Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Here We Go Again!

The 2016 General Assembly session is under way, and this 60 day budget session could prove to be a significant one for our schools.  As the budget will be front and center in this session, let’s take a look at the good and the bad in the Governor’s budget.

There is much to applaud in the budget Governor McAuliffe presented on December 17th.  For the first time in years, our Governor had some money to work with, and 57% of the new funding available is allocated for public education.  This is an increase of $855 million for our public schools in the biennium, and an overall increase of $411 per pupil.

This funding includes:
  • $429.8 million for rebenchmarking the Standards of Quality (SOQ)
  • Adding 2,500 instructional positions, representing less than half of the K-12 positions lost since 2008.  This funds 1 new position in each elementary school starting in FY17.  It includes two new positions at every middle and high school in FY18.  Cost is $139 million.
  • $50 million in additional funding for at-risk students
  • Funding of 90 percent of teacher retirement contribution rates in FY17 and 100 percent in FY18
  • $7 million for the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation for pilot programs for public-private partnerships and training of childcare workforce
There is much to like in the McAulliffe budget.

There has been much discussion regarding the Governor’s claim that he restores all the funding lost in the last recession, bringing per-pupil funding level above the 2008-2009 school year level.  If you don’t factor in inflation, what he says is true.  If you consider inflation, it is not.  Regardless, he has taken a significant step in the right direction.

There has also been controversy regarding the 2,500 additional positions funded in our schools.  Some have contended that as the Governor does not change the underlying SOQ formula, the funding for these positions is temporary.  However, Deputy Superintendent for Finance and Operations Kent Dickey asserts that, “our interpretation is that this funding would be considered like other categorical or incentive aid, such as the K-3 Class Size Reduction funding, and would be folded into the base K-12 funding continuing into the 2018-2020 biennium; DOE would continue the funding as part of the 2018-2020 Rebenchmarking process.  The proposed language for the program does not specify that it’s one-time funding for the 16-18 biennium only.”  If Dickey’s interpretation holds, the funding is not temporary. 

Finally, VEA’s major disappointments with the Governor’s budget are his failure to adequately address Virginia’s absolute failure to offer a competitive teacher salary and the failure to begin repairing the badly damaged SOQ funding formula.   

The Education Law Center at Rutgers University ranks Virginia’s teacher salary the least competitive in the nation, and our teacher salary is $6,800 below the national average.  The Governor’s budget provides $83.2 million for a two percent salary increase for all state-supported SOQ positions in the second year, effective July 10, 2018.  School divisions must provide an average 2% raise for at least half a year (January 1, 2018) to qualify for the state share.

VEA will be working this session to increase state funding for a more significant salary increase, but the fact that these funds are not in the proposed budget will make this an uphill battle.

There is not a superintendent in Virginia who deems the amount of funding provided by Standards of Quality (SOQ) funding sufficient to meet the state’s accreditation standards.  That is just not right, and the low level of state funding hurts Virginia’s poorest divisions the most.

As the late, great Senator Hunter Andrews used to say, "The Governor proposes, but the General Assembly disposes."  It will be interesting too see what this budget will look like in 60 days.