RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Standing in front of a packed auditorium, Richmond City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Dana Bedden delivered his State of the Schools address Thursday evening at Maggie Walker Governor’s School.
The address was focused on the theme of ‘breaking the cycle’ of poverty. Despite making gains in English and math, as well as increased accreditation, the school system faces an uphill battle to provide high-quality public education as a high-need district. Dr. Bedden and other officials called on the City of Richmond to make a greater investment in schools. Large class sizes, inadequate instructional time, and a loss of quality teachers and support staff have plagued the district in recent years as funding has dwindled.
The school district is currently trying to make up for a major budget shortfall, which was one of the major topics Dr. Bedden touched on Thursday. Should Mayor Dwight Jones’ proposed spending plan be approved, city schools would receive none of the additional $18 million it requested.
“I agree, leaf and snow removal are important services,” Dr. Bedden said in his address. “But I have to ask, is it more important than children?”
Four in 10 school-age children in Richmond live in poverty, based on the fall membership report submitted to the Virginia Department of Education. Richmond Public Schools ranks as the 9th highest free and reduced lunch population in the state. Three-quarters of students in the district receive subsidized meals under the federal school lunch program.
Nearly one in every five students qualify for special education services, a number much higher than the state average of 13 percent. Budgetary challenges have forced exceptional students at Richmond Public Schools into general education settings for more than 80 percent of the school day.
Dr. Bedden commended the faculty, staff and students across the district for their resilience and resourcefulness in the face of the circumstances.