In mid-July, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, (JLARC) took the first look in decades at Virginia’s formula for funding schools. As we approach campaign season, you'll hear candidates on both sides talking about the report. Here's a summary.
1. The current state funding formula for schools has been underfunding the state’s contribution to FCPS by hundreds of millions of dollars.
“Virginia school divisions receive less K–12 funding per student than the 50-state average, the regional average, and three of Virginia’s five bordering states. School divisions in other states receive 14 percent more per student than school divisions in Virginia, on average, after normalizing for differences in cost of labor among states. This equates to about $1,900 more per student than Virginia.”
2. The responsibility of adequately funding public education in Virginia is a constitutional requirement.
Virginia has a fundamental legal obligation to fund its K–12 public education system. The Constitution of Virginia sets forth several foundational rights and obligations related to K–12 education . First, students in the Commonwealth cannot be charged for their education. Funding the state’s public education system is, therefore, the responsibility of the state and local governments, with assistance from the federal government. Second, the General Assembly must attempt to establish and maintain a high quality public school system. Third, the General Assembly has sole authority to decide how to fund education and determine state funding amounts and minimum local government contributions.
From the Constitution of Virginia: Article VIII. Education
Section 2. Standards of quality; State and local support of public schools
Standards of quality for the several school divisions shall be determined and prescribed from time to time by the Board of Education, subject to revision only by the General Assembly. The General Assembly shall determine the manner in which funds are to be provided for the cost of maintaining an educational program meeting the prescribed standards of quality, and shall provide for the apportionment of the cost of such program between the Commonwealth and the local units of government comprising such school divisions. Each unit of local government shall provide its portion of such cost by local taxes or from other available funds.
From the Code of Virginia § 22.1-253.13:1
A. The General Assembly and the Board of Education believe that the fundamental goal of the public schools of the Commonwealth must be to enable each student to develop the skills that are necessary for success in school, preparation for life, and reaching their full potential. The General Assembly and the Board of Education find that the quality of education is dependent upon the provision of (i) the appropriate working environment, benefits, and salaries necessary to ensure the availability of high-quality instructional personnel; (ii) the appropriate learning environment designed to promote student achievement; (iii) quality instruction that enables each student to become a productive and educated citizen of Virginia and the United States of America; and (iv) the adequate commitment of other resources. In keeping with this goal, the General Assembly shall provide for the support of public education as set forth in Article VIII, § 1 of the Constitution of Virginia.
3. The Standards of Quality (SOQ) formula was established as a way of meeting Virginia’s constitutional requirement to fund public schools.
K–12 funding is the largest single budgetary item for state and local government. The Constitution directs the Board of Education and General Assembly to more precisely define a quality public education through developing the SOQs, which include staffing standards for the public school system, Standards of Learning for the curriculum, graduation requirements for students, Standards of Accreditation for schools, professional development requirements for teachers, and administrative planning and policy requirements. These standards have historically been developed and maintained by the Board of Education in state regulations, but over time many have been established in the Code of Virginia and Appropriation Act.
The assumption has been that if the Standards of Quality are funded, Virginia students will receive a quality education. Since 1972, the General Assembly has reviewed the SOQ formula based on 6 criteria (Task Force for Financing the Standards of Quality, 1972-1973):
· Clear and justifiable rationale
· Reflects prevailing practice
The SOQ formula no longer meets these criteria.
· The SOQ formula dramatically undercalculates the numbers of K-12 staff needed run a school division.
In FY21, the SOQ formula calculated that divisions needed 113,500 FTE staff to perform the various instructional, student support, and administrative functions of the K–12 system. However, divisions actually employed 171,400 staff (51 percent more). Every school division in the state employs more people than the SOQ formula provides for.
If FCPS received the state’s share of SOQ funding based on actual staffing levels, it would receive an additional $182 million per year.
· The SOQ formula dramatically underestimates compensation costs.
The formula underweights salaries paid by the state’s largest school divisions, even though these divisions employ a majority of K– 12 staff and account for a majority of staffing costs. Large school divisions simply have to pay more to attract and keep high-quality educators. If the “cost of competing” formula were changed to reflect the actual increased costs for FCPS, the school division would be entitled to an additional $187.4 million per year.
· The SOQ formula does not adequately account for student needs.
The formula under-calculates the number of special education, teachers for limited English students, and other high-needs students. It also undercounts the numbers of aides needed to support teachers and students in these fields. In the past ten years, state funding for special education students has decreased by 16% (from $4724 per student to $3977). Yet overall spending on students with disabilities has increased by an inflation-adjusted 17% in the eight years from FY13 to FY21. The difference has been made up primarily by local governments.
If all the changes to the SOQ formula were implemented, FCPS would be entitled to receive an additional $568,683,000 in state aid each year.
5. Money matters.
“Money isn’t everything,” critics often say. (Former US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos repeated this like a mantra.)
And money isn’t everything. But sufficient funding is essential for a high-quality education system - provided that you spend enough money, and on the right things.
JLARC cited research conducted in the past 5 years providing examples of how when politicians and taxpayers invest more money in teacher salaries, school construction, and supporting high-needs students, test scores jumped.
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