The Capitol at dusk. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)
By Ella Shields
I thought my middle school years would be filled with drama, craziness and immature boys. However, my experience at Binford Middle School in Richmond was difficult in other ways due to the facilities and lack of funding.
When kids were given glue sticks for classroom work, they were told to share with their table partners, since there weren’t enough glue sticks in the classroom for everyone. Glue sticks weren’t the only thing in short supply at Binford. Walking into most classrooms at Binford you would find a pencil bucket. As the year went on, though, the number of pencils in the bucket would shrink until finally all that was left was a handful of stray pencils on the floor of the classroom or left on a desk.
Once the warm fall days were over, kids would also be advised to wear their heavy winter jackets, preferably with a hood, since the boiler doesn’t heat the school properly. Simple necessities needed to run a school, like heat, pencils and glue sticks, were sparse at Binford.
The teachers’ diligent efforts are what kept kids in school during these long cold days. The staff and teachers at Binford never stopped smiling. Their determination and commitment is what makes Binford the school it is today. Yet, these teachers deserve so much more than empty pencil bins.
This session, I am interning for Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, who introduced legislation to better fund the states’ share of local school costs. Getting to witness what happens behind the scenes has helped me grasp a better understanding of the legislation on education. I discovered there our schools need more resources. Not just funding for our buildings and extracurricular programs but funding to supply students with basic supplies, along with providing teachers with the materials they need in the classroom.
When it comes to funding our schools, Richmond Public Schools has a greater need than some other jurisdictions in Virginia. This is why in addition to state funding, Richmond Public Schools gets what’s called At-Risk Add-On funding. At-Risk Add-On funding recognizes low-income students in school districts and grants the district more aid to help these low-income students succeed in school. With one in every four residents living in poverty, Richmond Public Schools relies on this At-Risk Add-On.
Recently, the House proposed amendments to the state budget that would cut $12.5 million dollars from Richmond Public Schools funding. Most of this reduction is coming from At-Risk Add-On funding. Coming from a student’s point of view, $12.5 million dollars would be a catastrophic loss for Richmond’s schools. As it stands now, many Virginia schools can barely afford basic necessities with the current budget.
In breaking the news to the district in his weekly email, Richmond Superintendent Jason Kamras said, “It’s time to act.” We have been fighting this battle for appropriately funding a quality K-12 education for too long. Funding and resources were at the heart of the Brown v. Board decision in 1954. Nearly 70 years later, students in Virginia’s schools still have to share a glue stick with their partners and have limited access to pencils. We have become accustomed to lowering our standards because we are not met with the basic needs to sustain our education.
The 100-year-old building with its broken boiler and empty pencil bins has given me much more than an average middle school experience. Binford Middle School allowed me to speak out about pressing matters in education, such as funding for our schools.
My fellow students and teachers deserve so much more than the inadequate state funding that has been allocated to our school systems.
Ella Shields is a ninth grade student at Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School in Richmond.
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