Why Virginia spends $500,000 on students who help state lawmakers

Posted at 1:23 PM, Feb 20, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-23 19:26:26-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) -  They are as prolific on Capitol Square as statues of George Washington. Virginia’s House and Senate pages are a well-mannered group of 13 and 14 year olds impeccably dressed in blazers and freshly buffed shoes.

They open doors, make copies, run errands and bring lunches to Virginia lawmakers.

They also learn life experiences such as balancing time and money.

"I probably won't forget this for the rest of my life," current page Devyn Lee said.

For nine weeks, more than 70 Virginia teenagers leave school to take part in the page program.

In a state that loves tradition, the page program goes back to at least 1850. Every year a new class is chosen, upon recommendations from lawmakers.

While the experience is described as unforgettable by some, it does not come cheap.

The state pays each page $145 a week, plus transportation costs, chaperone fees, and instructors for school work.

House pages cost taxpayers anywhere between $225,000 and $250,000 dollars a year.

Senate pages and messengers cost $260,000 dollars a year.

Add it all up and the page program costs taxpayers more than $500,000 for nine weeks in Richmond. While many states have either cut or scaled back their page program due to costs, Virginia has not.

"I think it is a very worthwhile program," G. Paul Nardo, Clerk of the House of Delegates, told CBS 6. Nardo oversees the program in the House Chamber.

"They are our energy and our enthusiasm and our legs during session cause we don't have time to run back and forth between two buildings - plus some things can't be sent through the Internet," Susan Schaar, Clerk of the State Senate, said.

House Speaker William Howell said "they learn how government works many come back in one form or another either working in the legislature or elected officials it's just a great program."

But many lawmakers around the country have disagreed.

In 2011, in a rare joint statement between by Speaker John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi, the United States House of Representatives shut down its page program writing

"This decision was not easy but it is necessary due to the prohibitive cost of the program and advances in technology that have rendered most page provided services no longer essential."

Many other states restrict page visits to just one or two weeks, while others allow pages on just rare occasions.

Many former pages have reached out following our report telling CBS 6 the page program does more than just "deliver lunches" and that valuable lessons are learned.

Others have said that while being a page is a great program perhaps a more cost effective way to go about it can be adopted.

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