The late, great Senator Hunter Andrews used to say, “The Governor proposes, but the General Assembly disposes.” And today the first step of that two-step dance took place at the General Assembly Building before the joint money committees.
Virginia Department of Budget and Planning Director Dan Timberlake offered the following synopsis of the increased investment in our public schools:
Public Education – Invests an additional $864 million from the general fund over the biennium. Highlights include:
- $429.8 million to rebenchmark the Standards of Quality (SOQ).
- $139.1 million for 2,500 additional teachers.
- $83.2 million for a two percent salary increase for all state-supported SOQ positions.
- $55.1 million to increase VRS retirement rates to 100 percent of the actuarially required rates in FY 2018.
- $49.7 million to increase the at-risk add-on program aiding school divisions with high concentrations of at-risk students.
- $40.6 million to restore the Cost of Competing adjustment for support positions in FY 2018.
- $30.0 million to reduce the transfer of Literary Fund for teacher retirement.
- $5.6 million for a new funding formula for Academic-Year Governor’s Schools.
- $5.0 million to increase funding for career and technical education credentialing and equipment.
- Other funding: increases support for the school breakfast program, provides for automating more Standards of Learning tests, increases the availability of online education, and establishes pilots to encourage public-private service delivery of services to high risk children and communities participating in the Virginia Preschool Initiative. 20
This is a major infusion of needed funding for our schools. Public education receives 57% of the new funding! The following items on VEA’s legislative agenda are addressed in this budget:
This is the biggest disappointment in this budget. The state share of a 2% increase is provided for the second year of the biennium. No state support for an increase in the first year is provided. This just does not align with the need for the state to attract and retain teachers at a time when many of our teachers are reaching retirement age. Virginia’s average teacher salary is $6,800 below the national average, and our salary is judged to be the least competitive in the nation when our teachers are compared to “other professionals in the same labor market who are of similar age, degree level, and hours worked” (http://www.schoolfundingfairness.org/National_Report_Card_2015.pdf pp. 28-29). We have the least competitive teacher salary in the nation.
VEA will continue to work with General Assembly members to provide a salary increase in each year of the next biennium.
Support for challenged schools
A major flaw in Virginia’s funding formula is the failure to address the higher cost of meeting the educational needs of children living in poverty. The additional $49.7 million will provide needed support for the education of poor students.
Restoring School Funding
The infusion of funds provided in the budget take us above the pre-recessionary per-pupil funding level if inflation is not considered; however, when inflation is factored in we still fall far short. It is worth noting that when funding was cut in reaction to the Great Recession, the SOQ funding formula was permanently changed to reduce required state spending. This budget restores funding by providing categorical/discretionary funding.
The McAulliffe budget exceeds our expectations in regard to VRS funding, moving to 100% funding of the VRS Board Certified Rate one year sooner that the target previously agreed to by the General Assembly.
Education vs. Incarceration
The Governor and VEA are clearly on the same page on this issue. Today, McAuliffe said, “Our juvenile justice system is supposed to help young men and women get on the right path, but research shows that the longer young people spend in our juvenile correctional centers, the more likely they are to commit another crime. Our system is built for failure.
We must have a 21st century solution that gives our young people the support they need to turn their lives around.
We’ve already reduced the population in our juvenile correctional centers from 600 to 350.
The next step is to reinvest savings from reduced incarcerations to build smaller, secure, state-of-the-art centers and community-based treatment alternatives.”
The VEA supports closing the health insurance coverage gap to free up funds for public education, and this is exactly what McAuliffe’s budget does. The resulting savings in this biennial budget are $157 million.
This is a very preliminary overview of the budget in relation to the VEA Legislative Agenda. We will be providing much more information in the days and weeks ahead.