State of education system takes center stage at Democratic town hall

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Delegate Mike Mullin [D-93] and Sen. Monty Mason [D-1] hosted a town hall meeting Wednesday evening in Williamsburg. (Steve Roberts, Jr./WYDaily)
Delegate Mike Mullin [D-93] and Sen. Monty Mason [D-1] hosted a town hall meeting Wednesday evening in Williamsburg. (Steve Roberts, Jr./WYDaily)

The Stryker Center was at capacity Wednesday night, as over 200 area residents crowded in for a town hall meeting hosted by Delegate Mike Mullin and Sen. Monty Mason.

While the two Democratic representatives planned to share highlights from the General Assembly session, including information about Virginia’s $107 billion budget and new legislation passed, the topic of education loomed large with the constituency gathered in the room.

Early in the evening, Brenda Roston, a local resident, set the tone by asking the representatives about what she perceived as a lack of funding for Peninsula schools.

“You look around at the other school districts, the more wealthy school districts, and they have these amazing schools with all of the equipment, and you look at the Peninsula schools,” Roston said. “In some cases the bathroom’s aren’t working. You don’t get that quality of funding.”

Mason [D-1] and Mullin [D-93] spoke at length about their efforts to keep funding for both K-12 education across the region, as well as funding for higher education. The representatives tackled similar education topics, such as student debt, the in-state versus out-of-state ratio of the student body at the College of William & Mary, and funding for schools, including their push for more access to early childhood education.

“Richmond has gotten so involved in localities and how they teach,” Mullin said. “My father taught for 26 years in the Virginia public schools. He was a high school English teacher, and when he retired I asked him, ‘What did you take from your three decades in the classroom?’ He said ‘I was waking up at night terrified somebody was going to find out that I spent my life reading books and talking about them with people I love.’”

“If you spend your time, instead of reading books and talking about them with people that you love, but making sure that you prep for another test,” Mullin added “You’re no longer teaching, you’re just test prep.”

As budget season has generated debates over funding on the local level, the topic of the state’s budget was also addressed Wednesday. The state budget includes full funding for the 2019 commemorations at Yorktown and Jamestown. The budget also includes $1.5 million in additional funding for domestic violence programs, which will be matched with $6 million in federal funds.

Mullin has previously worked on passing legislation to further punish those who commit domestic violence. On Wednesday, Mullin spoke about a bill he put forward called House Bill 2064, which removed a technicality that protects violent felons who commit domestic violence by allowing them to be charged as first-time offenders, even if they have a record of domestic violence.

House Bill 2064 passed the General Assembly unanimously in both houses, and is expected to be signed into law by Gov. McAuliffe.

For Mullin, the measure was not an act of partisanship, but a step forward for the Commonwealth.

“I want to point this out, so many of Monty’s bills and my bills, these are not partisan bills,” Mullin said. “We’re not fire-throwers here. We’re just trying to move the ball.”

Miss the town hall? Watch the highlights below.