Governor’s proposed budget fails to address Virginia’s school funding issues

(AP photo/Brittainy Newman)

By Carolyn Fiddler

December 22, 2023

This week, Gov. Glenn Youngkin released his proposed budget for 2024-2025. This budget proposal is the first step in a months-long process that will formally commence when the General Assembly begins its legislative session on Jan. 10, 2024.

The governor’s proposed biennial budget is an important starting point for budget negotiations with the state House and Senate, and it’s a crucial indicator of his policy priorities for the final two years of his term. It appears that fully supporting Virginia’s public schools is not among them.

A key aspect of the governor’s proposed budget that affects public schools involves eliminating the state reimbursement for the tax revenue lost to localities because of recent years’ slashing of state sales taxes on groceries and personal hygiene products – tax cuts championed and approved by Youngkin. The revenue from those taxes helped fund public schools in localities statewide, and Youngkin pledged that the state would make up the difference so K-12 education wouldn’t suffer.

According to an analysis by the Virginia Education Association (VEA), the governor’s budget eliminates this “hold harmless” reimbursement funding, effectively slashing K-12 funding by more than $200 million. An analyst from The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (TCI) put the figure at $229 million.

“Fixing public education was a major campaign promise for Governor Youngkin. But once elected, it took a backseat to culture wars and partisan politics,” said VEA president Dr. James Fedderman. “And here again, when given the opportunity to be an education governor, Youngkin fails to deliver.”

Youngkin also included modest salary increases for public school teachers in his budget: a 1% increase in 2024 and a 2% increase in 2025. But the VEA points out that these meager pay bumps fail to keep pace with inflation. When adjusted for inflation, teacher salaries would effectively decrease over the next two years. Virginia continues to grapple with a teacher shortage crisis, and the governor’s failure to meaningfully increase teacher salaries could hinder efforts to attract more to the profession.

Youngkin claims his proposed budget makes a “record $24 billion investment” in Virginia’s public schools, but Fedderman contends that the governor’s “smoke and mirrors” approach to funding will effectively reduce state investment in public K-12 schools by $300 million compared to current spending.

A recent annual report issued by the Election Law Center, a national organization that works to promote fair and equitable public school funding, found that Virginia performed poorly in education funding relative to the national average.

According to the 2023 Making the Grade report, Virginia earned “D” grades in key education funding metrics, including per-pupil funding relative to the national average.

A report released over the summer by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC), which oversees key state programs and agencies, found that Virginia underfunds its public schools by billions of dollars each year. Instead of addressing the critical needs outlined in the state report, VEA contends that Youngkin is proposing $300 million in cuts to K-12 funding.

“The handful of relatively small education investments, far outweighed by cuts, are an insult to educators and families and don’t come close to what’s needed to improve academic outcomes for students or get educator pay to the national average,” said Fedderman.

The governor’s proposed budget will be amended by the Democratic-majority General Assembly over the next few months, so many of Youngkin’s proposed education cuts may not come to fruition.

“Thankfully, this budget proposal is just the start of the conversation,” said TCI president and CEO Ashley Kenneth.

  • Carolyn Fiddler

    Carolyn Fiddler is Dogwood's chief political correspondent. She is also the nation’s foremost expert in state politics with almost two decades of experience in statehouse machinations, and her comic book collection is probably bigger than yours.

CATEGORIES: EDUCATION | POLITICS

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