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Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni Presents at Virginia Rural Caucus Meeting

Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni addresses the Rural Caucus

Richmond, Va. – Education was the focus of the January 24th Rural Caucus meeting, which was headlined by newly appointed Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni and featured presentations from the Small and Rural School Division Coalition steering committee members.

Qarni earned his bachelor’s degree in sociology from George Washington University, as well as a master’s in history and a teaching licensure from George Mason University. Most recently he taught middle school civics and economics in Prince William County. Qarni, a military veteran who served in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve, deployed to Iraq in 2003.

“I’m very interested in working with you and helping you find solutions to very complex problems over the next four years,” Qarni told the Caucus. “I know four years is not a very long time, but we’re going to make progress and help as many folks as possible.”

“I say once a teacher, always a teacher, and it was really a dream come true when the Governor made the appointment, going right from the classroom to the cabinet,” said Qarni, a third generation teacher. “I grew up around teaching and that’s why I went into education. Teaching truly is, I believe, doing God’s work.”

In addition to Qarni, the Caucus heard from superintendents of several rural Virginia school districts including Dr. Keith Perrigan, Superintendent for Bristol Virginia City Schools, who discussed the mission of the newly formed Small and Rural School Division Coalition.

Established in late 2017, the Coalition provides its 69 rural Virginia school division members with a strong, collaborative partnership and voice in Richmond. The Coalition stresses a “hold harmless” approach to legislation and policy impacting non-participating divisions as it seeks to advocate for students, teachers, staff and stakeholders in small and rural communities.

During his presentation, Perrigan noted the growing discrepancy in per-pupil funding, poverty levels and other metrics as he compared a number of statistical measures for rural and suburban school divisions.

“In rural Virginia, the funding formula has not been very kind to us over the last seven or eight years,” Perrigan said, explaining that a one-cent tax increase in a rural area raises $20 million while the same increase in suburban areas generates $46 million.

“For small and rural school divisions, it’s easy to see why – in order to be heard when we come to Richmond – we needed to develop a coalition,” said Perrigan, who serves on the Coalition’s steering committee.

Sen. Frank Ruff, Rural Caucus Chairman, echoed the stark demographic differences across state regions. “Three counties in the state have the same number of students as 109 other school jurisdictions,” said Ruff.

Perrigan highlighted four primary areas of focus that are guiding the Coalition’s work in 2018, including boosting teacher recruitment and retention, protecting student enrollment loss, providing school construction funding, and eliminating unfunded mandates.

Perrigan closed by encouraging legislators to support a bipartisan amendment to increase the At-Risk-Add-On program, which targets economically disadvantaged urban and rural school districts.

Virginia Rural Caucus meetings are held each Wednesday at 5 p.m. in Senate Subcommittee Room #2, located on the 5th floor of the Pocahontas Building. For more information, visit the Center for Rural Virginia Events Calendar here. For more information, visit the Center for Rural Virginia Events Calendar here or contact Executive Director Kristie Proctor at or (804) 512-1453.

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