Although touted to include additional funding for pubic education, the Governor’s budget puts its major emphasis on funding VRS and does not bode well for K-12 – since the major “education” funding focus is on shoring up the retirement system after years of raiding by the General Assembly. Of the $438 M in the Governor’s budget for public education, $340 M of that amount is slated to go toward VRS funding. There was no mention of increased employee contributions, which may be related to a recent JLARC report that recommended against such a move. Although the Department of Education estimated the cost of rebenchmarking to be $319 M, the Governor’s budget makes no mention of “rebenchmarking,” which is quite unusual in a budget speech, especially in a year when the state is provided with figures to be used to adjust educational funding based on actual reported expenditures. Most distressing of all is that adjustments for inflation, one of the major drivers of increased costs, are not included in this proposed budget for non-personal costs, such as transportation.
After his speech to the joint House and Senate Appropriations and Finance Committees, the Governor told reporters that recent spending on public education has risen far beyond what would seem appropriate based on the number of new students added to the rolls and repeated his intention to have at least 65% of divisions’ funding go directly to the classroom. Additionally, the Governor made a point to say that teachers (public school employees) are “local government employees,” harkening back to the pre-Governor Robb days, before the state committed to raising teacher salaries to the national level. All school divisions will take a major hit in the upcoming biennium with the biggest blows to smaller, poorer school divisions that can least afford to lose more funding and whose localities are unlikely to be able to make up the shortfall.