Representatives talk education, 460 and minimum wage

Published 10:05 am Saturday, April 11, 2015

This past week, Sen. John Cosgrove (R-14) and Delegates Roslyn Tyler (D-75) and Rick Morris (R-64) accepted the invitation of the Franklin-Southampton Chamber of Commerce to appear at the Regional Workforce Development Center and talk about the General Assembly’s session.

Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-18) sent her legislative aide, Gail Henderson, in her absence. Each gave a summary on what the most recent session meant to them, but the present representatives didn’t take a lot of time. That’s because they were more interested in what was to come — taking a few minutes to field questions from the audience.

The crowd was made up of mostly members of local high schools and Paul D. Camp Community College, and their first question was about the issue of rising student debt.

Morris thought that a business approach needed to be brought to the institutes of higher learning.

“What is causing tuition to be so high?” he asked. “I think we need to go through the budgets and trim the fat. We need to have the institutions become more inexpensive, and then pass that savings onto the students.”

Tyler, who serves on the education commission, said she is a mom of four college students.

“To help curtail some of that cost, we should encourage students into going through the community college system — I did with my kids,” she said. “Students can go in, and get the necessary foundation at a cheaper tuition fee than they could by going into a four-year college.”

Tyler also mentioned that she would like to see community college students transferring to be a higher priority at universities to receive more grant and scholarship money.

Students ought to think hard about what degree they are getting, Cosgrove said. If you are getting a degree in engineering or the sciences, you will be snapped up and better able to pay for the loans.

“If you are getting a degree in philosophy, Mid-East studies or social work, you are not going to have the job you need with the salary to pay off student debt,” Cosgrove said. “I’m not saying you shouldn’t get those degrees, but you have to have an understanding of what the realities are in the job world when you come out.”

He also mentioned that he was a proud graduate of Tidewater Community College.

“My friends at Old Dominion in their first calculus class had 400 people in there. It was held in a big auditorium. They never got to see the teacher,” Cosgrove said. “When I took calculus, there were eight people in the class. You could talk to the professor all the time. I got a great foundation in math because of that.”

The delegates were also asked about the public education system. Morris said that education first begins at home with the parents’ approach. Second, he felt like the state needed to prioritize spending.

“I don’t believe money is always the answer to the problem,” he said. “Look at my golf game — more expensive clubs do not make me hit the ball any further.

“We need to look at priorities in reading, writing, arithmetic and being self sufficient. We need to get back to the basics.”

Tyler said Standards of Learning reform was important because it was taking creativity out of the classrooms.

“We are forcing them to teach the exams,” she said, adding that funding for teachers is also important. “In Southside Virginia, good teachers are leaving for other areas for higher-paying positions. We need to have more teachers qualified and willing to stay.”

Those present were also curious about Route 460, and Cosgrove had a few things to say about it.

“The Army Corps of Engineers are very difficult to deal with,” he said candidly. “I don’t think they’ve ever seen an acre of land they didn’t think was wetland. That’s what killed the previous option.

“I would like to see it on the same route it is on. My only concern is if we widen the road, we will take out some businesses. None of the answers are great — someone is going to suffer, and someone is going to win. We just have to keep working, and I am listening to folks on the issue.”

Minimum wage was the final concern from the audience, and Morris fielded that answer. He said increasing the minimum wage is the wrong thing to do because setting an artificial price floor actually hurts those it is supposed to help.

“If businesses are having to pay labor more money, their expenses are going up, but it does not mean they have more revenue coming in,” he said. “They end up having to raise prices to meet their expenses. When businesses are raising prices, does a wage increase actually help?”

It might also require businesses to cut some of the lower-wage jobs. Morris said that wasn’t the best way to help employees on a lower income. It’s better to make business more attractive by cutting red tape.

“The best way to help workers is to help the businesses become less regulated, as far as their expenses,” he said. “If businesses are not so incumbered from the local regulation and local expenses of doing business, then they have more money to reinvest. That means more money to spend on workers, and to expand the business and hire more workers.”