Problem solving; not politics
Threat of School Funding Cuts Has Lawmakers, Educators Speaking Up
January 19, 2012
via the Leesburg Today
Fear of a dip in education funding at the state level has lawmakers and educators speaking up on behalf of local schools.
While Gov. Bob McDonnell billed his proposed budget as boosting public education spending by $438 million, opponents have considered it a little to no increase in funding because it includes $342 million in teacher retirement contributions.
That's prompted Sen. Mark Herring (D-33) to introduce several budget amendments aimed to provide more money to public K-12 schools. They include start-up funds for Loudoun County to move to a full day kindergarten program, more money for career and technical education and a call to restore $271 million in direct aid to public schools throughout the commonwealth.
The chance to receive start-up funds to get the school district's full day kindergarten program off the ground has caught the attention of some parents. Under the amendment Loudoun County, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Frederick counties would each receive $50,000 per kindergarten classroom. The total funds provided over the state's two-year budget are $20.6 million.
The budget amendment would provide $9.34 million for Loudoun County Public Schools. The amendment does not put restraints on how school districts can use the funding, as long as it helps jump-start full day kindergarten, which means Loudoun could spend the money where it needs it most-on capital projects. The school district needs to build 53 new classrooms-or purchase trailers-to provide enough space for a full day kindergarten program across the county, according to a LCPS report.
Robyn Engelson, one of the founders of the newly formed coalition Loudoun for Full Day Kindergarten, was encouraged to see Herring is taking up the cause, but added that it's too early to know if kindergarten will receive funding in the School Board's operating budget, or in the General Assembly, or neither.
"I don't have a prediction yet, but we want full day kindergarten starting with phase one at the least for this upcoming school year," she said, referring to the proposed four-year phased kindergarten plan put forward by Superintendent Edgar B. Hatrick.
Herring's budget amendments would also boost funding for Career and Technical Education for Virginia's public schools by gradually increasing the percentage of funds the state reimburses school districts for CTE courses, including adult education courses and equipment costs. Currently, 25 percent of CTE-related costs submitted by school districts are reimbursed, but Herring's amendment would increase it to 50 percent over a five-year period.
A fourth education-related budget amendment introduced by Herring would reverse McDonnell's proposal to eliminate the "cost of competing" adjustment for support personnel in Northern Virginia.
"Currently, the state budget recognizes that the higher cost of living in Northern Virginia results in higher costs for the school divisions in our region," Herring stated. "By proposing to eliminate this adjustment, Northern Virginia localities stand to lose $65 million over the biennium that would have to be made up by increases in local property taxes."
Virginia's public school superintendents also spoke up about the need for education funding this week as most of them traveled to Richmond Tuesday to urge state lawmakers to drop under funded policies. More than 90 percent of the superintendents responding to a recent survey by the Virginia Association of School Superintendents (VASS) said that they would anticipate drastic budget shortfalls based on the governor's proposed budget.
VASS called McDonnell's request for localities to pay more into the state retirement system particularly onerous.
Hatrick was unable to attend the VASS event in Richmond because of meetings with local school administrators and a budget public hearing Tuesday, but has said the rise in the Virginia Retirement System rate will place a hefty burden on the school district. In his proposed budget for LCPS, Hatrick estimates the VRS rate increase will cost the school district $36.1 million more in FY13.