Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe on Thursday backed higher pay for teachers and more resources for pre-K programs in an education plan that was part of a weeklong rollout of the agenda he'd pursue if elected.
Speaking to a friendly crowd in Arlington, McAuliffe also criticized the standardized testing system used throughout the state to grade schools and teachers and vowed to change it.
"The current, once-a-year, high-stakes, multiple choice testing isn't working for students, parents or teachers," said McAuliffe. "If a fifth-grade teacher starts the year with a child reading at first-grade level and at the end of the year has brought that child up to a 4th grade level, the current system calls that a failure. We must move toward progress-based data."
McAuliffe's emphasis on pumping more money into public schools differs drastically from what Virginians have heard so far from Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the Republican candidate for governor.
Cuccinelli has instead emphasized creating more choices for parents, taking up a fight Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell has waged with limited success since entering office. Last year, McDonnell won approval for a new voucher-style program that provides tax credits to businesses that award scholarships to low-income students to attend private schools. McDonnell this year also passed a measure that could ease restrictions on the creation of charter schools, though the state has been less enthusiastic than neighboring Maryland and the District about those schools.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, Cuccinelli outlined an education agenda that hinted at similar efforts.
"I believe it is unacceptable for any child to receive a meager education because of where they live," said Cuccinelli. "No child should be forced to remain in a failing school -- it condemns that child to mediocrity or worse. We need to give parents the flexibility and the tools they need to make the best educational choices for their children."
McAuliffe, who recently picked up the endorsement of the Virginia Education Association, said Tuesday that teacher's in the state are underpaid, and that could hamper recruitment and retainment in coming years as baby boomers retire from long careers as educators.
Following in the footsteps of President Obama, who called for universal pre-K education earlier this year, McAuliffe said funding early childhood education was "the wisest dollars we will ever spend both for families and our future."
The event in Arlington was the last stop on McAuliffe's five-day, statewide campaign swing, which was equal parts an introduction to voters and a policy rollout. McAuliffe was joined Thursday by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., whose decision not to run for governor paved the way for McAuliffe to run unopposed for his party's nomination.