Schools

Since the 2008-2009 school year, Virginia legislators enacted 12 changes to the State Standards of Quality (SOQ) that have resulted in a cut of over  $800 million annually.  This finding is according to a January 2016 report issued by the Commonwealth Institute, a think tank focused on economic issues and their impact on low- and moderate-income people.  The Institute’s report echoes a charge made by the Virginia Education Association in 2012.

Both organizations claim that Virginia’s contribution to education would have been higher if the General Assembly had not taken steps to lower Virginia’s education standards, and that the formula now being used no longer reflects what it actually costs to educate a student.  The $800 million figure is based on estimates made by the Virginia Senate Finance staff.

The Virginia SOQs  encompass the requirements that must be met by all Virginia public schools, including teacher-pupil ratios, benefits for educators, and basic curricula.  The SOQs form the basis for distribution of funds to the counties.  The State funds between 20 and 80 percent of the cost of the SOQs, depending on the counties’ ability to pay.

According to the Commonwealth Institute, the Legislature made changes to the funding formula in order to save money after the 2008 recession.  They further claim that the cuts skewed the formula and were not rescinded once the economy began to improve.

The cuts themselves cover a wide range.  Those that have the largest financial impact include a cap on the number of support positions, adjustments to the health care participation rate, and excluding travel and certain equipment expenditures from the formula.  Smaller changes include changing the estimated lifespan of buses to 15 years from 12 years and reducing support for Virginia’s K-3 Class Size Reduction program.

According to the Washington Post, the authors of the report state that the impact will be harder on the poorer counties and easier on the richer counties, though the rationale for this is not evident in the report.  If so, Rappahannock County would lose less than other nearby areas.  In any regard, the report concludes that the cuts have resulted, statewide, in fewer teachers and support staff, larger class sizes, and deteriorating school facilities.

You can read the entire Commonwealth Institute report at http://www.thecommonwealthinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/eroding_standards_report_v5.pdf.

The Washington Post has a summary at https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/report-says-virginia-is-shortchanging-public-schools-800-million-a-year/2016/01/24/11bcda42-c126-11e5-9443-7074c3645405_story.html.

by Jim Blubaugh, Washington VA