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August 23, 2023

K-12 Funding in 2023: What’s Up With That 22% Number?

There was a lot of attention today on the investments in Virginia’s schools that students, parents, and educators successfully fought to get in Governor Northam’s outgoing budget and win after years of advocacy and through a long budget process. While we can’t forget that the state is not doing anywhere near what it can and should to make sure our students have the resources to thrive – a point that was recently driven home in JLARC’s report that noted the need for over $4 billion in additional state funding for schools – we can and should celebrate the gains we’ve made.

Let’s dig into the 22% increase statistic that was the subject of some questions during the Secretary of Finance’s presentation today to the Virginia General Assembly’s “joint money committees.” That’s the percent increase in per pupil funding between the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 fiscal (and school) years. That figure matches what’s shown in the state department of education’s school funding workbook (the infamous “calc” workbooks that had a calculation error last year). But it’s not adjusted for inflation, and includes one-time school construction funding that was appropriated in 2023 but is meant to start making up for many years of underfunding (although much more is needed to fill the $25 billion backlog). 

What are the dollar amounts behind that 22% increase?

  • The total dollar increase was $1.9 billion, which is almost $1,500 per student.
  • $950 million (almost half the total funding increase) is the one-time school construction grants. Much of this money wasn’t actually provided to the school divisions until near the end of the 2022-2023 school year, and school divisions are still applying for some of it. Because these aren’t likely to be included again in FY24, we’ll probably see a technical decrease in total state funding for schools in the next budget unless policymakers make transformative investments in our schools in their budget amendments.
  • About $400 million is built-in annual updates for things like program participation changes, sales tax estimates, and protecting schools from losing funding due to things like enrollment volatility and ending the state grocery tax.
  • Just over $100 million went toward partially lifting the arbitrary cap on state funding for school support staff.
  • Governor Northam’s outgoing budget and the final budget deal included some other important improvements for our students, including:
    • Providing the state share of funding to raise pay for teachers and other school staff by 5%. That’s about $250 million of the $1.9 billion total.
    • Increasing funding for high-poverty schools to help students reach their full potential. The final budget included about $100 million in additional funding in FY23 for these schools.
    • Funding for reading specialists for elementary school students. The final budget included about $31 million for this.
  • The college laboratory school fund, which is also one-time spending and didn’t go to local school divisions, is $100 million of the total. Only a very small fraction of this money was disbursed by the state department of education during the 2022-2023 fiscal year, and was only available for planning purposes.

Budget & Revenue, Education

Levi Goren

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