Sen. Warner Holds Town Hall Meeting for Educators in PWC

| October 12, 2014 | 0 Comments | News

Sen. Mark Warner with PWEA President Jim Livingston at the Oct. 9 Town Hall meeting at the McCoart Building.

Senator Mark Warner (D) held a Town Hall meeting at the McCoart Building in Woodbridge Thursday in which he listened to the concerns of Prince William educators.

“There is no group of people that have been with me for thick and thin, even when it wasn’t cool, than teachers,” Warner told the attendees.

While Warner answered questions about his policies and those being proposed in Congress, he mainly listened to educator’s concerns.

Government Oversight of Public Schools

Prince William Education Association board member David Kinsella led off the evening by asking why charter schools are not being held to the same standards of accountability as public schools are.

Warner answered that rather than imposing more government regulations on charter schools, he would rather reduce some of the requirements on public schools. He added the caveat that he has no formal policy to address this, but said he would speak honestly of his feelings on the matter.

Warner said he would prefer to “give you all the same freedoms that some of them have.” Warner affirmed that he thinks that teachers are the experts and that policy makers ought to listen to them more.

Warner also said the Federal Government needs to do a better job at working to improving education without drowning teachers in data collection and performance measures. He would like to partner with the Executive Branch to move in this direction. “The administration hasn’t been as friendly to public education as we had hoped.”

Livingston advocated for teachers to either play a bigger role in policy-making or for legislatures to allow them more autonomy in the classroom.

“We know what works. It has been proven in most of the other advanced industrialized nations of the world that the way to truly reform public education in the classroom is to listen to the professions and give them the autonomy to do what works,” Livingston said.

Livingston followed up that statement by asking if those elected representative on Capital Hill are getting that message.

Senator Warner with local education Association presidents Jim Livingston from Prince William, Joey Matthews from Loundoun County and Kimberly Adams from Fairfax County.

“We’ve spent 20-years tinkering with public education, and we are in no better place than when we began,” Livingston said.

Warner said he believes that improving education has to start with trusting teacher, but he worries if the notion of empowering teachers is being fully understood by Congress and the Federal government. He said he doubts that policy makers will be turning over the keys to the practitioners “without hitting some hurdles.”

However, he said that he does believe that the both parties recognize that perhaps they went too far with education reform.

“[There is] a pretty broad bipartisan group that recognizes you have got to give more flexibility. I think we recognize that the pendulum has swung too far. I actually believe that there are enough of us in both parties that believe the country deserves better. I’m not going to be the only disrupter,” Warner said.

Warner also said that he believes that the government should provide help to school that has fewer strings attached in terms of testing and data collection. They also need to lessen some current requirements.

Progressive Reforms and Fixing NCLB

Where Warner said he differs perhaps from many Republicans in Congress is that he does believe that Congress should act for the public good even when their legislation is not perfect.

“Congress never gets it 100 percent right,” he said.

Medicare and Social Security were not perfect at the beginning either, he explained, but those became successful programs. Warner said that law-makers need to fix the legislation known as best as No Child Left Behind (NCLB). They also need to keep improving healthcare reform until the Affordable Care Act works well for citizens.

Considering Federal Education Policies

One attendee asked what Warner thought of the National Education Association (NEA) and American Federation of Teachers (AFT) calling for the resignation of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and if he would also ask for Duncan’s resignation.

Delegate Michael Futrell makes a statement during the meeting.

Warner said he was not ready to call for Duncan’s resignation. However, he said will keep an open mind to their concerns over NCLB, Common Core, impractical evaluation systems and data collection.

One teacher made a point that before NCLB, the department of education was not a regulatory agency. Warner said that is a good argument to win Republican support for providing teachers with more autonomy via the Federal government.

Teachers said they were glad that Virginia never adopted the Common Core. The majority said it is not so much the standards, which they are opposed to, but their implementation.

Student Loan Debt & Relief

Warner also spoke about wanting to provide student loan relief. He said they should start with capping monthly payments according to income. He said that today’s graduates are finding themselves so strapped with debt that they do not feel they have the freedom to pursue their dreams.

