Virginia's schools take on 55,000 more students since recession, but with fewer staff
By Davis Burroughs
July 9, 2019

Counselors, custodians, and other school support staff jobs withered in Virginia after the state imposed a funding cap on those positions during the 2008 recession. But even as the economy has bounced back and enrollment in Virginia schools has increased by 55,000, support staff positions still shrank by 2,800 workers.

That is what the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a Richmond think tank, found in an analysis of the so-called “support cap,” a policy that was initially considered as a temporary cost reduction strategy needed to endure the economic downturn. But now the cap is taken as a given.

“A decade later, the recession has gone, revenues have recovered, yet the support cap continues to have detrimental impacts on our schools and kids,” Chris Duncombe, the group’s policy director, told the Washington Post.

The staff reductions mean school psychologists spend more time on administrative tasks and less time on counseling, instructors take on extra duties that take time away from teaching, bathrooms go without cleaning.

Students, for their part, are left without essential support services and access to sanitary learning environments.

In 2016, the Virginia Board of Education approved several measures that aimed to end the post-recession school budget cuts and ensure schools have adequate staffing and resources. But the Republican-run General Assembly has not codified any of the board’s recommendations.

In the upcoming school year, Virginia public schools will operate with $430 million less in funding for support staff than in 2008-2009, after adjusting for inflation, according to the Commonwealth Institute.

The Virginia Education Association, a trade union representing teachers, has lobbied for action on those recommendations since 2010.

“It’s time for our schools to fully recover from the recession,” Kathy Burcher, the group’s director of government relations and research, told the Washington Post.

Using the pre-recession era formula to determine how much money the state should provide for support staff could also free up funds to increase teacher pay, Burcher said. When compared to jobs requiring similar levels of experience and education, Virginia teachers are among the worst paid in the country.

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