Correction: A previous version of this post said that the Virginia governor was cutting $81 million from a pre-K program. His aides say actual spending is increasing, not being cut. There are budget documents showing that spending will increase by several million dollars, but, also, that $81 million will be saved from the program.
Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) says he wants to boost the state’s K-12 education funding by $438 million over the next two years. That sounds laudable in these times when education spending has been severely cut — until you see what his newly unveiled proposed budget actually does.
Most of the increase — $342 million of it, to be exact — is earmarked to replenish the teacher retirement system. Nothing wrong with that, but the governor shouldn’t pretend that money is going into the classroom.
There are other issues, though, some of which will present big problems for local districts. The governor also is adding funding for some debatable enterprises. For example, he wants to spend:
*$1.8 million over two years to pay fees for all 10th graders to take the PSAT, which provides practice for the SAT — even though about half of the students who take college admissions exams take the ACT. The PSAT also gives students who score high enough a chance to enter the National Merit scholarship program. But get this: rather unfairly, as I have argued, the initial cutoff scores separating the possible winners from the definite losers are not the same in each state.
*$616,000 additional dollars to help fund new teacher evaluation systems mandated by the state which — unfairly I have argued — link teacher pay to student test scores, and to create an advisory group to help people who want to establish a new charter, virtual or college laboratory school — even though there are big questions about the effectiveness of virtual schools. Meanwhile, most charters, on average, aren’t any better than traditional schools. But why let research get in the way?
Then there is the issue of funding for a program that provides free public preschool for 4-year-olds from low-income families. It was a key priority of former governor Timothy M. Kaine, who happened to be a Democrat. The governor’s aides say that he is increasing funding for 2013-14 by several million dollars and there are budget documents to show that. If that actually happens, that’s a good thing. One of the few school reforms shown by evidence to help improve student achievement is early childhood education (and that’s why it is unfortunate the governor did not fund universal pre-K.)
But there is also a budget document that shows the governor expects to save $81.5 million from this program over two years. The aides say that they have reconfigured the projected enrollment and it is more accurate than the older projections. But I think this issue will bear a closer look.
One interesting cut: McDonnell wants to withhold inflation adjustments for any non-teaching expenses associated with schools, ranging from secretarial salaries to utility bills, for a savings of $109 million, my colleague Emma Brown reported. Does the governor believe that if he withholds the adjustments, inflation will disappear?
And, Brown reported, he is proposing $108 million less than what was asked for the Standards of Quality, state-mandated minimum objectives for public schools.
There’s a lot more, about which you can read here. The devil, as always, is in the details.
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