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February 1, 2019

Teachers March and Some General Assembly Leaders Vote…For Tax Giveaways, We’ll Know More Sunday

This week thousands of teachers marched and rallied at the Capitol building. Fed up by inadequate pay, decreasing supports, and deteriorating facilities, they demanded better from state lawmakers.

Virginia is now 42nd in the country in state per student funding – shown in a report released last week from the legislature’s researchers – putting us below many nearby states with similar or lower costs of living such as Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, and West Virginia. That we’re below Mississippi is of particular note, as they have the lowest per capita income in the entire country; meaning they have much fewer state resources to fund schools than Virginia which ranks 11th in per capita income.

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Most Virginians see the challenges and are willing to do their share to help out. VCU’s annual Commonwealth Education Poll shows 70 percent of people in Virginia recognize that current funding for public schools is not enough to meet existing needs. It also finds that “63 percent of Virginians indicate a personal willingness to pay higher taxes to increase funding … the highest percentage measured in the 16 years the poll has asked the question.”

This is occurring at a time when state leaders finally have resources to address these challenges. Right now lawmakers are discussing what to do with new revenues that include $1.2 billion from recent federal tax changes, $550 million from overall growth in Virginia’s economy, and up to $93 million from collecting online sales tax from out-of-state vendors. These dollars could make a profound impact on our schools, as either recurring or one-time investments.

Yet instead, on the very same day teachers rallied at the Capitol, the House Finance Committee advanced Del. Jones proposal (HB2355) to fence off nearly $1 billion in revenues into a “Taxpayer Relief Fund” that will materialize as tax cuts at some later date – perhaps right before the November election for which all House members will be running (here is the vote). Fast forward two days later, Senate Finance Committee members advanced Sen. Norment’s proposal (SB1372) on a party line vote (here is the vote) to give away almost $900 million of these revenues, including $420 million in the form of checks ($110 for individuals and $220 for couples) that will get sent out in October – yes, right before the November election for which they will also be running.

Virginia is one of the lowest tax states in the country. On average, people in Virginia pays less in state and local taxes as a percentage of their income than residents in 46 other states. We also know of the dire needs of our schools and that nearly two-thirds of Virginians are willing to pay more in taxes to support them. Virginia lawmakers have an opportunity right now to make critical investments in education even above the governor’s proposal for investing $269 million. Similar to the governor’s proposal, House leaders have pledged to increase teacher salaries a further 2 percent (raising a budgeted 3% increase to a 5% increase). Yet, with these massive giveaways in revenues advancing in each chamber, what else they’re going to do for schools hangs very much in doubt.

Teachers were not just marching and rallying for competitive pay. As listed on the Virginia Educators United website and identified in the Virginia Education Association 2019 legislative agenda, they marched for education funding writ large – this includes adequate support staff, school facility improvements, and recruitment and retention of diverse staff.

We’ll see whether legislators stand with teachers, parents, and students on Sunday, February 3 when House Appropriations and Senate Finance release their budget proposals.

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Categories:
Budget & Revenue, Education

Chris Duncombe

chris@thecommonwealthinstitute.org

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