'A Slap in the Face': Amazon Deal Advances as Virginia Teachers Demand More Education Funding
The state House approved $750 million in tax incentives for the company while teachers protested outside the Capitol.
- On Monday, Virginia teachers rallied outside the state Capitol for more education funding.
- Inside the Capitol, legislators gave their final approval to the bill that gives Amazon $750 million in tax incentives.
- Teachers have been protesting across the country since last spring, in several cases, striking for weeks.
Virginia is one step closer to giving Amazon $750 million in tax incentives for building the online retailer's new headquarters in Arlington, Va. The state House approved the deal 83 to 16 on Monday, sending the legislation to the desk of Gov. Ralph Northam, who plans to sign it.
Outside the state Capitol on Monday, teachers rallied for more education funding. For some of them, the Amazon deal was part of the problem.
"It's just a slap in the face,” said Ashley Nelson, a teacher at Ward Elementary School in Richmond. “I've worked at schools where we don't have toilet paper, where I'm spending my [own] money to buy soap for my classroom, where I buy all of the school supplies. To see a company that already has billions in profit every year is getting a tax break three times the increase they're giving education -- it's just an absolute slap in the face."
Teachers have been striking, walking out and protesting across the country since last spring. For the most part, they all want the same thing: After a decade of scarcity, they want school funding restored to pre-recession levels. That means higher salaries -- Virginia ranks just 34th nationally in teacher pay, according to the National Education Association union -- and better working conditions.
“I’m in a building where the walls are crumbling,” said Victoria Pierson, who teaches at Richmond’s Elkhardt-Thompson Middle School. “We have mold in the ceiling and broken windows. Our teaching conditions are our students’ learning conditions.”
The juxtaposition between what teachers say is the underfunding of education and their state government’s enthusiasm for shoveling money to Amazon may have intensified some teachers' anger. But Virginia isn't the only state where money is being funneled to companies.
According to a Good Jobs First report, “public schools across the country lost at least $1.8 billion last year as a result of economic development tax incentives granted to corporations.” In 2017, Virginia state and local governments reportedly lost $147 million in revenue to economic development incentives. U.S. state and local governments, as a whole, lost $12 billion that year to these deals.
On the Capitol grounds Monday, American Federation of Teachers union president Randi Weingarten said, “The Amazon deal, compared to the money for schools, seems so dissonant. How could the Amazon deal [be] such a priority and schools all throughout the state be less of a priority for the legislators?”
In the short-term, education advocates are urging lawmakers to back Northam's proposed $269 million hike in school spending, which includes a 5 percent teacher raise. But for teachers like Nelson, the Amazon deal won’t be soon forgotten.
“It seemed like more of the same,” she said. “And that’s why we’re all out here -- we don’t want more of the same."