingston said. "If there's no local match, they don't qualify for state funding. As a result, we have teachers and school employee in Virginia who haven't seen a pay raise in a decade."

VEA leaders added Virginia's average teacher salary was $7,200 below the national average.

"We spend a lot on classroom supplies that we're not getting from the school system or general fund, so we put a lot of money in," Gootee said. "People also think we get paid while we're off. We're not. We're actually unemployed in the summer months."

The group also spoke to lawmakers about several bills, including some that called for education savings plans.

"We believe that taking money away from public schools and providing them to private schools to send a child to a private school is not only wrong but quite frankly, unconstitutional," Livingston said.

For teachers like Gootee, a mother of three paying for college tuition, the lobbying was personal.

"In no other profession would we stick around and not get a salary increase," she said.

The VEA sent a letter to Sen. Thomas Norment (R - 3rd District), the co-chair of the Senate Finance Committee.