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.
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say, if outdated state education formulas are taken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
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
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
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
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
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.