When Governor Youngkin’s budget comes out tomorrow, examine it closely to see whether our public school students and educators are getting what they most need.
Our challenges to addressing educational needs are daunting, but research has shown us time and time again what is necessary for addressing student needs. We also know that small scale grant programs and incentives, one-time bonuses, and experimental models with no track records of success, such as laboratory schools, are all insufficient to seriously move the needle on improving outcomes for our students. Virginia still ranks 40th in the country for state per student spending according to the most recent Census estimates, despite being a top 10 state for median household income.
With school divisions facing substantial inflationary pressures, worsening staff shortages, and unprecedented student need, now, more than ever, is the time for the state to begin contributing its fair share. Virginia has the resources to make meaningful investments in our schools this legislative session, and advocates hope to see robust investments in our public schools.
Below are high-level facts and considerations that we hope help contextualize education funding investments in the new proposed budget.
Competitive pay to retain and recruit school staff and stave shortages
- We cannot properly address our school staffing crisis in Virginia without attending to the biggest issue that all of our internal and external surveys tell us is leading to a teacher exodus and not entering the profession in the first place: competitive pay.
- Virginia continues to have the third least competitive teacher pay in the country due to years of underfunding.
- It will take an additional 6% pay increase in the next budget year for state supported SOQ positions to get to the national teacher pay average, which will cost $327 million (see detailed technical memo for calculation methodology).
- In surveys, bonuses, even in the $10,000 range, consistently poll poorly as incentives to retain teachers in the profession. We need lasting investments in teacher pay.
Meaningful investments in student supports
- The Support Cap, created in 2009, limits state funding for school support positions. Between 2009 and 2021, support staff in Virginia schools declined by 3,630 positions while student enrollment increased by more than 16,000 students. The number of support staff that the state recognizes and provides funding to support has fallen even faster, dropping by 14,050 positions over that same period (fact sheet here).
- The Virginia Board of Education has repeatedly recommended lifting this arbitrary and damaging cap.
- As a result of the cap, all staff must take on more additional tasks than ever and this contributes to record stress and burnout by school staff.
- We hope to see the full $268 million needed to finally meet this long-overdue priority in the Youngkin budget.
Wraparound services for our highest need students
- A recent JLARC report shows more than half of our middle and high school students recently reported feeling nervous, anxious or on edge, and more than 1 in 10 seriously considered attempting suicide. Findings also indicated this is manifesting in new student behavior challenges that impact ability to learn, and teachers and staff are very concerned. .
- Advocates hope to see robust investments in student mental health, beyond the revised SOQs and lifting the support cap to meet minimum standards for recommended ratios for school counselors, social workers, and psychologists. This should include investments that leverage Medicaid funding and provide flexible spending for telehealth and community-based mental health services.
- English Learner students have faced some of the biggest barriers to education throughout the pandemic and lost the most ground on our state assessments. It would take more than $150 million in additional state support for English Learners to bring Virginia in line with average state supplemental support per English Learner students. Amounts in the low millions or tens of millions of dollars for these students should be seen as far from adequate.
Claims of insufficient funds or misleading statements on federal relief funding
- With a $2 billion budget surplus from the recently completed fiscal year and an expected revenue revised forest adding $2 billion this year and over $900 million next year, Virginia has the resources to adequately staff our classrooms with high-quality teachers to drive academic excellence.
- The prospect of an economic recession and remaining high inflation creates poor conditions for tax cuts at this time – both providing us less resources to meet underfunded obligations and contributing to irresponsible fiscal policy that exacerbates inflation.
- Claims that local school divisions are awash in unspent federal aid fail to give the crucial context that divisions have until September 2024 to spend that money, and many have already appropriated all of it or are on track to do so. These misleading statements seem designed to convince the public that there is mismanagement at the local level and potentially sow doubt for providing additional state resources.
Funding the revised Standards of Quality (SOQs)
- In the fall of 2021, the Virginia Board of Education issued a set of Standards of Quality (SOQs recommendations which represent the minimum standards necessary to meet the state’s constitutional duty to provide a quality education for Virginia students (background here).
- To fully fund the Standards of Quality, the state needs to invest an estimated additional $366 million into our schools in the 2023-2024 school year.