Hey, as the General Assembly readies itself for the 2013 session, let’s rip off an old scab and talk about state support of school funding and the inter-regional transfer of wealth! The topic seems particularly appropriate, now that the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission has issued a new report to the governor and General Assembly, “State Spending on the Standards of Quality: FY 2012.”
State support for schools peaked in 2009, then plunged after the recession. In 2012, that support increased again for the first time in three years, nudging past the $4,000-student level at $4,083. State funds are apportioned among Virginia’s localities based upon the local ability to pay as measured through the “composite index,” which is recalculated every two years based upon property value, adjusted gross income, taxable retail sales, student population and total population. The purpose of the index is to ensure that poor cities and counties with a small tax base are able to meet the state’s Standards of Quality dictating staffing ratios and other resource inputs.
I have replicated three charts from the report, showing state contributions to the state’s 10 largest school districts accounting for half the state student population, as well as to the localities receiving the greatest state contribution per student and the lowest. I’m not sure how the city of Williamsburg tops the list of lowest level of state support in the state — it’s not an especially wealthy community. Perhaps the Composite Index reflects the tax base represented by the large number of hotels catering to Colonial Williamsburg. Other than Williamsburg and a few stray down-state counties, Northern Virginia jurisdictions monopolize the list of those getting the short end of the stick. (See the study’s Appendix B for specifics on each jurisdiction.)
This is red meat for those who, like co-blogger Don Rippert, believe that Northern Virginia gets hosed in its relationship with the rest of the commonwealth. Northern Virginia is a net beneficiary of transportation spending, however. (See “Rethinking the Black Hole of Richmond.”) What no one has done is calculate how the SOQ wealth transfer compares. My hunch, when you add up all the numbers, is that Northern Virginia is a net contributor of wealth to the rest of the state — but not by nearly as large a margin as most Northern Virginians believe.
But hunches are no more than hunches. I would love to know if anyone has crunched all the numbers.