Loree Williams, School Board representative from the Woodbridge District, said that as a person in her early thirties, it is difficult to make good living. Between student debt and an unfavorable economy, many of her friends from high school and college are moving back in with their parents.

Williams said other generations do not always sympathize. Older generations often think Millennials are not hardworking; whereas, some younger people are even choosing to forgo higher education, so not to incur debt.

Warner said it would be a good policy to help out these people because the entire American economy counts on adults entering the workforce, buying homes and starting families.

One school counselor said that she would love to spend more time advising each student for college, but like many schools across the country, hers has given her more than the recommended student load. She said she would like to get to know them better and be able to steer them in the direction of high-paying jobs. Also, she does not believe that college is the best path for every student.

Candidate for VA Senate Atif Qarni is also a middle school teacher in Prince William County.

Warner agreed that for too long, it has been that college has been held up as the only “brass ring.” He would like to see more options, and more ways to get loans for other kinds of educational, or job-training opportunities, provided those institutes are well accredited.

Warner is working on policy that would allow all students to save money by starting at community colleges, even if they plan to go elite universities. He also wants to provide more flexibility in applying Pell Grants.

“Let everyone start at community college. Put pressure on the institutes of higher learning,” he said.

He said that when entitlement programs were started, it was because the poverty rate among seniors was so high. Now, seniors have a relatively low poverty rate, but children and young people have a high poverty rate. He said the government should take action to help them.

Immigration Reform 

Warner next discussed immigration reform and how it affects education. Even though teachers deal directly with the effects of immigration daily, those in the room were in favor immigration reform that provides a path towards citizenship. Warner said this is one sharp difference between himself and his opponent. Warner said he believes the U.S. at least needs to provide path for citizenship for the children that come to this country, if not their parents.

One teacher said she had to tell him how difficult it is for schools to make their Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO) with ESOL (English Speakers of Other Languages) students. She said that many of her student are still in survivor mode, so learning their lessons  is not their priority. However, they are constantly required by the government to take standardized tests that often have high stakes for schools and teachers.

Teachers are finding high-stakes tests and data collection to be “debilitating” and dropping out of the profession, especially young teachers who feel they have time to begin another career.

Warner said he recognized that as a real problem, and her story motivated him even more to look to work to change NCLB policies. Warner said the U.S. should help immigrants. He said he believes that most people coming to the country really do want to work hard and pursue the American Dream.

Civics teacher Riley O’Casey asked Warner to attend one of her her civics classes, where she has approximately 36 students per class. Warner agreed, promising to schedule time after the election. He said he believes he has spent more time in public school than any other Governor or Senator in Virginia.

Warner's aide, Marvin Figuero answered questions from attendees before Warner's arrival.

Warner asked everyone at the meeting to help volunteer for his campaign. He said while they are ahead in the polls; the fear is that people will be complacent and not get out to vote on Nov. 4. He wants his supporters to spread the message about the importance of the election.

Warner expressed that he was not one of the members of Congress who brought about sequestration; he is not about doing nothing but confirming appointments; he wants to be a “disruptor” to work for them and bring about progress.


Marvin Figuero, Education and Healthy Policy Legislative Aide to Mark Warner presented on his behalf while while Warner was stuck in the infamous I-95 traffic for the first half hour of the meeting.

Among the attendees of the town hall were civil servants Del. Michael Futrel (D-VA-2) Neabsco District Supervisor John Jenkins (D), Woodbridge School Board representative Loree Williams and Former Occoquan Mayor Ernie Porta (D). Democratic candidates included candidate for VA State Senate VA-29 Atif Qarni, candidate for delegate of VA-13 Don Shaw and education advocate Justin Wilks.

Teacher representatives who attended were PWEA President Jim Livingston, Prince William Federation of Teachers President Bill Hosp, Fairfax County Teacher Association President Kimberly Adams, Loundoun County Teacher Association President Joey Matthews and PWEA Vice President Riley O’Casey.

Mark Warner is running for re-election to the U.S. Senate. His opponent is Republican Ed Gillespie. The election will be held on Nov. 4.



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