House and Senate lay out dueling visions for education funding in Virginia

Budget quarrels between the House of Representatives and the Senate are a common part of the business in the Virginia legislature. But the debate erupted soon this year after both chambers released their plans for spending on K-12 education, outlining competing visions of school building, teacher pay and new “innovative” schools advocated by Governor Glen Yangkin.

Virginia Democrats argued that the House of Representatives plan to deprive Republicans of school funding, while Garen Shipley, a spokesman for House Speaker Todd Gilbert, R. Shenandoah, described it as “the biggest K-12 budget in Virginia history.” In the meantime, there are some rural settlements applauding the House for his school building plan, Richmond Public School District encouraging families to speak out at the suggestion of the Senate.

Lawmakers still need to agree on two plans before they postpone the meeting, which means the K-12’s final budget still has plenty of time to change. But this battle underscores the political divide between the two chambers and the diverse range of needs in Virginia’s public school system. However, the proposal of the House of Representatives allocates less to public education than the Senate spending plan. But it is also an unconventional funding mechanism for new schools – a top and long-standing priority for many areas suffering from problems.

“As every year, there are parts of the House of Representatives budget that we like more than the Senate, but there are parts of the Senate budget that we like more than the House of Representatives,” said Keith Perigan, Bristol’s school principal and president of the Coalition for Small and Rural Affairs. schools of Virginia. “But the recommendation to build a school in the House is certainly historic and phenomenal and will help many school units with a high level of poverty.”

Going back to the basics

For many proponents of education, however, the construction proposal is overshadowed by more elementary differences between the educational budgets of the House of Representatives and the Senate. Both plans represent an increase in K-12 funding over previous years, but the Senate budget will allocate schools about $ 240 million more over the next two years.

Some differences go back to tax policy. Senate plan postpones or rejects many supported by Yangkin’s proposals for tax breaks, resulting in the chamber receiving about $ 3 billion in revenue. As for education, it means higher costs per student. The Senate’s average plan provides $ 7,834 per student in the first year of the next biennial budget and $ 7,601 in the second compared to $ 7,243 and $ 7,437 per student proposed by the House of Representatives.

Funding for low-income school units plays a significant role in this discrepancy, says Chad Stewart, a policy analyst at the Virginia Education Association. A Senate proposal would increase the state’s additional dangers – additional funding distributed to school districts with a high concentration of students living in poverty – by $ 268.5 million, the same increase proposed in the final exit budget of former Gov. Ralph Nortem. The chamber, on the other hand, is proposing about $ 210 million less over the next two years.

Weaver Elementary School students in Chesterfield in 2015. (NBC12)

“It will have a significant impact and hit rural communities very hard,” Stewart said. According to the analysis from the Foundation of Our Schools, a coalition of parents, students, and advocacy groups in the field of education, the House of Representatives proposal – compared to Nortem’s budget – to reduce student spending by about $ 836 in rural counties and $ 1,023 in the poorest counties. Most other units reduce costs per student by an average of $ 442 according to the ward’s spending plan.

“This is a concern because when you talk about the areas most affected by the pandemic, there are a lot of overlaps with the areas where politics is most concentrated,” said Phil Hernandez, senior vice president of policy and advocacy at the Institute for Financial Analysis. The Commonwealth (think tank from Richmond is a member of the Coalition Fund Our Schools).

The House of Representatives budget offers an additional $ 120 million in total spending per student through state lottery revenue, according to Katie Mendes, a TCI policy analyst. But funding will not bring significant goals or benefit local communities with large low-income students. This has become a concern for both rural and urban school units.

“While the Senate has released a budget that provides an additional $ 2 million for us above what we expected, the House of Representatives has cut critical funding flows such as risk supplementation,” Richmond Public Schools wrote in a statement to families.

“Their budget would cut funding for state education by $ 12.5 million from what Governor Northam proposed in December (and on which the current RPS budget is based),” the county added.

Teachers’ pay is another area where the budgets of the House of Representatives and the Senate differ. Like the budget introduced by Nortem, the Senate spending plan maintains a 5 percent annual increase for educators over the next two years. The chamber also proposed using federal funds for restoration to give teachers and staff a $ 1,000 bonus that is fully funded by the state.

The chamber offers a 4 percent increase annually, and a 1 percent bonus to teachers and other school staff. This in translation means almosty According to the Fund Our Schools, staff compensation has decreased by $ 70 million compared to the Senate proposal.

Both chambers are also different when it comes to funding other positions. The House budget includes more than $ 104 million to add more school principals, deputy principals and reading professionals, positions designated in the Quality Standards developed by the Virginia Board of Education. The Senate does not include funding for these specific roles, but allocates approximately $ 272 million to fund support positions such as school nurses, bus drivers, canteen workers, and librarians.

“I think it’s obvious to everyone watching the news that there was a shortage of staff in schools before the pandemic, and funding these positions is even more important now,” Stewart said. The Senate’s spending plan also includes $ 22 million to add more teachers for English language learners – money that has been drained from the House of Representatives budget.

The children are heading to a school in Guchland County. (NBC12 through Guchland County Public Schools)

Funding for new schools

After decades of underfunding, school construction is a major item in the budgets of the House of Representatives and Senate. But it has also sparked the most debate among lawmakers and education advocates.

The Senate spending plan offers $ 500 million in one-time grants to school units for use in construction and renovation. The money will be distributed across the state and will give schools an immediate source of funding for capital projects, Perigan said.

The house, on the other hand, offers a newer way to replace or renovate old school buildings. Under the chamber’s spending plan, $ 541.7 million will go to a targeted loan repayment program for local school units. Priority schools under the first level of the program will receive a 30 percent redemption of principal and interest payments on any loans they have taken to finance new construction projects. According to analysts of the budget of the House of Representatives, the second level discounts will be at the expense of interest.

“The key thing that makes the House version of history historic, in my opinion, is that it creates a foundation that will work for years to come,” Perigan said. Districts would have to apply for the program, but the State Board of Education would establish a set of criteria based on local needs, solvency, and the condition of existing school buildings. The program also requires localities to maintain the same level of operational funding for local school units, even if the state helps pay for new capital projects.

Perigan, as Republicans of the House of Representatives, argued that the proposal would help school units in need most and use public funding better than one-off grants. Budget analysts in the House of Representatives also suggested that future casino revenue could help fund the program for years to come, while the Senate did not offer a steady flow of funding.

Some education supporters, however, said the House of Representatives budget would eventually invest less in building schools, raising $ 250 million for the program from the state Literary Foundation, a various bank obtained from criminal fees, confiscations and unpaid lottery winnings, among other sources. Historically, the fund has been used to support the state’s share in the retirement of teachers and to provide loans for school construction, although it is rarely used for recent purposes due to strict restrictions on the maximum loan amount.

“Compared to the Senate and the budgets imposed, the Chamber allocates a total of $ 55 million to teachers’ pensions, which limits the availability of the Literary Fund for School Construction,” the Our Schools Foundation said in its analysis. House budget officials, however, said that the retirement of teachers has always been a secondary use of the fund, and that no proposal for spending has significantly reduced the state’s contribution to the teachers’ retirement program.

One of the biggest differences between the two wards, however, has nothing to do with renovating or replacing existing schools. Unlike the Senate, the House of Representatives budget allocates $ 150 million to the general fund 20 new laboratory schoolsYangkin’s priority, which remains its main component push for school choices. The money would not take money from other public schools, but many proponents of education would prefer it to go to other priorities, Stewart said.

“Virginia is still not fully funding its schools based on the recommendations of its board of education,” he said. “And we think it’s an investment that would be much more profitable.”

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