THERE IS A complicated history to the problem of "educational disparity" in Virginia, and the related goal of "equalized effort." We refer to longstanding concern that poorer localities in the commonwealth are unable to match their more affluent counterparts in education funding. Shouldn't the Virginia government figure out a way to reduce these disparities with a more equitable state education funding plan? This was the goal of former Gov. Gerald L. Baliles, and it has become an important consideration for Gov. L. Douglas Wilder. His Commission on Educational Opportunity for All Virginians is expected to produce formal recommendations within two months.
Recent published reports said that the commission might recommend a rob-Peter-to-pay-Paul plan in which millions of dollars in state aid would be "transferred" from Northern Virginia jurisdictions and spread out in small (and perhaps meaningless) amounts to 115 other localities in the state. That to Northern Virginia officials was both "unacceptable" and "unconscionable."
Members of the commission now say that it has "no intent to put the burden of solving the fiscal problem on the shoulders of Northern Virginia." It does sound as though the Wilder administration has a more comprehensive approach in mind. State Education Secretary James W. Dyke Jr. said, for example, that any new state formula should include setting a minimum local funding standard for poorer jurisdictions, which have reduced local education funding as state aid increases. Jurisdictions that have a higher percentage of students who speak limited or no English, such as those in Northern Virginia, would also gain relief.
Some reduction in disparities has already taken place as a result of the state's $1.9 billion budget shortfall; $101.4 million is being trimmed from the state education budget. Every locality will receive less state funding, but those in Northern Virginia are losing more than the poorer jurisdictions. Northern Virginia officials have said that these cuts are not unacceptable. The challenge now is to reach a new funding formula that offers additional aid to localities deserving more of the state's help, without expecting Northern Virginia to bear more than its fair share of the load.