Opinion/Letter: There Is No Budget Surplus

Opinion/Letter: There Is No Budget Surplus

Letter to Del. Barry Knight, Chairman, House of Delegates Appropriations Committee; Sen. Janet D. Howell, Co-Chair, Senate Finance Committee; Sen. George Baker, Co-Chair, Senate Finance Committee is shared with the Connection.

Dear Del. Knight, Sen. Howell, and Sen. Barker: 

On behalf of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, I am writing to you with respect to the recently released JLARC report on state funding of the public-school divisions in the Commonwealth. The Commission is a Council of 13 local governments representing more than 2.5 million residents. 

As you are aware, the JLARC report surfaces issues that local governments not only in Northern Virginia, but throughout the Commonwealth have raised for decades related to the underfunding of our public-school divisions by the Commonwealth. As you know the report states, "School divisions in other states receive 14 percent more per student than school divisions in Virginia, on average, after normalizing for differences in cost of labor among states. This equates to about $1,900 more per student than Virginia." Northern Virginia this past school year had 409,999 full time enrolled students as such that equates to a shortfall in state funding of $778,998,110 in our region alone. And, as the report highlights, the shortfall in state funding for our public-school divisions burdens all local governments in the Commonwealth. 

The report highlights what our local governments have been raising: 

1. State SOQ formula yields substantially less funding than actual division spending and benchmarks. 

2. Total statewide staffing needs calculated by SOQ formula are less than actual employment levels and workgroup estimates. 

3. SOQ formula systematically underestimates division compensation costs. 

4. Formula still uses Great Recession-era cost reduction measures. 

5. Formula does not adequately account for higher needs students; methodology for at-risk students undercounts students in poverty. 

6. Formula does not adequately account for local labor costs. 

7. Formula does not adequately account for small divisions' inability to gain economies of scale. 

We appreciate the ongoing discussions related to FY24 budget amendments. We would respectfully suggest that with so many unfilled needs there is no budget surplus until such time that the Commonwealth addresses its commitment to invest in our public-school systems to be able not only to compete with our immediate neighbors, but nationally and internationally. 

John Chapman 

Chaman, Northern Virginia Regional Commission

A regional council composed of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William counties, the cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Manassas, and Manassas Park, and the towns of Dumfries, Herndon, Leesburg, and Vienna