The Youngkin Department of Education’s failure to account for a cut in the state grocery tax was at the root of the miscalculation.
Correction: A former version of this article stated that the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) found out about the budgeting error in December. According to Charles Pyle, VDOE communications director, the VDOE learned of the calculation error on Jan. 23. “Initially, we thought the error was only in place for a month (since December), then discovered it had been in place since June,” he said.
Lawmakers came together to cobble a patch for the Youngkin administration’s $201 million school budget mistake. After Gov. Glenn Youngkin finally notified the General Assembly of the shortfall in late January, state lawmakers scrambled to fill a nearly quarter-billion hole in the education budget caused by a Virginia Department of Education (VDOE) error.
Charles Pyle, VDOE communications director, said that the shortfall came about because of a tool provided on the department’s website, which allows schools to estimate state funding for their districts. The tool included an error that did not account for the 2023 decrease in sales tax revenue, due to a cut in the state’s grocery tax.
“As a result of this—and it’s complicated—the calculation tool provided inflated estimates on the amount of non-sales tax basic aid that school divisions could’ve anticipated under the budgets—the governor’s proposed budget and also, unfortunately, this same error was originally made when we posted the calculation tool for the completed budget in Q-2022,” Pyle said. “So school divisions that used the tool for local budgeting decisions, you know, during the current fiscal year, were basing those decisions on inflated estimates of state basic aid.”
The Department became aware of the error on Jan. 23. According to Pyle, the VDOE alerted the Department of Planning and Budget on Jan. 24. The following day, the VDOE contacted legislative staff to notify them of the shortfall, barely a month before the Virginia General Assembly ended its regular session. School divisions learned of the error on Jan. 27 in a letter sent to superintendents by state Superintendent Jillian Balow.
“We deeply regret this error,” Pyle said. “We know how dependent school divisions are on this tool to generate estimates of state funding that they need for local decision-making regarding their own budgets as they close out the current fiscal year and prepare their budgets for the upcoming fiscal year.”
On Feb. 25, over a month after the VDOE learned of the error, Virginia lawmakers agreed to appropriate nearly $133 million for the current school year and more than $125 million for the next year. The agreement patched the hole in the education budget but fell short of fully funding Virginia’s public schools.