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Jones: Education is key to economy
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Elizabeth Jones

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Elizabeth Jones believes education is key to improving the economy and bringing good jobs to Southside, which she sees as the No. 1 issue in the 16th District House of Delegates race.

Jones, a retired educator and assistant voter registrar who spent 32 years working in public schools in New York, believes she can bring a fresh perspective to the General Assembly. She is running for the seat being vacated by Del. Don Merricks and will face Republican Les Adams in the Nov. 5 election.

“We have to start with education. There needs to be career technical/vocational education in public schools starting in middle school,” said Jones, a Democrat. That kind of study gives students “direction upon graduation” and prepares them for good-paying jobs, she said.

Jones said some schools already have such programs, but she wants to see them become more widespread.

Preparing the workforce would attract new businesses and jobs to the area, according to Jones and information on her campaign website. She praised the New College Institute, which is working to prepare students for jobs in advanced manufacturing, as an investment in the area’s future.

Jones also would like to see changes in the formula by which schools receive state funding so that less affluent parts of the state, such as Southside, could receive more funds.

“I definitely believe in equality of resources in our schools, from the most wealthy to the least wealthy,” she said.

She did not offer specifics on changes she would like to see in the funding formula but said if she is elected, she hopes to serve on the education committee so she could have a voice in how such policies are crafted.

Increasing broadband access in rural areas and increasing teacher salaries also would be priorities, Jones said.

Jones, who bought a farm in Chatham 10 years ago with her husband, Anderson — who grew up in the area — said she believes the legislature has not done enough to improve the local economy, which has struggled for years.

“We must stay focused on the issues that are important,” she said. “I do not believe the legislature was really focused that much on jobs in Martinsville because it remains the highest unemployment (in the state) ... There’s no reason for that except neglect. Except the fact that our voice in Richmond is being shut out.”

Jones pledged to make that voice heard.

“What the legislator who represents the 16th District needs to do is bring some urgency to the issues, some common sense and common ground building. If we can get the same amount of resources in our schools that Northern Virginia has, there is no limit on what our schools would be capable of,” she said.

Jones said she hears from many voters who feel they are taxed unfairly, and she would look for ways to increase revenue without increasing taxes. She pointed to incentives to attract businesses to the area as one example.

“I’ve heard repeatedly (that) people feel they are unfairly taxed, and when people feel that way, it is up to the legislators to make sure they do all they can to let the people know they’re on their side, not tax and spend but that taxation is something that needs to stay low as an incentive to keep the economy growing,” she said.

She pointed out that Virginia is known as a great state in which to do business and said she wants to see that continue.

Jones is against efforts to repeal the state’s ban on uranium mining and said she would work to find ways to “stop the debate” on lifting the ban, whether by legislation or perhaps an amendment to the state constitution.

Virginia Uranium has been lobbying for an end to the ban so that it could mine a 119-million-pound uranium deposit in Coles Hill in Pittsylvania County. The company says doing so would bring much-needed jobs and revenue to the area.

Jones, whose home is about three miles from the site of the deposit, said she opposes the ban because mining has not been proven safe in a climate such as Southside’s and because she believes a uranium mining operation would discourage other businesses from opening in the area.

“People understand the risks, the stigma and the fears involved in uranium mining in the area,” she said. “ ... Even if regulations were written, it would not be the kind of industry that would help us grow.” It might even lead to population loss that would hurt local economies, she said.

Jones, who is seeking her first elected office, said her experience as an educator and also on numerous community boards and organizations has shown her the importance of hearing various ideas and working together to adopt policies that “get the mission done,” an idea she plans to take to Richmond.

“I don’t see it as a scary body of contention,” she said of the General Assembly. “I see it as a place that wants to do the people’s business.”

The 16th District includes Martinsville and parts of Henry and Pittsylvania counties.


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