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Jan 09

Education Funding in Virginia-Where Is It and How Do School Divisions Get It?

The long held concept that funding for public education in Virginia is the responsibilituy of the General Assembly has faded.  More and more in the commonwealth, the onus of  much of the funding responsibilities for education is being passed  from the General Assembly to localities.  This is not a totally new phenomenon and its impetus can be traced to former Governor Tim Kaine’s decision to propose a funding cap in 2008.  At that time, many services which relied on the state budget suffered, including education. Now, a change again in the funding formula has created what appears to be a permanent fix for a temporary problem.

Communities in Virginia as partners and recipients in the funding process are in need of their share of the revenues that come into the state coffers.  The funding formula now has reduced this sharing process while localities are increasingly being asked to provide their own revenues for services and programs. “Delivering basic public services fairly requires a balanced financial partnership between the state and local governments” noted Michael Amyx in a recent Richmond Times-Dispatch article. “Regrettably, this partnership has become a one-way street in recent years.” http://www2.timesdispatch.com/news/rtd-opinion/2012/jan/03/tdopin02-state-local-financial-partnership-is-unra-ar-1582641/

As an example of how this shift of responsibility has changed, consider this: since fiscal 2008, state general fund support for public education has been cut by more than $800 million. The reductions, however, did not deter the state from imposing higher accountability and achievement standards in Virginia. Virginia school administrators are well aware of this burden of producing more with fewer resources. This push for excellence, but failure to provide funding for training/staff development and the necessary time frames for this training is another example of the ever present under funded mandates.

The funds that are needed for localities to provide services for education should be paramount from our perspective as school administrators.  Our reality is that while the funding is very needed, funds also very limited.  Are there then, other funding resources available and if so, where are they?

In 1987, the Virginia General Assembly launched a new funding venture for the commonwealth: the Virginia State Lottery.  Do you recall the selling point for gambling in Virginia?  “Helping Virginia’s Public Schools” was the statement reminding us that we should feel good about buying lottery tickets as the money was for a good purpose: educating  the public school students.  The phrase”looks to good to be true” applies to lottery funds and their well advertised slogan to help public education in Virginia. “Virginia lottery receipts are supposed to boost funding for schools” states a December  article in the Virginian-Pilot.  “Instead, the annual $450 million goes everywhere but.” http://hamptonroads.com/2011/12/virginia-lotterys-bait-and-switch.

The declining economy caused lottery funds to be used for the general fund and finally in 2000 after much public concern, an amendment dedicating lottery money to education was passed.  From this action, a 60/40 split developed into a “sharing” of lottery funds; 60 percent for legislators to spend on projects and 40 percent for public school divisions which was then divided in half , one half designated for nonrecurring expenses.  In Virginia now, lottery funds are no longer split. School divisions do not receive direct lottery money in addition to state basic aid. Rather, the funds are allotted for programs such as preschool and foster care.  “Worthy programs, local officials say, but ones state leaders should be supporting with general tax dollars so they can leave lottery money alone.” http://hamptonroads.com/2011/11/virginians-duped-about-lottery-funding-educators-say

The question remains: where can an increase in education funding come from?  This leads educators back to our legislators and the General Assembly.  The lottery funding for education may not change without a legislative mandate and general funding through the state funds is static.  “Because the change was made to the state formula, only the General Assembly can undo it” states Elisabeth Hulette and “Gov. Bob McDonnell isn’t interested in such a change: he’s asking schools to put 65 percent of their money into the classroom.” http://news-business.vlex.com/vid/can-have-our-money-back-now-schools-341005134

Our course may be to wait out the sluggush economy and hope that for localities,  much careful thinking and less attention paid to political aspirations and party affiliations in the General Assembly will bring about a new consideration for what needs to be done for all of Virginia’s public schools.