It’s become increasingly clear where the fight over the state budget will be when legislators return to Richmond next month: K-12 education.
“Governor McDonnell is the most anti-public education governor of the 10 I have served under in the last 36 years,” Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) said. “There is no way we should be taking money out of public education in order to give corporations tax credits for donating money to private schools or paving roads.”
But McDonnell’s administration says it is increasing school funding by $438 million for K-12 education. Of that, however, $342 million would go to replenish the teacher retirement system.
The governor also 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. He is proposing $108 million less than what was asked for the Standards of Quality, state-mandated minimum objectives for public schools. And he recommends a $65 million reduction in funds to woo school employees in the competitive, expensive Northern Virginia market.
Rob Jones, a spokesman for the Virginia Education Association, said the budget does not restore cuts made in the past or add resources to any existing or new programs for student learning.
Per-pupil funding for both years of the two-year budget is slightly more than the year preceding, Jones said. Fiscal year 2013 is four percent more than the year before, based entirely on increasing retirement plan rates. Fiscal year 2014 is an increase of less than one quarter of one percent.
“Our children must be prepared for a 21st-century economy, and that begins with a world-class education from pre-kindergarten through college,’’ House Democratic Caucus Chairman Mark Sickles (D-Fairfax) said.
McDonnell wants to add $110 million to ease clogged roads by boosting the portion of the sales tax spent on transportation. Democrats say that will take money away from education and other core services, but Republicans praised the approach.
The governor says those who oppose his proposals just want to raise taxes, and he had strong words about his opposition to raising taxes both in his speech and afterward talking to reporters.
The General Assembly will consider McDonnell’s budget recommendations when it returns for its annual legislative session Jan. 11. Legislators have the power to completely overhaul or ignore his $85 billion, 483-page plan.