November 3, 2016
Virginia Board of Education to Lawmakers: Fix School Funding
Last Thursday, the Virginia Board of Education unanimously approved a set of recommendations that would significantly improve support for Virginia schools. The vote sends a clear message to the General Assembly that it’s time for the state to fix the school funding formula.
The Board recommends increasing state support for critical positions which include principals, assistant principals, school counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and support staff. The newly approved standards are designed to better reflect the real costs schools actually face in meeting the state’s constitutional obligation to seek to ensure a high-quality education for Virginia students.
Estimates show these recommendations would increase state support for Virginia schools by almost $600 million in the 2018 budget year. These increases would largely bring K-12 support back in-line with funding levels before the cuts lawmakers enacted during the recession, after adjusting for enrollment growth and inflation. If approved, funding levels in the 2018 school year would be down about 2 percent per pupil from support in 2009, adjusted for inflation.
As board member James Dillard said in an interview after the vote, “This is what’s actually necessary in the classroom. It is our obligation to try to do what’s right for the children of Virginia.”
The recommendations include a combination of undoing past cuts to the standards and updating them to better reflect the current needs of Virginia students. This includes undoing arbitrary, cost-saving tactics used by lawmakers during the recession. It also includes increasing staffing for school counselors, psychologists, social workers, and nurses to meet the growing number of students that have additional needs both in and out of the classroom through no fault of their own. The Board’s recommendations note that the number of economically disadvantaged students has increased by 39 percent, the number of English Learners has increased 63 percent, and the number of students identified with autism has increased 222 percent in the last 10 years, while the overall student population has only increased 6 percent in Virginia’s public schools.
Lawmakers initially balked at the Board’s recommendations. One member said flat out, “We’re not going to fund $600 million. I mean, let’s just be honest.“
And given the budgetary challenges the state faces in the upcoming legislative session, it might be difficult to accomplish all of the recommendations made by the Board, especially if lawmakers take a cuts-only approach to balancing the budget. Some Virginia Board members have indicated that they are open to phased approaches and prioritization as a planning tool for the state to fund the recommendations.
The recommendations are significant, and lawmakers should take them seriously because Virginia’s Constitution charges Virginia’s Board of Education with setting the state’s educational standards. These recommendations show that the Board has taken this charge seriously and has acted to fix our educational standards. It is now up to the General Assembly to meet their constitutional obligation and prioritize how to fund them.
–Chris Duncombe, Policy Analyst