Issues That Matter to You: Education

Both candidates support some form of performance pay for teachers.
Both candidates support some form of performance pay for teachers. (By Emmy Crawford --
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By Michael Alison Chandler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 27, 2009

Both candidates for Virginia governor say they would improve education by increasing teacher salaries, encouraging the creation of new charter schools and preparing more students for a technology-driven workforce.

They have different plans for funding the ambitious proposals in the midst of a recession and without raising taxes.

Robert F. McDonnell (R), the former attorney general, says he would direct more money to classrooms by requiring schools to spend at least 65 percent of their budgets on instruction rather than on support positions or administration. The Virginia Education Association, which backs his opponent, calls it an arbitrary goal that most school systems are already meeting.

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) would use widespread "efficiency audits" of school system budgets to find savings. His critics say the plan is insufficient to fuel major initiatives.

Even with limited funding, the next governor will have an opportunity to shape priorities for the state's more than 1,800 public schools and 1.2 million students.

McDonnell's education platform emphasizes expanding school choice. There are four charter schools in Virginia, and McDonnell wants to increase the number by creating avenues for charter school applicants to appeal if a school board denies their request and by establishing an advisory panel to help applicants.

Deeds's plan is more general. He supports creating more specialized schools, through charters or existing public school structures.

To recruit talented teachers to the classroom, both candidates say they would put salaries in Virginia on par with the national average. Deeds also has proposed creating college scholarships or offering loan forgiveness for teachers who commit to working in high-needs schools or in such hard-to-staff subjects as math or science.

Both candidates support some form of performance pay so outstanding teachers can earn more. McDonnell also plans to create an incentive program for principals who raise test scores and graduation rates.

Expanding access to the state's colleges and universities is a priority for Deeds and McDonnell, and both say they would create tens of thousands of new degrees in coming years.

Deeds said he would also increase the amount of financial aid available to help families afford rising tuition costs. McDonnell would like to lower textbook costs through digital books and rental programs.

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