Opinion: Opposing Views on Education Funding

Opinion: Opposing Views on Education Funding

There is a considerable amount of misinformation about the County’s commitment to education and I would like to give you some of the facts.

While close to 70 percent of County residents do not have children in the school system, education is our County Board’s priority. We directly transfer more than half our General Fund to the schools and additionally assume the costs of a number of other school needs, such as school nurses, health aides, resource officers, and the like.

The FY2016 budget that we adopted on April 28 includes a transfer to the schools of $2.01 billion, an increase of $66.7 million (+3.43 percent) over the FY2015 budget and nearly two-thirds of all new revenue associated with increased property values. The total school budget (that includes the County transfer and some state and federal funding), totals $2.6 billion. This is the fifth consecutive year that has seen a substantial increase in the school transfer—since 2008, the Board of Supervisors has increased funding for the schools by $230 million.

As a County Supervisor, I am responsible for all of our residents’ needs including parks, libraries, public safety, and human services. These are not stand-alone services and the success of our schools is also linked to these public services.

To further illustrate our spending priorities, in addition to the 52.1 percent of the County’s General Fund that we transfer directly to the schools, we spend only 12 percent of our General Fund on public safety, 10.9 percent on health and human services, and 1.4 percent on parks, libraries, and recreation centers combined. Slashing funding to these would not make a dent in our budget and would hurt the schools.

The crux of our school funding problem is the State funding formula. Fairfax County is a donor jurisdiction, sending more dollars to the state than it recoups—about 21 cents on the dollar. That funding formula inequity holds true not only for education but also for human services, transportation, and the like.

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.

Fairfax County continues to work with the General Assembly and advocates hard for a larger share of state funding for our schools. Our lobbying this year got us $9.9 million more than anticipated in the state budget. Those additional funds bring FCPS within $4.1 million of its total $2.6 billion advertised budget proposal—that’s a gap of 0.16 percent less than the School Board’s proposed budget.

The superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools increased her transfer request after the state budget increase was announced and shortly before our budget adoption.

Please be aware that the Board of Supervisors does not have line item authority over the FCPS budget. According to the Constitution of Virginia, that responsibility lies with the elected School Board and it is that Board that sets the funding priorities for the schools, including salaries. If teacher salaries are the School Board’s top priority, it is their responsibility to close the 0.16 percent gap between their proposed budget and the funds they are receiving.

As we look ahead at the fiscal outlook for next year, we know that we will continue to be affected by a sluggish economy and the effects of federal cutbacks and sequestration. Like the Schools, the County side of the ledger is projecting a budget shortfall for the next (2017) fiscal year. Both boards will have to work closely together to produce balanced budgets.

Thank you again for contacting me and you have my assurance that my colleagues on both the County and School boards will continue to work together.

P.S. - On a personal note, with two kids, I’m as much invested in our educational system as anyone. My daughter is an FCPS first-grader and my son isn’t very far behind. I’m the product of our Fairfax County Public Schools and I want every child to have the same opportunity to learn that I did.