Why is the GOP Afraid to Fund Our Public Schools?

[This article was written by Lizzie for VA campaign staffer Emma Howk]

This past weekend, I attended the 56th District Candidate Forum held in Goochland. The Goochland Republicans, Goochland Democrats, and Goochland Tea Party teamed up to host this forum of the 56th district’s six Republican and two Democratic candidates. Each of the eight candidates got five minutes of opening remarks, followed by ten minutes of direct questions from the audience.

The crowd, like the candidates, were mostly Republican. This took me out of my own political comfort zone. I thought about how, no matter your party, it’s all too easy for us to get stuck in our own echo chambers of political ideology. We live in an age of unfriending offensive sharers and following our favorite commentators, until it seems that almost everyone we know is in agreement politically and we’re blind to what those on the other side are thinking.

At the candidate forum, I listened as the Republican candidates spoke about the dangers of sanctuary cities, the importance of law and order, protecting the unborn, and sending people back to work. However, the moment that stirred the crowd most was when Democratic candidate Lizzie Drucker-Basch took the stage. She was the fourth candidate to speak, as decided by drawing the eight names from a hat.

“We can’t do this in sound bites,” she opened. “…We have different ideas in this room, collectively. But the thing I think we need to focus on most are the values that we have in common. And yes, we have different ideas about how we want to get places. But we can listen to each other. Because we’re all in the same boat.

We all want to educate our children. We want our children to do better than we are doing. We want access to affordable healthcare. And these are things we all can agree on. How we get there is what we’re discussing. And having a respectful and meaningful conversation to get there is what I think this is all about.”

While explaining her platform in her opening remarks, Drucker-Basch said that she believes that, because it is the constitutional duty of the Virginia General Assembly to adequately fund the state’s public schools, Virginia needs to increase its education spending.

“We haven’t adequately funded our public schools since 2009. We are now funding our schools at pre-recession levels. That’s a deduction of $628 per pupil per year. My impetus, and what I am charging hard for, is to make sure we up those levels,” Drucker-Basch stated.

That remark lit a fire in the audience. Those attending were not as excited when any of the six Republicans were on stage as when Drucker-Basch so boldly suggested that our public schools deserve their rightful funding. The entirety of Drucker-Basch’s question-and-answer period was consumed by Republicans asking her repetitive variations of, “But, what can we do other than spend money on it? Aren’t there other solutions? Don’t you believe money doesn’t solve everything?”

Drucker-Basch was remarkably firm and unshaken. She repeated that we are underfunding Virginia public schools, it’s as simple as that. When one audience member asked if this would mean his taxes would be raised, she replied that she does not want to raise taxes, just use the general fund money that’s already there in the way it should be used.

I was floored that so many in attendance took an issue with wanting commit more funding to public education. Audience members continued to ask Drucker-Basch, “Why can’t teachers just figure out ways to do better with less?”

I think the better question is, what has happened to us to make us so unwilling to invest in our children, our future? This forum opened my eyes in a harsh way. Drucker-Basch had begun by remarking that everyone there was alike in how we all want a good education for our children. It disturbed me that, even though that must be true, Republicans are not willing to do what it will take to get us there.

The Republican party is on a dangerous trajectory. I am afraid and unsettled to think of what will happen if the GOP has its way with public education. There are many reasons why and how our current president won the election. What is important for us now, as we emerge from our post-election haze, unified from Women’s Marches, protests, and rallies, is that we act. We vote. We get our friends to vote. We donate to a local Democratic campaign. We spend some Saturdays knocking on doors.

But most importantly, we vote.

I am thrilled that Lizzie Drucker-Basch is running in the 56th. We need more Democrats (especially more female Democrats) in our state legislature who are willing to proudly and confidently take the stage in front of a largely Republican crowd, and proclaim that public education is not only a worthwhile investment, but also a constitutional one.

Our resistance will not be led by one great leader, but countless local ones who will fight for the children, fight for the immigrants, for minorities, for women, and for those with pre-existing conditions. It will be led by women like Lizzie, who know their district and know what is right, and will fight tooth and nail for it.