Skip to Content
June 26, 2024

A Look at Critical Progress Made for K-12, Next Steps to Support Students (Session 2024 Recap)

Every child in Virginia should be able to attend a high-quality public school that helps them learn and thrive. Yet we know that the state is falling far short of providing its fair share of the cost of creating and supporting schools, resulting in students in less wealthy communities attending schools without enough student support staff, outdated technology, crumbling buildings, and more. One of TCI’s priorities during the 2024 legislative session was to make real progress to improve public schools in Virginia, particularly focusing on improving services for students who are currently facing the highest barriers to learning and thriving, including English language learners and students from low-income families. We did this primarily by advocating for the implementation of key recommendations by the state’s own research agency, JLARC. In July 2023, JLARC released a major report showing the problems in Virginia’s current school funding system and proposed a number of ways that the state could better fulfill its commitment to helping to create high-quality schools for every student. We also worked for key additional improvements to Virginia’s schools, including targeted funding to improve student mental health support, clarifying requirements for certain disciplinary steps, and providing more local options to raise money for school building needs.

Alongside partners, advocates, and legislative champions, we made real progress this year in providing more adequate support for two groups of students who Virginia has long underserved – students from low-income families and English language learners. The final budget provides $371.3 million in additional flexible funding to help school divisions meet the needs of students from low-income families and schools with high concentrations of low-income students. This matters because the highest-quality recent research shows that sustained increases in funding for low-income students are effective at raising outcomes, and that funding levels matter more for outcomes for low-income students than for students overall. The budget also updates the data and calculation for this add-on funding, moving to the more up-to-date “identified student percentage” data and creating a per-student add-on as well as a concentration of poverty add-on, as was recommended by JLARC. Unfortunately, non-budget legislation to make these same changes was vetoed by the governor. In future years, policymakers will need to either make sure future budgets continue these improvements or codify them using legislation. 

Policymakers also made significant improvements in state support for English language learners this year, increasing the number of instructors, particularly for students with the lowest levels of English proficiency. Virginia has lagged behind other states in providing sufficient instructional support for English language learners, resulting in English learners in Virginia having lower test scores than their peers in other states and very low graduation rates in many parts of the commonwealth. Legislators used budget language and funded the state share of the cost of moving to “tiered ratios” that provide more instructional support for students with low English proficiency. This is already done using local dollars in many school divisions in Northern Virginia. This change will mean that the state is paying its fair share of the costs in communities that were already implementing this common-sense practice using their own dollars, and will also mean that in lower-wealth communities that were unable to do this on their own in the past, English learner students will now receive more instructional help. 

We also know that if a child has a toothache, didn’t have a decent breakfast, was up all night hiding in the bathtub because of gunfire, or doesn’t know who to talk to about something happening in their home, they’re not going to be able to focus on learning. Addressing the needs of students and families in a holistic way is critical for making sure that students who face the highest hurdles are able to learn. Two increasingly popular and research-based ways to do this is through the model of “community schools,” which serve as a resource hub for addressing the needs of students and their families so that every child can learn, and credible messengers or violence intervention specialists who work with students to head off and solve problems through non-violent means. Virginia provided some additional support this year for community schools, including funding some evaluative research for violence intervention-focused community school pilots in Roanoke and Petersburg. 

TCI is proud to have worked alongside students, teachers, parents, and other advocates on these improvements to move us closer to a system of free high-quality public education for every student.

Policymakers also made some improvements for our youngest learners. With the ending of federal pandemic relief for the early childhood system, Virginia and other states have faced difficult choices in terms of how to maintain and improve their struggling child care and early education systems. Legislators provided a significant increase in funding for the early childhood system this year, and also made policy changes intended to clarify and stabilize available funding for early childhood.

Yet with all of these improvements, we know that policymakers only did a partial job of implementing the recommendations from JLARC this year, leaving many key problems such as Virginia’s severe underfunding of students with disabilities, lack of adequate teacher and staff salaries, and remaining arbitrary state cost-cutting measures from the Great Recession mostly unaddressed. In total, JLARC recommended over $4 billion in near- and long-term improvements to the state’s support for schools, of which less than 10% was implemented this year. And we know that there are many other ways that Virginia could improve educational opportunity beyond the recommendations in that July 2023 report. Future efforts should include improvements to student mental health support that were raised in JLARC’s 2022 pandemic impact report, improvements to school safety and discipline practices, and more help for local governments to address their school construction and modernization backlogs, including more flexibility to decide how to raise their own revenue and more state dollars, particularly for lower-income communities with fewer local options.

We also know that the budget passed by legislators and signed by the governor in May relies heavily on one-time funds carried forward from recent surpluses. One-time funds are not a guarantee of increased future revenues and available resources. While things are looking up right now for the U.S. and Virginia economy and therefore for future state revenue collections, the budget as passed leaves little wiggle room to invest in other priorities, adjust for unexpected costs, or even sustain current commitments if future revenue does not increase as much as hoped. Virginia will need increased sustainable revenue if we are going to make the major improvements for public schools recommended by JLARC and that we know our students deserve.

Budget & Revenue, Education

Levi Goren

Back to top