The tragedy, however, is that your Zip code in the commonwealth matters when it comes to public school funding, and that has a disproportionate impact on the quality of a child’s education. Property tax revenue has long been used by city and county governments to bolster the perennially too-low state funding for the operations of our schools from kindergarten through 12th grade. That means in high-wealth areas of the commonwealth, such as Northern Virginia, locally raised dollars enable communities to meet or exceed the educational standards of quality that are required by the state. These standards entail such things as teacher-to-student ratios and counseling caseloads. But in less affluent parts of the commonwealth, these standards of quality are often unmet because of funding limitations.
Virginia has tried to address local funding inequities by requiring that the allocation formula for state education dollars that are transferred to localities account for the wealth of the recipient jurisdiction, so less wealthy jurisdictions receive more state funding per pupil than other jurisdictions. Moreover, additional funding, known as at-risk add-on funding, also flows to communities with high percentages of children whose family income qualifies them for free or reduced-price lunch. Although these efforts are helpful, they do not compensate for the uneven revenue challenges at the local level. A study conducted by the Education Trust in 2018 showed that Virginia school divisions serving the lowest share of students in poverty had 7 percent more total state and local funding per pupil than divisions serving the highest share of students in poverty.
What do discrepancies in funding mean? For one thing, the average teacher salary in high-poverty schools in Virginia was about $46,000 in the 2013-2014 school year, compared with more than $57,000 in more affluent schools. That means schools in more affluent areas are better able to attract and retain highly qualified teachers. Yet students with fewer resources at home and in their communities have a greater need for experienced teachers. To meet this need, salaries should be more commensurate with the challenges that teachers in high-poverty schools must overcome.
Moreover, better-funded schools are able to provide up-to-date instructional materials, more counseling services and more Advanced Placement and honors courses. Students with fewer resources need these same opportunities in the classroom, as well as access to technology and wraparound services.
Studies show that the actual cost to provide an adequate and effective education to a high-poverty student is at least 100 percent more than the cost of educating a nonpoor student. The enormous positive impact that sufficient K-12 funding has on our economy and our communities is undeniable.
I implore my colleagues in the General Assembly to commit the necessary funding to address inequities in K-12 public school systems across the commonwealth. It is time to create an equity fund that will alleviate local funding disparities by targeting additional state dollars to schools with 55 percent or more of their students living below the poverty line. This would help struggling schools meet standards of quality and provide needed investments in Virginia’s students.