State Teachers Union Marks 150th Anniversary
Tuesday, December 31, 2013
PETERSBURG, Va. – On this day 150 years ago, a group of teachers from around the state gathered in the basement of a Petersburg church to figure out how to get new textbooks through Civil War blockades.
They formed what is now known as the Virginia Education Association (VEA) – the state teachers' union.
Bill Johnson, a former communications director for the union, is writing a book about the organization's history, and says that group of teachers played a critical role in the development of Virginia's public school system.
"It was just an amazing accomplishment following the Civil War that the public schools were created in about a year," he says.
Johnson points out that at the time, there were very few people qualified to teach, so the VEA advocated for state teacher colleges and created a professional training journal that is still in publication today.
Johnson says throughout its history, the VEA has been a leading voice for public schools in the state. In some ways, he adds, not much has changed.
"The challenges today are the challenges we had 150 years ago,” he explains. “That was developing public support, understanding for the role of public schools and public support for it.
“Funding has always been a challenge in Virginia and it continues to be."
The Department of Education reports there are nearly 1.3 million students enrolled in schools in the state this year.
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