Tuesday, November 10, 2020

Budget Work Wrapped Up, Protected Funding Intact

While the General Assembly adopted a Special Session budget on October 16, the Governor did not act on the budget until after Election Day. I talked about that in my last report. If the Constitutional amendment on the redistricting commission passed (Question 1 on the ballot), there would need to be additional language to establish the Commission. The Governor amended the budget that was adopted by the General Assembly and legislators considered his recommendations Monday. One of the amendments include the components of the Redistricting Commission. He made additional recommendations to the budget including $1 million in the first year to establish an investigation into the culture at Virginia Military Institute (VMI).

In good news for our public schools, the Governor did not make any changes to the budget items we fought so hard to include: additional funding to cover lost sales tax revenues and the average daily membership (ADM) hold harmless language. These two actions in the budget will protect our public schools from significant funding losses that are a direct result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

VEA members fought hard to secure $95.2 million in the first year of the budget to offset lost sales tax revenues. As you may know, a portion of all sales tax in Virginia goes directly to supporting our public schools. Each year legislators build budgets that reflect those revenues in the allocations to local schools. When the economy plummeted because of the COVID-19 shut-downs, sales tax also dropped significantly.  Without a change to the current year budget, every single school division would have faced an unexpected hole in their budgets. We have been heard—and the $95.2 million is included in the budget that was adopted yesterday.

The other major funding issue for our schools came to light as the Special Session went on. As schools were returning to new instruction and the startup of the 2020-2021 school year, we began to see some declines in student enrollments that were also directly tied to the pandemic. We saw some families not enroll their child out of fear of returning them to school buildings during a pandemic, while other families opted to homeschool or enroll their student in private schools that offered more face-to-face instruction. Since state funding is allocated on a per-pupil basis, when you have fewer students, you receive fewer state dollars. The estimated cost was upwards of $155 million in lost revenues for the current school year, even though we fully expect many families to re-enroll their children in public schools when the pandemic ends. Again, VEA members went to work urging members of the General Assembly to protect our schools from these potential cuts. We fought for, and won, ADM hold harmless language in the budget that ensures that no school division receives less state funding this school year than they received last, regardless of enrollment numbers. Again, another huge win for the VEA and for our public schools.

As the Special Session ends Sine Die, we are just 37 days until the Governor reveals his budget for the upcoming regular session. We will have to see how our economy fares over the next seven weeks. We still have $490 million in NEW K-12 funding that was unallotted in response to the pandemic and resulting economic downturn. We will have to see if Virginia’s economy will recover enough to restore that spending. We will also need to fight for state support as our schools deal with the pandemic and the costs of implementing local return to school (in whatever modality is decided) plans. We are a long way from knowing the implications of this pandemic on our public schools, but Monday we passed a budget that puts some short-term protections in place to offset some if the immediate implications. Stay engaged. We have a long way to go!