Last week, the Youngkin administration discovered that the estimates given by an online tool used to see how much funding each school district can expect to receive from the state were wrong. The error will most directly affect schools in poor, rural areas and comes as state lawmakers prepare to debate the state’s budget and competing tax proposals.
Across Virginia, school districts will receive about $202 million less than anticipated for the current and upcoming fiscal years because of a math error via Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Department of Education (DOE) that overestimated their state funding.
The problem began with a DOE online tool, launched in June 2022, that allows school districts to see how much funding they can expect to receive from the state. The tool takes into account the district’s number of students and how much it receives in property tax revenue, among other factors.
According to The Washington Post, someone—the state would not say who—realized sometime last week that the numbers were wrong. This was due to a miscalculation that occurred after the state failed to take changes connected to the elimination of the state’s tax on groceries into account. School districts were informed on Jan. 27.
“We certainly understand that this has caused some consternation,” Charles B. Pyle, a spokesman for Youngkin’s DOE, told The Post. “We’re very sorry that this happened in the first place and that it wasn’t caught earlier.”
As with most funding issues, this error will affect the districts who rely the most on state aid: those in poor, rural communities. In some of these districts, that state aid makes up about 80% of the funding they receive. School districts in Northern Virginia generally receive a much smaller percentage of their budget from the state due to wealthy property tax bases.
“There’s a little bit of a panic right now,” Keith Perrigan, the superintendent of Bristol Public Schools and the head of the Coalition of Small and Rural Schools of Virginia, told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, who first reported the error.
Now the state House and Senate will have to figure out a solution to the problem later in the 2023 legislative session—which only runs until Feb. 24—when budget amendments proposed by the two chambers can be squared away.
Democratic Del. Schuyler T. VanValkenburg–a teacher himself–criticized the Youngkin administration and Republican lawmakers for focusing on what he called “distractions,” such as restricting the rights of transgender students and creating a tip line for parents to report teachers who bring up “divisive” topics in the classroom, instead of catching errors such as these.
“There’s an opportunity cost to making these decisions, to govern through ideology; to govern with a right-wing agenda; to focus your manpower on these issues. That means no one’s minding the store, which is how we get a $200 million ‘oops.’ … And no one’s minding the store, and you have a $200 million ‘oops.’… We do need a solution to the $200 million dollars. But we need a solution for a DOE that isn’t doing its basic job, which is to help kids and to help schools. We need an administration that’s going to focus on actually helping schools,” he said during a speech on the House floor.
This error also comes as state lawmakers prepare to debate amendments to the state’s two-year budget plan. On Jan. 24, Virginia House Republicans passed Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s $1 billion tax cut program, a plan that uses Virginia’s budget surplus to not only benefit large corporations and the wealthy, but also simultaneously make it so small businesses and Virginia residents will owe more. Democrats in the Senate say that money from the surplus is needed to invest in Virginia students and “make up for roughly 15 years of underfunded schools and other vital public services.”