Guest View: Three Budget Recommendations to the General Assembly for Virginia Schools | Columnists






Keith Perrigan | Superintendent, Brtistol, Virginia City Schools


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While the timing and final format of Virginia’s next biennial budget is uncertain, one thing is certain; there will be a historic investment in public education.

House and Senate leaders, as well as former Gov. Ralph Northam and current Gov. Glenn Youngkin, should all be applauded for their role in this record budget.

However, breaking records should not be the primary focus of elected officials in Virginia as the current budget process winds down. Instead, relevance, equity and impact should be front and center when finalizing this plan for the future.

Ultimately (or the end of the session in this case), a budget is simply a manifestation of our core values. While having the best public education system in the country is one of our core values, here are three suggestions for budget delegates to consider when completing this vitally important document.

“First, Virginia’s crumbling schools have been a topic of conversation for several years, dating back to the McDonnell administration. In fact, the Coalition of Small Rural Schools of Virginia “highlighted” a crumbling school across the Commonwealth this summer as a small sample of a much bigger problem.

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Based on House and Senate budget recommendations, we know that at least $500 million will be available from the Commonwealth for school divisions to use for facilities once the budget is approved. While the Senate version injects one-time grants into local school divisions, the House version, which is backed by both Del. Israel O’Quinn of Southwest Virginia and Delegate Barry Knight of Virginia Beach, create a recurring fund that focuses on high-poverty schools. and localities in difficulty. This plan will have both immediate impact and future opportunities for schools by encouraging improvements through discounts and interest-based assistance. What makes the House version historic is that it will leverage $2 billion in school construction this biennium and even more in the future. Since a one-size-fits-all approach does not work to meet the diverse needs we encounter in different areas of Virginia, and options such as increasing local sales tax are not available, I recommend that a compromise be found to ensure that all school divisions receive a one-time school infrastructure grant while providing localities, especially those with limited resources, an incentive to build a new school for the first time in generations.

This can be done simply by applying $250 million of the recommended $500 million to Senate and House plans to address school infrastructure. This will ensure that every school division receives help now and that many struggling localities can actually start planning for improvements in the future as a recurring fund has been created.

This is a victory for all localities/divisions, Senate and House, Republicans and Democrats, as well as the previous and current Governor.

Let’s make it happen because it benefits Virginians from the mountains to the underground.

” Following, it is imperative to raise teachers’ salaries in Virginia as much as possible. The Senate version of the budget calls for a 5% increase each year of the biennium with a one-time bonus of $1,000, while the House offers a respectable 4% increase in both years, with a 1% bonus each year. .

As generous as these two recommendations may seem, they will not push Virginia above the current national average for teacher salaries. A 10% increase over the next two years will push Virginia above the national average in fiscal year 2020, but by the end of the fiscal year we will be in fiscal year 2024 and our ranking will drop. again. This is unacceptable for a state that ranks in the top 10 in many financial statistics.

Virginia’s final budget must provide for a 5% increase for both years of the biennium.

” Ultimately, the At-Risk Add On (ARAO) is the fairest funding formula Virginia uses to fund public education. ARAO takes into account the number and percentage of very poor students in each division and distributes the funding proportionately.

This is essential because a consensus of educational research shows that it costs more to educate a child who lives in poverty due to the additional barriers to learning they face. When you consider that Tazewell County spends $8,521 per student in state and local dollars on education while Falls Church spends $18,614 per student, and the average income for a Dickenson County family is 29 $142,000 when the average Loudoun County family income is $142,000, it’s easy to see why the At-Risk add-on is so important to rural school divisions and other high-poverty school divisions.

Accordingly, it is imperative that the final budget include the Senate’s recommendation to increase the at-risk supplement, which was nearly $210 million higher than what the House had proposed. To do otherwise will only exacerbate the already unreasonable funding gap between very poor and affluent school divisions.

The current General Assembly is expected to break records in education funding. As we saw recently at the Winter Olympics, records are broken every day.

Instead of aiming to set a new record, I implore the General Assembly, and budget speakers in particular, to aim even higher. Rural school divisions and other high-poverty school divisions have been neglected for too long in Virginia.

By providing both grants and rebates for school infrastructure, increasing teacher salaries by 10%, and closing the funding gap between affluent and very poor schools by investing in the At-Risk add-on , this General Assembly will not only break records, but they will leave a lasting legacy that will be remembered for decades.

In addition to being Superintendent of Schools in Bristol, Virginia, Perrigan is President of the Coalition of Small Rural Schools of Virginia and a member of the Commission on School Building and Modernization.

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