Monday, March 15, 2010

A Look At How Education Faired in the Budget Compromise Reached In Richmond

After a long series of negotiations on the state budget, it appears as though a compromised has been reached. In regards to education funding, which was one of the major disagreements between the House and Senate, it appears as though the final budget will look a little closer to the Senate's version. It's still not too great though as there will be $293 million in cuts, which come at a time when fully funding our public schools could be more beneficial than ever to our local communities.

The Democratic caucus in the Senate sent out a statement regarding the budget last night and the following is what they had to say about education.
Public education funding was the top priority of the Senate’s Democratic-led budget negotiators. The final budget agreement makes $253 million in K-12 education cuts over the biennium, but prevents over $400 million in additional cuts that were desired by the House of Delegates. The Virginia Education Association estimates that this protected 12,118 jobs in our schools. The Senate also rejected the House of Delegates’ plan to cripple at-risk programs by turning their funding into “block grants,” and rejected the House’s plan to eliminate funding for teachers’ planning periods in middle and high schools.

Governor McDonnell’s decision to unfreeze the Local Composite Index, the formula by which the state funds local schools, would have reduced funding to 97 Virginia school districts. The Senate fought to mitigate these reductions and the final budget will hold these districts harmless in 2011 and 50% harmless in 2012.

School districts asked for any cuts to be temporary and for flexibility to implement the required reductions. These elements were key components of the Senate’s budget and are reflected in the final budget agreement.

The Virginia Commission for the Arts and public broadcasting faced elimination under some budget proposals, but the final budget moves towards the Senate position by imposing a 15% cut instead of total elimination.
Now while there weren't as many cuts to education as the House Republicans wanted there to be, there still isn't any reason for education advocates to let their guard down. Even though the economy is technically improving, for instance, we're still now in the clear so there is the potential that Republicans will try to cut public education funds again in the future. Plus, it's still not a given that education funding will be restored to their proper levels in the future even if the economy shows steady improvement. People who care about the quality of our schools therefore need to continue putting pressure on our elected officials to make sure they're aware of the public's desire for Virginia to have a strong public school system.

In the immediate future, it's also important to note that localities will be making decisions regarding their budgets in the next few months. In Fairfax County, the decision process also includes several opportunities for Fairfax residents to weigh in on the advertised budget through public hearings. You can see the full schedule by following this link, but the following are some important dates to note for those who are particularly interested in education related funding
  • April 6, the School Board will present it's budget to the County Board of Supervisors.
  • April 6-8, the County Board of Supervisors will be holding public hearings on the budget. These hearings would be a very good time for members of the public to remind their Supervisors that they want the school system to be fully funded
  • April 27, the County Board of Supervisors will be approving the transfer to the schools which will let the School Board know the exact amount of money they'll be able to work with while finalizing their budget
  • May 11-12, School Board holds public hearings on budget
  • School Board adopts FY 2011 Approved Budget May 20, 2010
As you can see, we are rapidly approaching the date in which the County School Board will be presenting to the Board of Supervisors. This means Fairfax residents should make sure to contact the School Board very soon if there's any particular program that they want to make sure is fully funded. I will be monitoring this process and will be providing frequent updates of new developments. At the same time, I also encourage anyone who has a particular education concern to contact me as I work to provide in depth coverage of the budgetary process in a manner that I hope will truly help the public understand what is taking place.

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