The governor’s proposed budget was released yesterday and includes a number of changes in state support for Virginia’s students. Unfortunately, the governor’s proposal does not appear to make any significant progress toward funding the critical needs of our students and schools. Funding of Virginia’s schools was described as being deficient in the JLARC reports on Virginia’s K-12 Funding Formula and Virginia’s k-12 teacher pipeline. And, despite some welcome investments in mental health and reading specialists, in total the governor’s proposed budget ultimately reduces state general funds for public K-12 education by nearly $300 million over the two-year budget compared to the current funding level.
This budget proposal comes five months after a major report from JLARC, the state’s research body, about how severely the state is underfunding public schools – by $4 billion. That report recommended a number of critical short- and long-term fixes in state funding to help Virginia students reach their full potential.
The proposed budget makes hidden cuts through a variety of budget mechanisms that reduce state funding. These include:
- Using funds meant for school construction – the Literary Fund – to pay for teacher retirement, thereby allowing a reduction of regular state fund contributions for retirement (a $300 million cut) while also reducing funding meant to make sure our students have warm, dry, places to learn.
- Eliminating the state’s promised funding to offset for schools and local governments the loss of local sales tax revenue from groceries and personal hygiene products. This pushes $229 million of costs back onto local governments. This means that in communities with less ability to make up the difference, our students will be less supported.
- Using increased lottery revenue as an excuse to reduce state funding, which means our students won’t have as many resources as they need, and undermines trust in state government. This results in an $89.5 million reduction in the current budget year. People are told that they’re benefiting schools by playing the lottery, but those benefits are meaningless if lottery money replaces other state funding rather than adding to it.
- Reducing state funding for schools by $388 million across the upcoming two years due to one-time federal pandemic aid to schools in FY2022. This change, which is a cut in substantive terms, is due to a quirk in the state’s rebenchmarking formula that is meant to cover regular updates to enrollment, inflation, and technical changes. By not fixing this quirk, the proposed budget reduces state support for schools and effectively supplants federal pandemic aid.
All students deserve a high-quality public education, regardless of their zip code, and that requires meaningful financial investments in our public schools. This budget instead has $156 million less in state general funding for direct aid in the upcoming school year (fiscal year 2025) and $138 million less in the next year (fiscal year 2026) compared to the current school year (fiscal year 2024).