October 27, 2016
Reduced Funding for Virginia Schools Threatens Future Workforce and Puts Businesses and Communities at Risk
Virginia continues to invest less in our schools and students than before the recession. A new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that Virginia is among the third of states with the largest cuts to per-pupil spending since 2008 with an inflation adjusted decline of 12.4 percent.
School cuts undermine promising education reforms such as reducing class sizes, improving teacher quality, increasing learning time, and expanding early childhood education, and have damaging economic consequences.
Research shows that money matters for improving educational outcomes and the future economic success of young people, particularly for students living in families who struggle to get by financially. For example, a recent study from researchers at Northwestern University and University California, Berkeley shows that sustained investments in K-12 schools improves student performance and life outcomes, and the benefits are much more pronounced for children from low-income families.
Examining data on more than 15,000 children born between 1955 and 1985, the researchers show that when increases are sustained over a 12 year period, students are more likely to complete high school, their average adult wages go up, and the likelihood that they’ll be living in poverty goes down. A separate study by the Washington Center for Equitable Growth found that increased state investments in schools raised both the absolute and the relative achievement of students in low-income districts, meaning these students improved and started to catch up to students in wealthier districts.
Some have suggested that reduced financial support for K-12 education should not be a cause for concern for Virginians because Virginia students continue to outperform peers in other states. That is a fair question. So we took a deeper look at the issue.
Turns out, the argument runs counter to what more rigorous academic studies have shown to be true: money matters for educational outcomes and future economic success. It also ignores that test scores have been going down in Virginia for student populations facing greater barriers to success that also benefit most from increased K-12 investment.
The performance of Black students, low-income students, and English language learners in Virginia on national exams has declined in multiple grades since the recession, while overall student performance in Virginia has gone up or held steady on these tests. This disparity might be a consequence of the cuts to education, as they undermine the ability of schools to provide the additional services that many of these students require.
For example, since 2007, 4th grade reading scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have gone up for all Virginians on average by 2 points, increasing 4 points for White students and 9 points for students that do not qualify for free or reduced lunch. Yet, they have fallen by 5 points for Black students, 2 points for students that receive free or reduced lunch, and an astounding 21 points for English language learners. Average eighth grade math scores show a similar divergence; with the state holding steady overall, while the performance of Black students and English language learners falls.
Perhaps these trends should not be surprising as cuts to state support for schools since the recession have disproportionately impacted high poverty school divisions, which also often have the least ability to make up for the state cuts using local resources.
The future of Virginia’s children, communities, and commonwealth depends heavily on the quality of K-12 schools, yet Virginia continues to rank among the states that have made the deepest cuts in its support for its schools and students. Virginia should take a better approach – one informed by solid research in the field – and invest the resources needed to be a place where every child, no matter where they live, has a chance to get a top-quality education.