Making sure the state pays its fair share of public education costs

Responding to JLARC's study on school funding

Great public schools are the foundation of great communities. And with adequate education funding, every public school can provide a quality education. Let’s ensure that all Virginia students have the tools they need to succeed. Even a 10% increase in public education funding can lead to increased income earnings and a decreased risk of poverty for students later in life.

Virginia’s nonpartisan research agency has provided a blueprint for how policymakers can improve the school funding formula to make sure the state pays its fair share and every student, regardless of zip code, has the support they need to reach their full potential and thrive. 

FOS supports the implementation of JLARC’s near-term funding recommendations and Policy Option 5 to improve our support for English language learners and students with disabilities, which are two groups of students who Virginia currently most seriously underfunds. 

Implementing these improvements during the 2024-2025 and 2025-2026 school years would provide a down payment on what our students need while community members and legislators work to determine how to implement JLARC’s recommended long-term investments in education.

Specifically, FOS supports funding for the following JLARC recommendations and priorities in the new 2024-2026 budget:

Making sure Virginia pays its share of the real costs to educate our students while making the formula simpler and more accurate

Recommendation 1: Make technical improvements to the Standards of Quality (SOQ) formula and compensation supplement calculations to stop leaving out division central office positions, facility and transportation staff, and certain other costs from various calculations.

Recommendation 2: Direct VDOE to report on fixed and prevailing staffing ratios for the Standards of Quality formula, in consultation with school divisions and other stakeholders, to accurately reflect how divisions are staffed and be simpler, easier to apply, and comprehensive

Recommendation 4: Remove the hidden cuts to school funding that were built into the SOQs during the Great recession, including (i) fully lifting the arbitrary cap on state funding for student support staff (“support cap”), (ii) reinstating the non-personal cost categories removed in FY09 FY10, and (iii) reinstating the federal fund deduction methodology used prior to FY09.

Recommendation 6: More fairly calculate salary and other costs using division averages, rather than the “linear weighted average” that undercounts Virginia’s largest school divisions and results in prevailing cost assumptions that are well below actual costs for the majority of local school divisions.

Recommendation 7: Limit sudden swings in the Local Composite Index by using three-year averages, rather than a single year, when updating calculations every other year.

Updating and Improving Virginia’s Funding Supplements for Students in Lower-Income Communities with More Barriers

Recommendation 8: Move supplemental funding for students living in lower-income communities into the state’s main school funding formula (SOQs) to ensure students receive this critical funding, rather than keeping it as an optional “add-on.”

Recommendation 9: Use the more up-to-date Identified Student Percentage (ISP) measure to calculate funding for all programs that currently rely on outdated and inaccurate free lunch estimates.

Recommendation 10: Consolidate the separate At-Risk Add-On and Prevention, Intervention, Remediation programs and create a new supplement for low-income students under the SOQs. Funding for the new supplement could be allocated based on each school division’s weighted ISP, with 60% of funding being distributed using a flat per student rate and 40% being distributed using a variable rate, with those school divisions with the highest concentrations of low-income students receiving the highest amounts. Because some school divisions would see a slight decrease in state funding from this JLARC recommendation, FOS supports a “hold-harmless” provision to provide school divisions time to address data issues and funding changes.

Simplifying and Boosting Funding for Students with Disabilities and English Language Learners

Policy Option 5: Provide supplemental funding for students with unique learning needs by replacing the current SOQ formula calculations for special education and English as a Second Language with student-based funding calculations that are based on actual average school division expenditures. Virginia currently severely underfunds English language learners and students with disabilities, and shifting to a per-student funding supplement based on actual average school division expenditures would boost resources and increase local flexibility to meet the needs of students in the near term as policymakers study how to make sure these students have the support they need to thrive.