Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday proposed providing funding to hire an additional teacher in every Virginia public school, an ambitious plan to ramp up spending for K-12 education in the Commonwealth.
The governor wants to add $1 billion overall in state funding for K-12 and higher education, a proposal that could face strong opposition from a Republican-dominated statehouse.
McAuliffe (D) has hinted since August that he would call for a greater investment in education. On Tuesday, he announced his proposal for a $48 million boost for college financial aid. And earlier this week, he announced he wanted to raise salaries for state employees, including teachers. States and local school districts share the cost of teacher salaries, with wealthier districts —such as those in Northern Virginia — footing a greater portion of the bill.
On Thursday, he is slated to unfurl his full budget proposal.
“We are following through on our plans to make education the number one priority in the budget that I will unveil tomorrow,” McAuliffe said in front of a group of students and public officials in the library of Mark Twain Middle School in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County.
McAuliffe said the state’s schools have not recovered from recession-era funding cuts, which led class sizes to soar and teacher salaries to stagnate in some Northern Virginia schools.
“Since the recession, our schools have been starved of resources. They have continually been cut back and we haven’t restored it,” McAuliffe said.
On Wednesday, he announced his proposal to increase across-the-board funding for schools by nearly $430 million to keep up with statewide enrollment growth. The state divides up education dollars based on each local district’s “ability to pay,” footing a smaller portion of the bill in more affluent counties.
On top of that, McAuliffe said he wants to spend $139.1 million to help districts hire one additional teacher for every school — about 2,500 in all — and $41 million for cost-of-living adjustments, which would help districts with high costs of living boost teacher salaries. The funding could be used for a variety of instructional positions, including teacher aides and assistant principals, with the districts paying some portion of the bill.
Del. S. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, said he was pleased that the governor’s plan focuses on K-12 education. But he also expressed concern about the burden that hiring additional teachers and raising salaries will place on localities. In many Northern Virginia districts, state funding constitutes no more than half of school funding, so hiring additional teachers could require that school districts pony up extra money.
“It’s certainly good to see that’s a focus,” Jones said. “The devil’s going to be in the details.”
McAuliffe also wants to spend an additional $30 million on teacher retirement benefits and $50 million to help schools that serve at-risk students, including English language learners and those who come from low-income families.
Republicans have suggested that the governor’s budget is built around anticipated savings from expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a move that Republican lawmakers have resisted. But the governor said Wednesday that education spending is not predicated on Medicaid expansion and that the state’s rosy revenue picture can support the increased spending.
“Our economy is doing great and I’m spending the money where I think we can get the biggest return on investment,” McAuliffe said. “And that investment is public education.”
In Fairfax County, where the governor made his announcement, the school system receives about 23 percent of its school funding from the state. Fairfax County Superintendent Karen Garza, who oversees the state’s largest school system, said she was pleased with what she heard from the governor. Garza is facing a tough budget season and has warned that the district will have to cut programs if the county does not provide adequate funding.
“I think it’s all very promising,” Garza said. “It certainly provides the right kind of momentum around these issues.”
Laura Vozzella contributed to this report.