Conference Budget Makes Critical Investments in K-12 Public Education, But More Work Is Necessary To Provide A Quality Education to All Students
We have issued the following analysis in response to the conference budget proposal following negotiations between the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate:
The conference budget proposal makes critical investments in public education in Virginia, even as much more work remains in the future. Many of the investments in this budget are items that FOS has fought for over many years, and meaningful progress was made this year on many consequential issues. Below is a high-level summary of what’s in the conference budget proposal:
- Teacher Pay: The conference budget proposal calls for providing the state share of a 5% increase in pay each year for teachers (effective August 1, 2022 and July 1, 2023) and other school staff, plus a $1,000 one-time bonus (effective December 1, 2022) using American Rescue Plan Act Act funding.
- The “Support Cap”: This arbitrary cap was a product of the Great Recession, resulting in hundreds of millions of cuts to state funding for school support staff. The conference budget proposal partially removes the cap, providing nearly $272 million to increase support staff positions.
- Standards of Quality: The Standards of Quality (SOQs) are determined by the Virginia Board of Education and represent the minimum funding levels necessary to provide K-12 students with an adequate education. The conference budget impacts a number of issues within the SOQs, including:
- Funding for High-Poverty School Districts: The At-Risk Add-On program supports students in school divisions with high poverty rates. The conference proposal includes approximately $145 million for this program, which will help to provide increased support (ranging from 1 – 36% more) beginning in Fiscal Year 2023.
- Principals & Assistant Principals: The conference proposal provides the state share of one full-time principal for every elementary school, totaling roughly $20 million.
- Funding for English Learner (EL) Students: While the introduced budget and Senate proposal included an additional $22 million to increase the number of teachers for EL students, many of whom fell farther behind during the pandemic due to a lack of support, the conference budget unfortunately removes the increase and maintains the current ratio of 20 instructional positions for every 1,000 EL students.
- Early Childhood Education: The conference budget includes funding aimed at increasing the number of three-year-old children served by the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI). Overall, the conference proposal provides nearly $42 million in additional funds for early childhood education and pre-K.
- School Infrastructure: The conference budget includes several approaches to supporting school construction and modernization. First, the budget provides one-time grants for non-recurring costs related to school construction, renovations, and other expenditures in the amount of $800 million. Roughly half of the funding will be distributed via a competitive school construction fund, with the remainder allocated to school divisions. In addition, the conference budget transfers $50 million of Literary Funds to school construction grants and clarifies that up to $400 million in additional Literary Funds over the biennium may be used for school construction loans.
- Diversion of Funding: Given a long history of underinvestment in public education, along with the challenges stemming from the pandemic, the Fund Our Schools coalition has consistently advocated for funding evidence-based programs rather than unproven approaches. Unfortunately, the conference budget includes $100 million for “lab schools” via the College Partnership Laboratory Schools Fund, though this funding is one-time only and considerably less than the $150 million proposed in the House budget. Despite this one-time funding for experimental schools, advocates for public schools, including the FOS coalition, were successful in stopping the most harmful legislation and budget proposals to students, including vouchers and education savings accounts. FOS members and partners also stopped attempts to remove decision-making around charter school approval from local control.
The state budget has a profound impact on the day-to-day lives of students. That’s why both the positive steps in this budget, like the increased funding for support staff and new school infrastructure, and its shortcomings, including lower funding to support English learners, are of such significance. These decisions matter.
Moving forward, even as we commend the many important investments in this conference budget, we underscore that the work to fully fund our schools remains unfinished. The FOS coalition will continue to advocate for our students, educators, and schools to ensure they have the resources to thrive.