Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Governor Proposes

Governor Terry McAuliffe presented his budget amendments to the money committees (House Appropriations, House Finance and Senate Finance) of the General Assembly this morning.  The full speech is available here.
Here is what our Governor said about public education:

More than any other priority, Virginia’s future economic success is staked upon our public education system.  If we are going to attract the jobs of today and create the jobs of tomorrow, we must constantly improve the quality of the education we offer every Virginia child.

Today, I am proud to announce that my budget recommendations contain no cuts or program reductions for elementary and secondary education and no additional cuts to higher education in Virginia.

But we can’t be satisfied with simply doing no harm. Education is too important. So I am targeting much-needed dollars to help schools facing the most daunting challenges, so that a child’s future is not determined by his or her zip code. It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and start taking action.

My budget proposal includes $713,000 to help train principals in underperforming schools so they can steer their teachers and students toward greater academic success. Those principals and others at our local schools will also get extra help from school improvement and curriculum specialists hired at the state level.

Of course, a student can’t be expected to ace a test if he or she is hungry. Today, only half of all children who could benefit from starting their day with a healthy breakfast are able to do so. That’s why my budget includes $537,000 to enhance our school breakfast program, to help these students start their day ready to learn.  By contributing just a nickel extra per breakfast, schools will now be better able to overcome logistical challenges to making breakfasts a part of the school day.

These efforts build on the work done this year by the First Lady, who has worked to bridge the nutritional divide and solve childhood hunger. She’s achieving those goals while promoting Virginia’s agriculture economy and supporting local programs related to community nutrition, food access and health strategies.

And I am not forgetting about our teachers. I am taking proceeds from the sale of unclaimed stocks and bonds turned over to the state and significantly reducing the unfunded liability of our teacher retirement fund. I am committing $150 million to protect teachers and to reduce liabilities on local government balance sheets. This action will save money through reduced future retirement payments for the state as well as localities.

An additional $75 million from the stock sales will go to the Literary Fund to fuel school construction loans and interest rate subsidies on loans through the Virginia Public School Authority.

Although my budget contains no new money for preschool, I am proposing a common sense policy that will allow us to keep making progress on early childhood education. We will allow school systems that are maxing out their use of state pre-K funding to receive extra money from dollars not used in other divisions.

And of course last week I was proud to announce that Virginia has been awarded a $17.5 million U.S. Department of Education Preschool Expansion Grant that will allow the Commonwealth to serve as many as 1,600 additional at-risk four-year-olds in new, high-quality preschool classes.

Budget Highlights for PreK-12

Governor McAuliffe’s Proposed Budget Amendments 12-17-14

  • Faced with sluggish economy and sagging revenues, the state had a shortfall in the budget approved last Spring of almost $900 million.  The Governor’s budget does not make any substantive cuts to K-12 over the biennium.
  • Additional funding for education is minimal.  The increases are:
    • Add positions in Central Office for school improvement specialists: FY 2016 = $0.6 million
    • Provide funds for training of principals in underperforming schools: FY 2016 = $0.7 million
    • Provide money for expedited retakes for SOL tests and expand computer-adaptive SOL testing:   FY 2016 = $0.9 mil
    • Enhance school free breakfast program: FY 2016 = $0.5 million
    • Reduce unfunded liability in teacher retirement fund: FY 2016 = $150 million
    • Revive use of Literary Fund for school construction loans and subsidies:  FY 2016 = $75 million.
  • Some technical reductions were taken in PreK-12.  The Governor’s staff stated that these would not impact funding to local schools. 
    • Enrollment growth is lower than anticipated, reducing state costs: FY 2015= $19.8 million and  FY 2016 = $11 million
    • The contribution to offset the unfunded liability in teacher retirement fund saves the state money and also saves localities as rates can be adjusted:  FY 2016 = $10.4 million (state)
    • Increases in sales tax revenue allows reduction in other state funds:  FY 2015 = $2.4 million and  FY 2016 = $3.6 million
The Governor’s presentation of his amendments today is the beginning of the budgetary process.  As the late, great Senator Hunter Andrews used to say, “The Governor proposes, and the General Assembly disposes.”  The Governor’s presentation is significant in that it singled out public education and spared us from cuts.  We can only hope that the General Assembly will follow his lead in this regard, and we hope that Governor McAuliffe will work with us in the years ahead to restore the cuts we have experienced since 2008.