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The Newsletter of The Commonwealth Institute: Fall 2021

This time of year always encourages reflection on the past and planning for the future. The Commonwealth Institute (TCI) is looking back on our organizational progress — including our renewed mission and vision and the critical accomplishments made in partnership with others — as well as the ongoing needs of Virginia’s families and communities. While some recent events have seemed unique, they highlighted the barriers and injustice that many communities have faced for generations. It’s no surprise that we’re still grappling with an ongoing pandemic, an economic crisis that has affected marginalized communities the most, and continued demand for racial justice. In the wake of all of this, it can be challenging to know where to focus. At TCI, we are leaning into our values to advance racial and economic justice in Virginia and continuing to focus on solutions that work. 

Federal economic recovery packages and policy choices at the state level highlight governments’ role in preparing for and responding to challenging times. By partnering with people and community groups across the state, we put solutions in place in 2020 and 2021 that helped people navigate the health and economic crises of the ongoing pandemic. Along with Fund Our Schools, we protected K-12 funding during a revenue shortfall and advanced a bill to fund more school staff to meet students’ increasing emotional, mental, and physical health needs. Working people and advocates put Virginia on a path to a $15 minimum wage, which delivered well-deserved raises to thousands of essential workers and Black and Latinx Virginians who have long faced barriers to high-wage jobs. Staying the course on minimum wage will continue to help families make ends meet. And along with immigrants’ rights groups, we removed barriers to lawful driving and health coverage for Virginia’s immigrant residents, helping to make sure everyone in our communities has the resources needed to be healthy and provide for their families.

These accomplishments got us closer to the Virginia we want to see moving forward — a Virginia where all of us can thrive, without exception — yet the work must continue. As we close out 2021 and look to 2022, together, we must focus on and continue to advance solutions that work and that are driven by impacted communities. While elections may change who is in office, it doesn’t change that Virginia families still face many challenges, and those needs should be at the center of policymaking. It doesn’t change the fact that the voices of Virginia communities should be at the forefront of public discourse. And it doesn’t alter TCI’s commitment to partner with and shift power to communities most impacted by policies in order to advance racial and economic justice in Virginia.

We’re staying focused on building an equitable tax code — one that closes corporate loopholes and ensures that millionaires pay their fair share — that allows us to invest in our people and in our communities. TCI’s ongoing partnerships are strengthening our ability to put forward bold solutions in 2022 for investing in strong public education and providing our teachers with adequate pay; making sure affordable and comprehensive health coverage is available to all children who call Virginia home; addressing the impact of fines and fees on low-income and Black communities in Virginia; building upon the investments made in the American Rescue Plan Act and the emerging Build Back Better plan, and more.

We look forward to working with you to advance solutions that work in the 2022 legislative session and beyond.

Phil Hernandez, Senior Vice President for Policy & Advocacy

P.S. In addition to the great resources in the rest of this newsletter, we hope that you will join us for our annual Policy Summit. This year’s event is free, and you can register here.

Shaping the Conversation through Policy Solutions and Analysis

TCI put out several products throughout this year that lifted up policy solutions and wins within education, health care, and criminal legal reform, and advocated for the equitable distribution of ARPA funding to ensure progression toward a fair and just Virginia. Many of these pieces will bolster our work moving forward, and they were all made possible by grant funding and contributions from donors and supporters like you. 

Check out:

Leading the Effort to Sustain Transformative, Long-term Investments

A diverse collective of organizations committed to making sure that Virginia has the resources to fully invest in education, health care, and more joined together to form the Tax Fairness for Virginia coalition earlier this year. Spearheaded by TCI and New Virginia Majority, this new coalition will advocate for much-needed reforms to how Virginia raises revenue, such as flipping Virginia’s upside-down tax system and closing corporate tax loopholes. Rodrigo Soto joined TCI in May and has been leading this work.


Meet Rodrigo

“As TCI’s new Revenue Campaign Manager, advancing tax justice in Virginia is personal to me. For far too long, Virginia’s tax laws have heavily favored extremely wealthy individuals and large, profitable corporations. This has limited our state government’s ability to invest in our schools, in our healthcare, and in families like mine. I am committed to doing my part to raise new, sustainable revenue so that we have the resources to build a Virginia that works for all of us. I am excited to join TCI and work alongside a diverse coalition of people committed to fixing our upside-down tax code and creating opportunities for all of us to thrive.”


TCI’s President and CEO Honored for Accomplishments

In October, TCI’s President and CEO Ashley C. Kenneth was honored for accomplishments in her career and the community by being inducted into the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2) Alumni Hall of Fame. Ashley’s studies at SP2 have had a clear impact on her work for Virginia communities. As a graduate student, Ashley explored the implementation of racial equity impact assessments, requiring lawmakers to assess if and how a proposed policy would worsen racial disparities before enacting it. Earlier this year, Ashley led the advocacy efforts that put this idea into Virginia law for criminal justice legislation and was later appointed to Gov. Northam’s Commission to Examine Racial & Economic Inequity in Virginia Law.

TCI is proud to have Ashley at the helm as we work to advance racial and economic justice in Virginia. Join us in congratulating Ashley by sending an email or connecting on Twitter!

Strengthening Advocacy through Partnership: Virginia Community Voice

As part of our efforts to decriminalize poverty, TCI is joining up with Virginia Community Voice (VACV) to conduct equitable community engagement, such as free training and coaching services, which will have a particular focus on ending the criminalization of poverty and reducing the harm from court-imposed fines and fees in Virginia. VACV is a 501c3 organization with a mission to equip neighbors in marginalized communities to realize their vision for their neighborhoods and prepare institutions to respond effectively. Since 2017, VACV has successfully listened to and engaged more than 1,000 neighbors in marginalized communities along the Richmond Highway Corridor through RVA Thrives. Today, the RVA Thrives Steering Committee meets monthly to craft community-rooted solutions to complex issues, focusing on housing affordability, evictions, and equitable development. Moving forward, through this partnership with VACV, we see an opportunity to further strengthen our internal capacity to engage in long-term, equitable community outreach that centers the lived experiences of communities of color and supports meaningful policy change. This will also support and inform TCI’s longer-term goal, as part of our strategic plan, to establish a Community Council that expands our engagement capacity across all of TCI’s issue areas.

Federal Legislation Is One Step Closer to Addressing Immediate Needs of Virginia Communities

The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the Build Back Better plan, sending it to the U.S. Senate for consideration. The federal recovery package is expected to lift nearly 100,000 Virginia children above the poverty line, make child care more affordable for nearly all families, provide universal pre-K, invest in affordable housing, build upon recent health coverage improvements, and establish a paid leave program. Not only does the Build Back Better plan address some immediate needs for Virginia families, it also provides a critical example of what we can accomplish with reforms that make the tax code fairer and require the wealthiest and most profitable corporations to pay their fair share. TCI and partners have led a chorus of voices advocating to ensure that key policy solutions that work, including the Child Tax Credit, housing vouchers, and child care access, are included in the final legislation. We look forward to working with you to make the most of this legislation in Virginia and building upon it in the years to come.


Throughout the last couple of years, we have seen that effective public policy plays a vital role in supporting communities across the state. As we reflect on the kind of Virginia we want to build as we move forward — one where everyone can thrive, with no exceptions — we must protect key wins from the past 3 years, lay the groundwork that will allow for future opportunities and make sure state lawmakers focus on solutions that work and deliver what our communities need to rebuild equitably. 

Thank you for your continued support!

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