Governor Robert F. McDonnell (R) wants to boost Virginia’s K-12 public education funding by $438 million over the next two years, according to the proposed budget he unveiled Monday.
Big-ticket items include adjusting the state’s contribution to retirement accounts (an additional $301 million over two years) and updating state reimbursements for required education programs ($377 million over two years).
But things aren’t looking entirely rosy for local districts and existing programs. McDonnell has proposed a number of cuts, including to a subsidy meant to help Northern Virginia districts offer competitive salaries and to a preschool program for low-income children that had been a priority of his predecessor, Tim Kaine (D).
“This is a budget marked by tough decisions demanded by this difficult economy. Virginia citizens and businesses make tough decisions every day. Richmond must continue to do so as well,” McDonnell told the General Assembly Monday, according to his prepared remarks.
Over the past decade, McDonnell said, total K-12 education spending has increased 41 percent, while student enrollment has grown only 6 percent.
“I wish I could say that the majority of our citizens have seen their incomes increase that much over the last decade, through good times and bad. But we can’t,” he said.
McDonnell’s proposals drew criticism from some Democrats, who said he was balancing the budget on the backs of poor children and overburdened Washington-area counties.
“Governor McDonnell has proposed some worthwhile new spending in a number of areas, such as higher education and shoring up the state employee pension fund,” said Del. David Englin (D-Alexandria) in a statement. “Unfortunately, he pays for it with cuts to preschool for four-year-olds and cuts to public education in Northern Virginia.”
In addition to outlining budget boosts and cuts, McDonnell also said he wants to require the Department of Education to add a new stat to its annual school district report cards: the percentage of each district’s operating budget devoted to instructional costs. The goal is at least 65 percent.
He also wants to streamline the state’s high school diploma offerings, reducing the types of diplomas available to three: standard, advanced and special diplomas. Currently, the state offers seven different kinds of diplomas.
Preschool for poor children
McDonnell proposes cutting $81 million over two years from the Virginia Preschool Initiative, which provides free public preschool for four-year-olds from low-income families. VPI pays for preschool programs in Northern Virginia, including in Fairfax and Arlington counties. (Earlier this year, McDonnell declined to apply for up to $60 million in federal funds for early childhood education.)
Reimbursement for higher salaries in Northern Virginia
Currently the state, recognizing that wages are generally higher in Northern Virginia than elsewhere in the state, subsidizes the region’s higher teacher and staff salaries to help ensure that school districts can lure and retain high-quality candidates. McDonnell proposes cutting the 24.6 percent subsidy for “classified” employees — support staff, that is, not certified teachers. That cut would save the state $65 million over two years, shifting the burden to local districts.
Adjustments for inflation
McDonnell proposes reducing state reimbursements for inflation costs to the tune of $109 million over two years.
Subsidized PSAT testing
McDonnell wants to spend $1.8 million over the next two years to pay PSAT (Preliminary SAT) testing fees for all 10th graders enrolled in public schools.
Virginia offers a number of courses online via its state-run outfit, Virtual Virginia. McDonnell wants to boost Virtual Virginia’s funding by $750,000 over the next two years — money that will help develop and distribute a new course, Economics and Personal Finance, that is now required for high school graduation.
Aid for establishing charter/virtual schools
McDonnell wants to spend an additional $616,000 over the next two years to 1) support the implementation of new teacher evaluation systems that have been mandated by the state, and 2) create a new technical advisory group to offer assistance to anyone who wants to apply to establish a new charter, virtual or college laboratory school.
STEM teacher recruitment
With $600,000 over the next two years, beef up recruitment efforts for high-quality and diverse middle and high school teachers in science, technology, engineering and math. In addition, McDonnell proposes spending $700,000 to encourage students to major in math and science, thereby boosting the number of graduates who would be qualified to teach in those fields.
Jobs for Virginia Graduates
McDonnell wants to send $500,000 more over two years to Jobs for Virginia Graduates, a nonprofit that helps disadvantaged teens find work after high school.