By the time you’re reading this Governor Ralph Northam will have made his annual speech to the House Appropriations and the Senate Finance Committees to advise them of any changes he proposes to the biennial budget of the Commonwealth. While the complete list of adjustments that he will propose to a budget that was passed nearly a year ago had not been made public when this column was written, we do know from public announcements some of the proposed changes that he is going to make, specifically in funding education. That is why I think he deserves a hearty holiday “Thank You!”
The Governor has proposed an additional $39 million in new money for investments “to ensure safe learning environments for Virginia’s K-12 students.” Of that amount, $36 million will be used as a first installment of a three-year, phased plan to reduce school counselor caseloads to 1:250 from its current 1:425. The additional $3.3 million will go to the Virginia Center for School Campus Safety to train school staff in maintaining safety in schools.
As the Governor explained, “Taking steps to provide additional supports to students, raise awareness about suicide, and ensure students, school professionals, public safety personnel and community members are equipped with appropriate training and intervention skills are critical to a holistic school safety strategy.”
To recruit and retain the best teaching talent to the Commonwealth, Governor Northam has announced that he will seek an additional $268.7 million in new money for K-12 education that will among other improvements fund the state share of a 5 percent raise for teachers effective July 1, 2019. That is an increase over the current budget that would have funded a 2 percent raise.
The additional money for public schools includes $70 million for programs for at-risk students targeted to schools with the highest concentration of students eligible for free lunch to provide dropout prevention, after-school programs, and specialized instruction. An additional $80 million will be a one-time deposit to the Literary Fund which is a method by which the state helps poorer school divisions fund school construction.
As explained in a press release from the Governor’s Office, “Altogether, the budget proposals reflect the Governor’s commitment to ensuring that every Virginia student, no matter who they are or where they live, has the same access to a quality education.”
Even with these needed additional funds, the state share of education will continue to trail its pre-2008 economic recession level. With the slow recovery over many years that kept state revenues low, local governments have had to increase their funding to schools at the expense of other local needs. The proposals that the Governor is making will help move the state back to a more equal partnership with localities in funding schools and hopefully to a 60 to 40 sharing of costs of state and local funding that had been envisioned for schools.
Governor Northam deserves a big thank you for giving priority to funding programs for our children and their education. That is about investing in our future.