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Citing $750 Million Tax Break for Amazon While Students Suffer, Teachers Walk Out in Virginia

"While legislators in the Virginia legislature debate giving enormous handouts to Amazon for HQ2, public school teachers struggle with less than adequate school funding, low wages, and more."

Teachers from all over Virginia rallied in Richmond on Monday to demand more state funding for schools. (Photo: @VEA4Kids/Twitter)

Fed up with plummeting school funds and low teacher salaries in a state that recently offered hundreds of millions of dollars in tax breaks to one of the world's richest companies, unionized teachers and their allies in Virginia traveled to the state capital on Monday to demand state legislators begin fighting for them and students instead of for powerful corporations.

The grassroots group Virginia Educators United and the 50,000-member Virginia Education Association (VEA) urged teachers to take a personal day to lobby state lawmakers and demand more funding for school renovations, teacher pay, and supplies. The call was answered by thousands of educators and supporters, who met on the steps of the capital in Richmond with many chanting, "Fund our schools!"

The rally and march comes two months after the trillion-dollar multinational corporation Amazon announced it had selected Northern Virginia as one of the regions where it would set up a new headquarters. In exchange for bringing its business to the state, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam was prepared to give Amazon $750 million in tax breaks.

Meanwhile, teachers across the state have struggled to educate children effectively, with school funding falling by nine percent since 2008's Great Recession. Educators in Virginia earn $9,000 less than the national average, and teachers have told the press about unreliable heating systems, printers, and copiers due to poor funding. The Guardian also reported on Monday about the thousands of poorly insulated plywood trailers owned by Virginia school districts, where tens of thousands of students go to class each day as districts are unable to build new classrooms.

The state, American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten told the Guardian, "is prepared to prioritize corporate tax breaks for Amazon over the needs of public schools. That's not right."

"Like the shortfalls for education West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, and Los Angeles, Virginia would need to invest $1 billion in order to return to its pre-recession funding levels," she added.

Instead, Northam has offered a $269 million funding package for schools—about a third of what the state is giving Amazon.

The governor "wants applause for increasing teacher salaries five percent when our wage gap is 40 percent," tweeted Sarah Pederson, a teacher who helped organize the march, when the funding package was announced last month. "They want us to feel good about $80 million for a school construction fund when Amazon was given SEVEN TIMES that for a headquarters." 

By walking out of their classrooms Monday, Virginia teachers joined the national #Red4Ed movement that has spread all over the country in the past year as educators demand that legislators prioritize the work they do—especially after many states have spent years giving tax breaks for corporations while cutting school funding.

Teachers especially hope to put pressure on Northam and legislators as the state's Democratic Party faces elections in which Democrats need to flip only a few legislature seats in order to win control of the state Senate and House.

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