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May 19

Governor McDonnell’s Budget Amendents Target Many Education Areas

The Governor’s amendment pen was busy following last month’s approval of a compromise budget by the General Assembly. Eighty-eight is a BIG number in the state budget world – representing the number of budget amendments Governor McDonnell sent to the Floor on Monday for the General Assembly to consider. This on the heels of contentious debate and political maneuvering to reach agreement on a compromise budget that took a special session to accomplish has made this a GA session to remember. A number of Governor McDonnell’s amendments specifically targeted K-12; and a number of the Governor’s key amendment recommendations to the budget failed to win approval – with “no” votes on both sides of the political aisle.

One K-12 amendment that caught the attention of educators and the media alike was a recommendation from the Governor to cut in half the amount of state funding approved in the budget for Project Discovery. The GA said “no” – on a vote of 9 to 81 in the Republican-controlled House. In another controversial move, the Governor recommended that the “cost of competing” teacher salary supplement for high index areas of the state be put on hold and contingent on a report from JLARC. As all members of the General Assembly are aware, this compromise to support COCA for these high index areas went through many iterations and “give and take” before becoming a major part of the budget negotiations. The legislature was not in the mood to tamper with this key compromise and defeated the Governor’s recommendation. Additionally state representatives shot down the Governor’s recommendation to eliminate funding for the College Readiness Center pilot.

There is good news and bad news on the Governor’s recommendation to exclude certain funds from 2016-2018 re-benchmarking, including those associated with inflation factors considered critical to funding for local school divisions. The good news is that the GA failed to accept the Governor’s recommendations; however, not surprising but nonetheless disappointing, the accepted language makes it clear that these are to be considered one time funds and therefore will not be included in the next rebenchmarking.

Governors do not usually get all they want in budget negotiations nor are they successful with all amendment proposals – but one has to wonder if the Governor anticipated as much push-back as he received from his own party. Do these and other rejections of the Governor’s amendments to the K-12 budget signal a bow to public pressure or will next year be “business as usual”?