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Legislative Budget Update – February 6, 2019

There is more work to be done!

This weekend, the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee released their respective budget proposals. From our standpoint, the budgets proposed fall far short of what Virginia’s students and teachers need and deserve, cutting millions of dollars from the investments proposed to them in December. The governor’s proposed budget should have been a floor – and not a ceiling – for K-12 funding, and the Virginia General Assembly has let us down again. Although we appreciate the commitment shown to addressing teacher salaries, these budgets ignore the stark reality that state funding for K-12 education is still down 9% since the 2009 recession. Every year that goes by without meaningful new investment is another year that we are leaving a class of students behind.

In Richmond, our state funding needs are even more acute with our state distribution down 19% since the 2009 recession. This inequity must be addressed to give our city the tools it needs to fully fund and improve our schools. Yet the legislature is ignoring the critical At-Risk Add-On program and has cut its proposed increases that would help direct funding to our Commonwealth’s students who need it the most.

Fortunately, there is still time for the legislature to sufficiently increase funding for the At-Risk Add-On, support staff positions like school counselors, school construction and other key initiatives to help fund the true cost of education. We urge members of the General Assembly to make K-12 education a top priority and send a clear message that our Commonwealth is committed to giving every Virginia student the educational resources they need to succeed academically in a safe and healthy environment.

As the House and Senate negotiate their differences in the coming weeks, we will continue to advocate for the best possible compromise for a budget that makes progress in fully funding the state’s share of the true costs of public education. We will need you to help us advocate and encourage you to reach out to your elected leaders to convey the importance of providing as much funding to public education as possible.

About This Report and Accompanying Grid

This report and the accompanying budget comparison grid help explain the different approaches taken by the House and Senate. The state budget is a big document and specific proposals are identified by item number. In the attached grid, we have also indicated whether or not we support each specific proposal by shading the boxes green (support) or red (oppose). RPS has no adopted position on unshaded items.

 

Below are updates on some of the highest priority education funding issues and how they were handled by the House and Senate. We have also indicated which approach we support for each issue. For example, for teacher salaries, we support the full-funding approach of the Senate and will be conveying that position to legislators.

Taxes and Their Impact on Education Funding

The budget process was significantly affected this year by the ongoing debate over tax conformity necessary because of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. The federal tax changes force changes to the way Virginians will file their taxes and will also generate about $1.2 billion in new revenue for the Commonwealth. The Governor proposed several ways to handle this money, including providing tax relief for lower-income Virginians and investing in key priorities like public education.

 

The Republican-led General Assembly has rejected the Governor’s proposals and have not yet come to agreement amongst themselves over how to deal with the issues of conformity, tax relief, and new spending. They have proposed to put all the new revenue in a special restricted fund until they can decide later how to spend it. Unfortunately, this means that many of the Governor’s proposals for public education have been reduced or stricken from consideration altogether. Regardless of this new revenue, we believed that the legislature should and could have done more to invest in K-12 education as they still made significant investments in many other areas of the budget.

The proposal by the House is slightly more favorable than the Senate proposal, but both have their pros and cons and much of the discussion will now be compromise between the two versions.

Teacher Salaries - Support the Senate!Starting with what we’ve known for over a week, there is some agreement on the 5% teacher salary increase and the committees have included the raise in both their proposals - albeit in slightly different forms. The existing 3% raise is still included and requires a full local match to bring down those funds.

However, under the House proposal, the additional 2% increase would not be effective until January 1, 2020, while the Senate would fund it starting this year on July 1. The House proposal effectively cuts the cost in half by delaying implementation.

The Senate is proposing flexibility for localities in implementing the additional 2% by allowing school divisions to receive state funds for whatever additional increase is provided by the school division. In other words, after funding the first 3%, localities may choose to fund any additional amount up to the full 5% and receive the associated state matching funds.

At-Risk Add-On - Support the Senate!Increases to this program were not funded at all by the House and the Senate only funded a portion of what was proposed at $21 million instead of the proposed $35 million.

As you talk about budget priorities in the coming weeks, this is the most important issue needing your voice. The At-Risk Add-On is an equity based funding program designed to send dollars to schools that need it the most and is the best vehicle we have to mitigate the inequity in the LCI and SOQ funding formulas.

We need to ask the House to accept the Senate’s proposal for this program and ask the Senate to stand firm in sustaining this funding. Your voice on this important issue matters and we hope you will help us advocate for it.

Lottery Funded Per-Pupil Allocation - Support the House!

The House increased the Lottery Per-Pupil Allocation by $62 million. This is another flexible funding stream that helps us direct dollars where we need them. The Senate provided no new funding for this program.School Counselors and School Safety - Support the House!An area of closer but not complete agreement was on the school counselor ratio adjustment and the other school safety measures. The House proposals are more complete with the House fully funding the first of three years of the school counselor ratio adjustment at $35 million dollars while the Senate only makes a minor improvement with $10 million dollars - less than one tenth the cost of bringing the school counselor ratios down to the nationally recommended 1 counselor per 250 students.

The House included $6.6 million in a comprehensive school safety funding package that includes more funds for more school resources officers. The Senate only included $3.3 million on new trainings and technologies.

School Modernization - Support the Senate!The Senate retained most of the $80 million that the Governor proposed for the Literary Fund to support school construction. Recommending $70 million, they directed funding to several programs including a program to subsidize interest rates for school construction loans. The House stripped away the entire $80 million.

Virginia Preschool Initiative - Support the House!RPS supported several amendments regarding the state’s publicly-assisted preschool program, the Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI). Unfortunately, our proposals for flexibility in retaining our unused VPI slots by allowing the enrollment of 3-year-olds or by allowing fee-based access for higher income families did not make it into either budget proposal.

The House did include a modest increase in the VPI per pupil allocation at a cost of $275,000 while the Senate did not include any increase.

Richmond ProgramsAlthough the General Assembly did not make meaningful statewide investments in public education, the Senate has included two programs in their budget proposal that would specifically benefit Richmond teachers and students.

An additional $500,000 has been proposed for the Master Teacher Residency Program and $125,000 has been proposed for a Richmond High School Apprenticeship Program that would award grants to businesses that take on Richmond high school students as apprentices. These programs are only included in the Senate proposal and will require the House’s cooperation for them to be included in the final budget.

What Can You Do?Now is the time to speak up to advocate for the best final budget possible! In the coming days, the House and Senate will appoint “conferees” to help negotiate a final budget. There will be six Delegates and six Senators from the Appropriations and Finance Committees deciding the fate of each one of these proposals.

Until the conferees are announced, we encourage you to start talking about these issues on social media, write letters to the editor of local newspapers, and start making phone calls or sending emails to legislators. The legislators to reach out to right now are all the members of the Appropriations and Finance Committees.

The number one priority to communicate is supporting the Senate’s approach to funding an increase in the At-Risk Add-On program.

A sample communication can be:

Subject: Support the Senate Approach to Funding the At-Risk Add-On!

Dear Delegate/Senator [Insert Name],

Making investments in public education has never been more important and our schools need more! Support the Senate approach to funding the At-Risk Add-On program to help provide more equitable funding for the schools in our Commonwealth that need the most support. It costs 25-30% more to educate children in high-poverty areas, yet a school division like Richmond receives less funding than many wealthier localities. Invest in our at-risk schools by supporting the Senate proposal to include funding for this program.

Feel free to customize your message and discuss other proposals that we have included in this report. We need more funding in many areas and your advocacy on these issues can help make the difference!

Don’t forget, RPS has provided an Advocacy Toolkit with more information and tips about making contact with legislators and writing your own personal letters. Check it out here!