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Column: Short Changing the Education

Last week I addressed the House of Delegates to express concern that Governor McDonnell’s proposed budget short changes the education of our children (http://youtu.be/-VbOv_uJXOU).

While the Governor is claiming to provide about 500 million new dollars for public education, school boards and superintendents around the Commonwealth are talking about the cuts in programs and teachers they will need to make because of the loss of state aid in his budget.

The differences in the two perspectives can be explained in how the budget is constructed. Every two years the formula for funding schools is adjusted in a process called "rebenchmarking" to ensure that the formula reflects the realities of school population increases, inflation, standards changes and other factors. This year there was a partial rebenchmarking of the formula, and the result is that the cost of schools appears artificially low. The costs left out of rebenchmarking included some inflation, federal funds, and cost to compete. The Governor’s increases are added to an understated budget.

In order to calculate the benchmark for school costs without the arbitrary adjustments made by the Governor, the Appropriations Committee staff calculated that an additional $99.2 million would be required in the first year and $100.5 million in the second year. I introduced budget amendments to restore the cuts in funding.

In an analysis done for local governments to determine the cost to local government of the rebenchmarking policy changes, it is estimated that half of local governments will need to increase the real estate tax by at least two cents to make up the difference and in seven localities the increase would be five cents of the real estate tax rate. I told legislators not to go home bragging that we did not raise taxes. Our continued policy of devolution of costs for public education is the main driver in property tax increases.

The Commonwealth Institute measures our state’s declining support for education another way. They found investment in education has fallen from 2.33 percent of personal income FY2007 to roughly 2 percent in the next biennium.

Keep in mind that Virginia is the 8th wealthiest state in per capita personal income in the nation. Yet our per-pupil spending from state sources is 35th lowest in the nation. Our average teacher’s salary is $4,510 below the national average. At the end of the next biennium we will be running our schools on $547 less per pupil than in 2009. We already have 2,116 fewer teachers in our schools today than we did in 2009, but we have about 45,000 more students.

As I told members of the House, it is time that we stop short changing the education of our children.