Rebel With a Cause

Paul Goldman

Go, Go, G.O., says Goldman


The do-nothing politicians say NO. But Virginia needs a K-12 General Obligation Bond initiative to make good on the reneged promise to its school children.


The time has come for pro-education Democrats and pro-education Republicans to propose a major, state General Obligation (G.O.) Bond issue to assist localities in the construction of K-12 schools, including fixing up existing facilities, not merely building new ones. Close to half of all K-12 public school facilities were built in the 1950s and 1960s, in the dying days of the Old South.

Admittedly, this unprecedented yet innovative and fiscally prudent proposal would break with policies started in the Byrd Era. But right now, nothing in the governor's proposed 2003-2004 budget nor anything yet uttered by state legislative leaders addresses what they all readily concede: The state of Virginia is reneging on a promise to provide sufficient state support to meet the Standards Of Quality (SOQ) required of school divisions to provide a quality education.


That's right: The politicians in recent years have repeatedly broken this promise despite their constitutional obligations and, in doing so, have short-changed our children. The broken vow has mushroomed to $1 billion per budget cycle -- or even more, experts say, if outdated state education formulas are taken into account. The politicians in Richmond have preferred to fund, among other things, higher perks and expenses for themselves and their allies in public office, duplicative state agencies, pet projects such as a $50 million computer project that never worked, and bureaucratic systems that a governor's commission said earlier this month have cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars over the years.

As pointed out by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the General Assembly's top investigative body, this serious, constitutional failure to keep a solemn state promise cries out for attention. But JLARC's revelations have met only stony silence once again.

Given the fiscal mess in Richmond, it is not realistic to expect the situation to be resolved as quickly as it should be. But as first step to address this and other shameful K-12 failures, the bond issue is not too much to ask of our politicians at the upcoming 2003 General Assembly Session.

I noted a year ago that it had been 75 years since the Byrd Commission had reformatted state government and, therefore, suggested creating the Wilder Commission on streamlining state government. The proposal met resistance from the usual nay sayers at first. But, eventually, everyone from the governor on down came to realize it was something Virginia had to do in these tough times, and that former Governor L. Douglas Wilder was the only person who could withstand the public attacks from the usual negative sources and make it happen.

Governor Warner now says the Wilder Commission proposals would "form the core of my government-reform effort."

Bottom line: Since my 2002 prediction worked out well, let's do what they do in Las Vegas and let all the chips ride on a 2003 proposal, a double-or- nothing bet on looking one year ahead in Virginia politics.

Accordingly, Governor Warner and the General Assembly need to get behind my proposal for the first-ever K-12 State G.O. bond issue for school construction and repair. Construction costs are not -- repeat, are not -- included as part of the Standards of Quality basic school aid, which has noted is itself being shortchanged 1 billion by broken promises.

The state does provide some grant money to localities for construction from different sources and there is a school construction component to the 1998 bill that created the car tax repeal statute. However, that $55 million construction program has been cut by 50 percent even though the other part of the bill -- car tax repeal -- has probably grown 500 percent at the same time. ( My Democratic legislators, then in the majority, where badly out negotiated by "Deficit Jim" Gilmore.)

But these cut-and-paste efforts still leave localities providing more than 80 percent of all school construction costs. Thus, the state share is less than 20 percent in this fast-rising area, as compared with the 55 percent state share of SOQ costs.

This year, the voters passed a $900 million state G.O. bond for the repair and construction of higher education facilities, along with another $100 million for our state parks. Yet in terms of priorities, the number of K-12 children in our public schools is many times greater than the number of college students.

Given the state's failure to meet its other K-12 obligations -- discussed by this author in other columns -- this situation has, ipso facto as they say in the law, helped push-up local property taxes.

A K-12 State G.O. bond issue would not require a tax increase. Moreover, and this is important, neither Governor Warner nor his successors would be required to issue any of these bonds unless the state's fiscal condition, bond capacity, and debt market conditions made such action a good deal for Virginia's future.

My son attends Richmond Public School, and it seems fair to try and have the state fully meet its K-12 promises and obligations before he and his friends go to college.

For sure, this new K-12 G.O. bond proposal does not fully address the state's failures, nor, as indicated, does it directly with the SOQ failure.

But this is a first step Republicans and Democrats can agree on in 2003 to begin making good on the promises made to each locality in the state. Moreover, with the newly enacted School Construction Act allowing unprecedented use of private sector dollars to build public school facilities, such a bond issue guarantees taxpayers getting extra bang for the buck.

The time for study commissions and investigative hearings is over: A full and fair G. O. bond package can easily be put together in time for voter approval this November.

The people of Virginia should reject any delaying tactic that is an excuse for non-action this year on such a pressing need.

-- December 23, 2002

(c) Copyright. All rights reserved. Paul Goldman. 2002.


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Paul Goldman, the Rebel With a Cause, was chief political strategist for the past two winning Democratic governors in Virginia and was credited with leading a "revolution in American politics" by The New York Times for his role in breaking America's 300-year-old color barrier in national politics.




See JLARC's February 2002 report on the Standards of Quality. The standards cover:

- Basic skills, selected programs and instruct-

ional personnel


- Support services


- Accreditation, other standards, evaluation


-- Literacy passports, diplomas, certificates


- Training and profess-

ional development


- Planning and public involvement


- Policy manual

See page 26 of the JLARC report for details.