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September 22, 2016

Virginia’s Board of Education Considers Fixes to School Funding

Today the Virginia Board of Education will discuss a series of proposals for final consideration next month that would send a clear message to Virginia lawmakers that it’s time to fix how the state supports schools here in Virginia.

In the recommendations the state board would propose substantial changes to how Virginia funds–or fails to fund–critical positions in Virginia schools. These changes are recommended to better reflect the real costs schools actually face in meeting the state’s minimum standards for educational quality – called the Standards of Quality.

The eleven proposed recommendations include directing the state to change its support for principals, assistant principals, school counselors, psychologists, social workers, nurses, and support staff. Preliminary estimates show these recommendations would increase state support for Virginia schools by more than $500 million in the 2018 budget year, and that does not include estimates for all of the changes.

These proposed recommendations are significant, because the Constitution of Virginia charges the board with setting the state’s educational standards. The state’s code requires them to review the standards every two years and make amendments to ensure the integrity of the standards. If adopted, these recommendations would show that the board has taken this charge seriously and would direct the General Assembly to act in meeting its own charge to provide for the cost of meeting the prescribed standards.

The change with the largest financial impact is the elimination of an arbitrary cap on the number of support staff the state will help pay for. Lawmakers crafted and implemented this cap as a money saving tactic during the financial strain of the recession, yet it ignores the actual costs school divisions face.

The cap reduced state funding for vital support positions to levels below what many schools actually have or need. This means the state is no longer paying its fair share of the costs of the school staff who run administration and finances and keep equipment functional and buildings safe. In the first year of the cap, the state cut funding for about 12,900 support positions from the amount recognized before the cap, a decrease of 36 percent. These positions had to be fully funded by local governments or eliminated. Only five school divisions – serving less than three percent of Virginia’s students – had reported staffing levels below the new state cap.

In place of the cap, the board is considering a proposal to return to the prior practice of funding support services based on actual school division practices. This recommendation would return the state to a method that the legislature’s own research arm found to be “neither inadequate nor excessive” in their review of spending on support services.

The board is also considering a proposal to end the practice of only recognizing half of a principal position in certain elementary schools – recognizing that very few schools employ part-time principals – and increasing the number of assistant principals to better reflect the number that schools actually have and need. The recommendations also propose increasing the number of school counselor positions the state supports, recognizing the vital role they will play in helping students meet the new high-school graduation requirements that will create a greater emphasis on career exploration. Support for nurses, social workers, and psychologists are also expanded, acknowledging that the prior standards did not adequately address the social, emotional, and physical supports that are essential for getting students on track for a successful life.

If the Virginia Board of Education chooses to approve these recommendations at their meeting October 27, they will have done their part to review and prescribe Virginia’s Standards of Quality. That means the ball will be in the General Assembly’s court to see that schools have the resources to meet the new standards.


Chris Duncombe

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