Two Different Approaches to Funding for Critical K12 Education Priorities in House & Senate Budgets
The Fund our Schools (FOS) coalition has issued the following analysis in response to the proposed budgets from the money committees in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate:
In the context of a pandemic that has imposed substantial and ongoing challenges for our teachers, parents, and students, paired with a history of underinvestment in public schools that traces back to the Great Recession, the budget proposals from the House of Delegates and Senate offer different views about how to move forward on key issues.
Overall, the Senate’s proposal offers the most total support for Virginia’s local school divisions relative to the House and introduced budgets. While we are encouraged by clear agreement in some areas, including the creation of a new community schools fund, we urge lawmakers in both chambers to work toward a final budget that will help ensure our public schools can deliver a quality education for all students, regardless of zip code.
Below is a high-level summary of some of the major differences between the budgets:
- Teacher Pay: Like the introduced budget that was released in December 2021, the Senate calls for a 5% increase in pay each year for teachers and other school staff. The Senate’s budget would also use $137 million of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding to pay for a $1,000 bonus (no local match required) for teachers and staff this year. In contrast, in each of the next two years, the House budget would provide a 4% salary increase and 1% bonus. Overall, the House approach reduces state funding for teacher and staff compensation by $68.5 million over the biennium.
- The “Support” Cap: This arbitrary cap was imposed to save money during the Great Recession, resulting in hundreds of millions of cuts to state funding for school support staff. The Senate’s budget would partially remove the cap, providing nearly $272 million to increase support staff positions. The House budget does not include any such proposal.
- Standards of Quality: The Standards of Quality (SOQs), as determined by the Virginia Board of Education, represent the minimum funding levels necessary to provide K-12 students with an adequate education. A few specific issues within the SOQs are worth highlighting:
- Funding for High-Poverty School Districts: While the House and Senate budgets both provide additional funding for the At-Risk Add On Program compared to the existing budget, the House proposes $210 million less for the program compared to the Senate and introduced budgets. This critical program supports school districts with high concentrations of poverty. The House budgets increase Lottery per pupil payments by $120 million ($61m in FY22 and $29.5m each year in FYs 23-24), but that approach is less targeted to serving students with the highest needs.
- Funding for English Learner Students: The House budget cuts $22 million that had been proposed in the introduced budget to increase the number of teachers for English Learner students, many of whom fell farther behind during the pandemic due to a lack of support.
- Principals & Assistant Principals: The House proposed an additional $104 million for Principals and Assistant Principals, which is a part of the SOQs as prescribed by the Virginia Board of Education. The Senate budget does not include any such proposal.
- Early Childhood Education: The House budget would remove funding aimed at increasing the number of three-year-old children served by the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI). Overall, the House budget includes $38 million less than the Senate and introduced budgets for early childhood education.
- Diversion of Funding: As we navigate the pandemic and the challenges it has caused, we must invest in evidence-based programs rather than unproven approaches. The House budget proposes $150 million to cover the local share of the SOQ costs for students attending lab schools. This amount would be in addition to the state and federal dollars that “follow the student.” The Senate does not include any such proposal.
- School Infrastructure
- The Senate budget would increase state support for school infrastructure in two ways. First, it proposes $500 million in general funds for one-time grants to local school divisions for non-recurring costs related to school construction, renovations, and other expenditures in FY23. Second, it proposes using general fund dollars for teacher retirement, making up to $400 million in Literary Fund dollars available for school construction loans or interest rate subsidies over the next two years. This approach is similar to the approach in the introduced budget.
- The House budget offers substantially less for school construction. More specifically, it would use $292 million in general funds and $250 million in Literary Fund dollars for a Construction Loan Rebate Program, which would provide competitive loan rebate grants for school construction. Compared to the Senate and introduced budgets, the House provides $55 million less in general funds toward teacher retirement, which limits the availability of the Literary Fund for school construction.
- K12 funding distribution by geography and poverty rates: The House and Senate approaches are different not only in the overall amount of K12 funding, but also in the distribution of that funding across school divisions.
- Compared to the introduced budget, the House cuts per pupil funding for local school divisions by an average of $836 across the upcoming two years for students attending schools in rural school divisions, while cutting funding by an average of $442 for students attending other school divisions. The Senate increases average per pupil funding slightly more for students attending rural school divisions than other school divisions.
- Similarly, the average House cuts for students attending the highest-poverty school divisions are $1,023 over the upcoming two years compared to the introduced budget, more than three times as deep as the average cuts for students attending the lowest-poverty school divisions. The Senate provides an additional $260 on average for students attending the highest-poverty school divisions during the upcoming biennium compared to the introduced budget.
While both budgets include much-needed investments in our schools, infrastructure, and our students, the General Assembly has never fully funded the Virginia Board of Education’s recommended Standards of Quality. To make sure that Virginia students are getting the best education we can give them, some of the most important actions legislators can take are:
- Fully fund the revised Standards of Quality;
- Lift the arbitrary cap on support positions in our public schools;
- Boldy invest in teacher and staff salaries and get us on track to reach the national teacher pay average; and
- Seize the opportunity to invest hundreds of millions from our remaining federal relief funds into reinvestments for ongoing school infrastructure support.