Tuesday, September 15, 2015

JLARC Report Exposes Disinvestment in Virginia's Schools

Yesterday’s  JLARC report, Efficiency and Effectiveness of K-12 Spending, which provides substantive ammunition for the budget battle ahead all began with a meeting President Gruber and I had with Senator Dick Saslaw on November 26, 2012.  Meg and I were following up on an item on the 2013 VEA Legislative Agenda adopted by the VEA Board in August of 2012.  The item read:

JLARC Study of the SOQ - Substantial revisions to the SOQ are needed as a consequence of a number of factors not limited to the following:

v  The continued failure of the General Assembly to fund revisions proposed by the Board of education,

v  The revised graduation requirements,

v  The more vigorous Standards of Learning tests, and

v  The many arbitrary, budget-driven cuts to SOQ funding made in the 2009 through 2012 legislative sessions.

It is time for the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission to conduct a study of how the SOQ may be revised and adequately funded to meet the Standards of Learning and Standards of Accreditation. 

Senator Saslaw agreed to be our champion, and the General Assembly passed SJ328 in 2013.

Despite the fact that the House weakened the language of the VEA drafted resolution considerably, yesterday’s report clearly delineates the fact that Virginia is disinvesting in the education of her children.  While I urge you to read the report, or at least the summary, here are some highlights:

    The average Virginia school division spends nine percent less per student to provide instruction than it did in FY 2005.
     Divisions reduced per-student spending on instruction through a combination of employing fewer teachers per student, limiting teacher salary growth, and requiring teachers to pay a higher percentage of health insurance and retirement benefit costs. Divisions report that these spending reductions are hindering instructional effectiveness.

·     Divisions have more students per teacher, and report that larger class sizes hinder instructional effectiveness.

·    Teacher salaries have remained level, but teachers pay more for their benefits …. Take-home pay likely decreased for many teachers.

·    More than 80% of divisions report challenges to recruitment and retention of teachers.
Recommendations of the report include:

RECOMMENDATION 1 The General Assembly may wish to consider amending § 22.1-23 of the Code of Virginia to require the Superintendent of Public Instruction to track teacher turnover and report annually to the General Assembly and governor the numbers of and most common reasons for teacher turnover (Chapter 3, page 25).

OPTION 1 The General Assembly could amend § 2.2-1204 of the Code of Virginia to allow school division employees to participate in the state employee health plan (Chapter 2, page 11).

This JLARC report is also remarkable for what it doesn’t say.  For example, it says that the “Local share of K-12 funds” ranks 11th in the nation.  It does not say that the state share ranks 41stIs there some reason they left out that statistic?  Could it be politics and cowardice?

Because the House watered down the wording of the VEA/Saslaw resolution, this report has no bold recommendations, but even with the weaker language imposed by the House, the report could not paper over a marked disinvestment in the education of the next generation.  The underlying truth survives, and now we must use the information in this report to fight for more funding for public education in the session ahead.

Let’s make the idea VEA hatched in 2012 pay off in the session ahead!