Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine tested a theme for the 2005 governor's race today by proposing state constitutional and statutory changes that would force Virginia to fully fund its educational standards and raise teacher salaries to the national average.
Kaine also proposed legislation that would require annual evaluations of the state's roughly 80,000 teachers. Only probationary teachers in their first years of service now receive such evaluations, Kaine said.
Kaine said his package of bills requiring General Assembly approval would enhance accountability in K-12 education, a major portion of the budget but one that studies have shown the state government chronically underfunds.
"We talk a big game, but when it comes to really valuing education, all the statistics show that Virginia as a state doesn't," Kaine said at a state Capitol news conference. "Instead, we push it off on cities and counties, who have widely differing levels of resources, and that leads to tremendous inequities across the state."
Kaine, who narrowly won election a year ago, is a leading contender for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination and seemed eager to get an early start on a campaign debate with Republicans, who have gained political power in recent years by staunchly opposing major new spending initiatives.
Kaine said his ideas did not necessarily entail new taxes, adding, "The argument you're setting up is: If it's not a priority to meet what are essentially the constitutional obligations to educate 1.1 million kids and to pay the teachers who teach them at a national average, then I want to know what's a more important priority."
Kaine proposed a state constitution revision that would change Virginia's timetable for spelling out its educational standards from "time to time" to "every two years," the same as its biennial budgets. The revision also would say for the first time that the state government -- not just the local jurisdictions -- has an obligation to fund educational programs.
Voters would have to approve any constitutional change; if the General Assembly approved a revision two years in a row, as required by law, it would be on the November 2004 ballot at the earliest.
Another Kaine proposal would permanently link the average teacher salary in the state to the national average. Virginia has lagged behind its neighboring states and the nation for years; the Virginia average is now $40,247, while the national average is $43,335, according to the Virginia Education Association.
Robley S. Jones, a spokesman for the association, the state's largest teachers group with 56,000 members, generally applauded Kaine's proposals, though he said he still wanted to review the bill on annual evaluations to make sure it did not erode a teacher's due process rights or usurp local school board authority.
"We don't have a problem with annual evaluations," Jones said. "Most teachers would welcome that . . . because you want to have a record of your good performance."
Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax), chairman of the House Education Committee, expressed skepticism about Kaine's idea, saying many jurisdictions already conduct comprehensive evaluations of their teachers.
"To do it right, it's pretty complicated, time-consuming and expensive," said Dillard, a retired educator who performed many evaluations as a fill-in principal in Fairfax County. "You do need an annual review, but I'm not sure what this new proposal would entail."
As for a constitutional requirement that the state meet its funding obligation on K-12 education, Dillard said: "It's pretty hard to quarrel with that."