There’s been some commentary on Fairfax County school budget issues and a total misuse of the term “underfunding.” A recent Washington Post news story included the false claim that the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors underfunded the school system. My reaction to this is more than academic — it’s personal. Not only am I a proud K-8 product of FCPS, but I’ve also got a daughter in our school system and a son just a few years behind.
Looking around for someone to blame is a time-honored ploy to shift responsibility from where it belongs. This is the reality. Fairfax County funds almost 70 percent of the FCPS budget and on top of that we also pick up the costs for other school services such as school resource officers, health nurses, crossing guards, and SACC. We dedicate two thirds of our bonding capacity to the schools and this year we adopted a plan to allocate an additional $13 million to the schools for their capital needs. That’s about another $80 million a year combined. In fact, the budget we just adopted includes a 3 percent increase in funding to FCPS through a half-cent increase in the real estate tax, schools being the only reason we passed a rate increase.
The elephant in the room is the state funding formula inequity. Fairfax County is a donor jurisdiction, sending more dollars to the state than it recoups — about 21 cents on the dollar.
FCPS’ state per pupil funding suffers in comparison to other Virginia localities. In FY2012, the state provided $2,764 per pupil while the county provided $9,905 per pupil in local funding. In contrast, neighboring Prince William County received half its per pupil funding from the state. These figures may have been OK in the past, but today’s school needs have far outpaced our local ability to pay. Other school districts are able to fund their needs with our tax dollars while here in Fairfax County we struggle to meet our own needs.
We all need to work together — School Board, County Board, PTAs, and citizens. We need to follow our kids’ example when they work together in the classroom to solve problems. We owe it to them to stop the finger pointing and work together to tackle the root of our school funding problem — the state’s unfair and antiquated funding formula that discriminates against Fairfax County.
Jeffrey C. McKay is the Lee District Supervisor.