On December 16, 2021, Governor Northam introduced the 2022-2024 biennial budget, which comes in the wake of a global pandemic that continues to test our educators, students, and parents in unprecedented ways, and follows a far longer history of underinvestment in public education in Virginia. This budget proposal responds to that history in some important ways, sets the
minimum baseline for what will be acceptable in the future in terms of funding, and illuminates a path forward for the incoming administration and members of the General Assembly. Here is a brief summary of what’s in the proposed budget:
- Teacher pay: The proposed 5% increase in pay each year for teachers and other school staff is an important proposal to attract and retain teachers in the face of the unique challenges and stress that all educators, students, and parents have faced over the past two years. Average teacher pay in Virginia was more than 10% below the national average in 2020 despite Virginia being a top-10 state for median household income and relatively high cost state. Legislators should take additional steps to make sure Virginia teacher pay reaches at least the national average as soon as possible.
- Standards of Quality: This proposal partially funds the Virginia Board of Education’s revised Standards of Quality (SOQs), which is the minimum funding standard to provide K-12 students with an adequate education. The revised SOQs include additional support for schools serving many students from low-income families to more adequately meet the challenges facing these students. The Governor’s proposed budget responds to this need by adding an additional $268.5 million for the At-Risk Add-On. The revised standards also include more sufficient funding for English Learners students, many of whom fell farther behind during the pandemic due to a lack of support. The Governor’s proposed budget provides a small increase in the number of teachers for English Learners but falls short of what was recommended by the Board of Education. Some additional prescriptions put forward by the Board, such as additional school counselors and specialized student support staff, were not included in the proposed budget.
- Keeps arbitrary support cap: The proposed budget does not lift the state’s arbitrary cap on funding for school support staffers to meet the academic, social, and emotional learning needs of students. This cap was imposed to save money during the Great Recession, resulting in hundreds of millions of cuts to state funding for school support staff. Virginia now helps pay for less than 40% of support staff in Virginia’s public schools. This means many local governments have to fund the majority of these positions on their own, and not all communities have sufficient resources to make these investments. Between 2009 and 2019, support staff in Virginia schools declined by 2,800 positions while student enrollment increased by more than 57,000 students.
- School infrastructure: The proposed recommitment of the Literary Fund for school construction and a one-time additional $500 million for school construction and modernization grants is a welcome proposal that legislators across the political and geographic spectrum have championed. This investment will help undo some of the remaining damage to K-12 funding from the Great Recession. The zeroing out of the school grant program at that time and greatly diminished support for school construction from the Literary Fund drastically reduced state support for school infrastructure projects. Today, the state has identified around $24 billion in needed K-12 school infrastructure updates.
Strengthening our schools — and meeting Virginia’s constitutional duty to deliver a quality education for all students, regardless of zip code — requires responsible stewardship of the state budget. It is simply not possible to champion public education while advocating for tax proposals that, if enacted, would erode Virginia’s long-term financial stability, raise the possibility of substantial budget cuts in the coming years, and impose new burdens on localities that would only worsen funding disparities in school districts across the commonwealth.
With this budget as a starting point, lawmakers must safeguard critical resources for public education and prioritize evidence-based policy solutions to support students. That also means opposing cuts to public school funding in favor of vouchers or other ineffective programs. For more information on FOS priorities for the 2022 legislative session, click here!
Looking ahead, FOS members will be participating in the four virtual, regional budget hearings on January 5, 2022. We encourage as many people as possible to join and will share more information soon.