Virginia lags many states in state education funding, analysis finds
Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia are so close that Keith Perrigan, superintendent of Bristol Virginia public schools and president of the Coalition of Small and Rural Schools of Virginia, remembers his district’s lack of funding when he looks out the window from his office and sees the Tennessee system better funded.
Even though the Perrigan District pays a larger portion of its local school budget out of municipal coffers than its Tennessee counterpart – 24 percent versus eight percent, depending on their budgets – the state of Tennessee’s larger contribution means that the Perrigan district is lagging behind financially. The gap, Perrigan said, has led his teachers to leave to work across the state border.
âThey definitely have better salaries than we do for teachers,â Perrigan said. “We have done our best to make our wages competitive with those of our neighbors across the border and we have come close.”
Despite Virginia’s status as one of the top 10 states for median household income, it ranks 41st in state spending per student, according to a analysis by the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a non-partisan, nonprofit advocacy group in Richmond. Unlike neighboring states, Virginia’s school funding formula relies more on local governments, said Chad Stewart, head of education policy and development at TCI.
“We are still in the bottom row of states for the fairness of our public funding, as well as for the amount of effort we put into funding students given that we are a relatively wealthy state,” he said. declared.
Virginia’s quality standards, which are set by the State Board of Education and subject to review and funding decisions by the General Assembly, create the foundation for education programs and public school staff.
âLawmakers have determined that they are not required by the Constitution to fund the standards set by the Virginia Board of Education,â said Stewart. âFor the past few years, over a decade, they have failed to fund the standards set by the state’s education experts. To fully fund SOQ, the Virginia General Assembly would need to spend an additional $ 1 billion each year, Stewart said.
State funding allocated in accordance with standards must be matched by localities according to their ability to pay, which is assessed through the Local Composite Index, a complex formula that takes three factors into consideration in determining what percentage of school funding a locality will be responsible for, according to the Virginia Department of Education: the true value of real estate, weighted at 50 percent; adjusted gross income, (40 percent); and taxable retail sales (10 percent).
A locality’s index score is then adjusted to maintain a local state-wide share of 45% and an overall state share of 55%.
“Virginia places a relatively high burden from all states on localities to pay the majority of K-12 costs,” the Commonwealth Institute said in its analysis.
Stewart said disparities in property taxes are one of the main factors that create funding inequalities.
âYou have examples of richer school divisions that are able to mobilize even more resources because they have high property values ââin their locality,â he said. âThey are able to far exceed the per student spending of the poorest divisions. ”
Still, Stewart said each locality in Virginia raises more funds than the local match required by the state just to meet the needs of students. Difference in funding widens in rural and very poor districts where property values ââare lower. In 2018, public schools in the city of Petersburg, which had a poverty rate of 39%, spent $ 11,168 per student, according to an annual state-by-state analysis. report on public school funding by the Education Law Center, a New Jersey advocacy group for equal educational opportunity and educational justice. This figure contrasts with public schools in Falls Church City, a district that had a 2% poverty rate and spent nearly $ 20,000 per student, according to the report.
âOur greatest strength is that we are resilient,â said Perrigan, Bristol Superintendent. âWe’re getting our sleeves back and doing whatever it takes to do what’s right for the kids.
“It also ends up being our biggest weakness, because we’re willing to do whatever it takes, and we make things work, sometimes people will say, ‘we don’t need to give them more money. , things are working there. “”
Yet the formula does not accurately calculate the financing requirement, even in areas with high real estate value like Fairfax County. Every year since 2002, Del. Vivian Watts, D-Fairfax, has tried to introduce bills or budget language to change LCI, which she says puts her county at a disadvantage.
“The ability to pay does not reflect the power to tax at all,” she said. “It’s just in theory there’s an adjusted gross income, but you can’t achieve it fairly just by increasing the property tax rate.”
Property values ââin Fairfax County are way above the income of some people who have lived there for decades, Watts said. Therefore, she considers it unfair to increase property taxes.
Perrigan, Stewart and Watts claim that the At-Risk add-on – a state program developed over the past decade that aims to alleviate funding disparities by providing additional funds to districts with a higher concentration of students living in poverty – is a promising approach. Currently, At-Risk supplement funding is determined by the number of students who receive a free or discounted lunch.
âIt may come as a surprise, but over half of my schools have more than half of their students on free and reduced lunch, and some of them are 70 percent on free and reduced lunch,â Watts said. âGiven the high cost of living in our region, this is particularly punitive for families trying to make ends meet.
About 29 percent of Fairfax County students receive a free and reduced lunch during the school year, according to the Fairfax County website.
The Virginia Board of Education is currently considering revising the at-risk add-on to accommodate annual changes in student enrollment, according to the SOQ meeting on Sept. 22.
Perrigan said his schools have benefited from the program because Bristol participates in the Community Eligibility Provision program, which allows very poor school systems to provide free meals to all students in the school system. However, this reduces the funding that might be available from the At-Risk add-on. Perrigan said Bristol joined the CEP program in 2014, so the number of students living in poverty as of that year is still used to calculate the at-risk supplement.
âWe know our poverty has increased,â he said.
âA lot of the funding inequalities that I see in public education in Virginia are really formulaic. I don’t think it’s intentional, âPerrigan said.
As part of a broader equity goal, the Virginia Board of Education pushed for the creation of an investment fund, a program that would increase the net amount of add-on at risk and put it in code. of Virginia, said Stewart. So far, the recommendation has not made much headway in the legislature.
âWe’re talking over $ 100 million, so it’s not a small piece of change for the state,â Stewart said. “However, I think many advocates for student education see it as one of the most essential suggested revisions to our state funding code because of its link to the needs and equity of the people. students. “