Saturday, February 23, 2019

We Have A Budget Report and They Will Adjourn Sine Die TODAY

Word got out late Friday night that the conferees had reached an agreement on the budget amendments. It was announced that the documents would be available at 10am today. After refreshing the site about 3,000 times, the documents became available at about 10:40am. We are still going through the details, but there is good news for K-12. Please keep in mind that these are AMENDMENTS to the already adopted 2018-2020 biennial budget. There are no cuts to K-12; everything in the amendments are increases to the adopted budget. There are reductions to the budget amendments proposed by the Governor in December, but, as I have written about in this blog, those reductions are based on the tax policy differences assumed in the Governor's proposal and what actually passed the General Assembly.

Here are some top lines from the budget amendments the House and Senate will adopt today before they adjourn:

  • Increase of $72.7 million to add state support for an additional 2% salary increase effective Sept. 1, two months shy of a full year. A compromise, but closer to the the July 1 date the House proposed than the December 1 date proposed by the Senate. 
  • Funds increase to the at-risk add on. This is a really big win from the pressure The Commonwealth Institute put on legislators.
  • Funds an additional $29.5 million per-pupil allocation from the lottery fund to school divisions as proposed by the Governor. Senate has stripped it, House proposed increasing even higher than Governor proposed, so the compromise was the Governor’s proposal. 
  • Comes up short on school counselors. The legislation from the Governor’s proposal has passed, but the budget amendment overrides the new code by establishing and funding different ratios. This is a terrible precedent. It also makes it true that the General Assembly is NOT fully funding the SOQs (assuming the Governor signs the legislation that passed, which he will as they were HIS bills.). Budget amendments only include an additional $12 million for counselors. The new SOQ needs $36 million. Here is the language included in the budget: That notwithstanding the provisions of § 22.1-253.13:2 of the Code of Virginia, as amended by this act, the ratio of the number of school counselors to the number of students as required by law shall be proportionate to the amount of funding for such school counselors as is included in a general appropriation act passed in 2019 by the General Assembly that becomes law.
  • There is $35 million for school construction. That put a squeeze on all the other spending. The House included $0 and the Senate had $70, so they split the difference, but that limited what they could do in the other areas (mainly counselors).

School Safety- good news

  • Increases funding for School resource officer (SROs) training.
  • Increases funding for training of school based threat assessment teams.
  • Funding for a threat assessment case management tool so that cases aren’t lost in transition between schools 
  • Funding for school safety training for all school personnel. 

So good news given that these are all increases to the K-12 2018-2020 budget. Had there been different tax policy decisions made by the General Assembly, there could be far broader investments. This as a HUGE lost opportunity in my opinion. I am hopeful that the increases in K-12 we saw in the 2018-2020 budget and these new increases represent a change in course that will repair the damage still facing our public school budgets after the recession. There is a very long way to go and there must be a commitment to a sustained, long-term plan to return state investments to pre-recession levels. That will simply fill the hole from the cuts.

From there we need to fund the SOQs to the levels adopted by the Board of Education. Next, there must be a state study of the classroom staffing standards and they need to be revised and fully funded to reflect prevailing practice and student need. There must be an increase to the state funding standard on salaries. That will not come with small buckets of state support given 2-3% at a time over 10 years. It comes through yearly increases, offsets to local spending with state investments, and a change in the mathematical calculation the state uses to determine the cost of salary prevailing practice. The state needs to fund their share of the true cost of teacher salaries. These changes will only come about when pressure is applied and we elect members of the House and Senate who are committed to fixing all of the problems with K-12 funding in Virginia. That needs to be the number one issue of the 2019 elections in VA.

While this short session has felt very long, we did good work for our pubic schools and had really, really good policy outcomes. We were able to kill some really bad bills by building a coalition of legislators from both parties who supported our positions. We have substantial increases to the adopted K-12 budget. We lobbied, marched, and rallied to put pressure on our legislators. We have a long way to go, but this session showed how you make it happen. We cannot watch from the sidelines. We must engage and fight for what our schools and our students need.

Let's get ready for November!