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January 21, 2016

No Excuse for Ignoring Schools

Some lawmakers in Virginia are looking for an excuse to not give Virginia’s public schools the support they need. In doing so, they’re ignoring the evidence that schools are facing serious financial challenges, as shown both by a comprehensive review of the school funding system conducted by the legislature’s own research arm, and analysis showing substantial reductions in staffing.

This position even ignores the will of the public. In a recent poll conducted by VCU’s Educational Policy Institute, most Virginians said they support a tax increase if it’s used for school funding.

So what’s the excuse lawmakers have settled on for ignoring their own research arm and the public?

That it’s not fair to local governments.

Lawmakers are resisting a proposal from the governor to fund the state’s share of 2,500 additional instructional positions due to their concern that it would cause a burden for localities, which would have to provide matching funds.

What they’re not telling you: it’s optional.

Similar to the proposed salary increase for teachers in the governor’s budget, the state portion for additional staff is entirely optional. Local governments that can’t afford to meet the state match would not be required to participate. So it’s not an additional burden. It’s a financial encouragement for localities to join the state in expanding public investment in Virginia’s most important resource – our children.

In fact, local governments have shown their willingness to step up support for education in many ways. Localities spent $3.6 billion more than the state required in the 2013-2014 school year, with all 132 school divisions in the commonwealth going above and beyond what was required of them. Many divisions spent two to three times as much as required. 

They did this largely because Virginia lawmakers have not been a full partner in funding education for Virginia’s children. For example, state lawmakers made cuts to the funding formula during the recession that contributed to an overall reduction in support to schools by $800 million each year. Local communities had to make up the difference to make sure their children received the high-quality education they deserve. 

Talk about not being fair to local governments.

–Chris Duncombe, Policy Analyst

The Commonwealth Institute

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