Koelemay's Kosmos

Doug Koelemay


Education Wins!


The Commonwealth's new budget puts the priority right where Virginians say it should be.


Contrary to political pundits who measure results only in terms of which political leaders or what philosophy seemed to have prevailed in the Richmond, education is the real winner in the budget just passed by the General Assembly. That means legislators and Gov. Mark R. Warner have succeeded in putting education first, which is where both the general public and the overwhelming majority of elected officials always have said it should be.


The education budget numbers that emerge from the work of the General Assembly in special session are impressive. Start with $759 million more for K-12 public education over the next two years. This increase over and above that proposed by Gov. Warner in December will allow Virginia for the first time to meet its responsibilities to fund Standards of Quality practices its state Board of Education recommends but local school divisions now fund themselves.


The result will be more and better trained teachers, a broader effort to get at-risk four-year-olds into Head Start programs, stronger English as a second language programs, even close to full state funding for students at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science & Technology, the highly-honored and nationally-emulated Governor’s School in Northern Virginia. The increase also will allow the state to shelve the accounting practices that fiddle federal and local revenues to make the state share look more robust. And it gets the education discussion back on educational goals and objectives and off the destructive budget blame game of who hasn’t paid which part of whose responsibilities.


Conferees even worked through the ticklish problem of how to distribute the revenues to be produced by the one-quarter percent increase in the sales and use tax dedicated to education. Half will be distributed according to the arcane composite index that legislators think benefits rural school divisions and half will be distributed according to school-age population, which legislators know benefits the largest school divisions.


As an aside, one delegate on May 7 explained these actions to the House in terms of “Solomon splitting the baby,” a result that in Old Testament terms at least never happened. Solomon’s proposal to divide the child was, of course, an attempt to identify the real mother of the child, whom Solomon knew, never would allow her child to be killed in such a manner. So the “Solomon-like” decision in this case would have been to distribute all the new money by school-age population, since educating children, not politically balancing education money, is the real goal of state education spending.


Turning to higher education, Virginia legislators stopped dismantling the system they have claimed to support and, instead, begin rebuilding the capacity of state colleges and universities for the future. To begin closing a gap in base funding that the General Assembly estimates at $300 million a year (others estimate the need at far more than that), the Assembly approved an increase in FY2005 and FY2006 of $102 million more that the $73 million originally proposed by the Governor in December. But there are years of neglect still to make up if Virginia truly values the quality and academic reputations of its state colleges and universities.


The additional monies are to help mitigate rising tuition, support growing student enrollments and allow institutions to keep the course offerings that not only enrich education, but keep students from having to hang around an extra semester just because required courses are full. A huge advance in an area where faculty salaries have slipped into the 20 percentile of the average of peer institutions is $31 million to increase faculty salaries by three percent this year. The not-so-hidden secret, unfortunately, is that Virginia faculty will need to get six to seven percent increases in salary every year for five or six years just to get back to the 60 percentile average of peer institutions, which is the stated policy goal of the Commonwealth.


Every Virginian, whether one has a student in K-12 or in a state university or not, will see the benefits of this renewed investment in education. Smarter, more skilled, more confident and more accomplished students mean smarter, more skilled, more confident and more accomplished workers, entrepreneurs, community leaders and parents. This always has been the promise of a quality public education for every person and the return on investment for an informed and creative democratic society. But it is a promise that must be renewed constantly and 2004 General Assembly efforts can only be applauded in the context of how Virginia can improve again next year.


Still, if political pundits remain determined to name a leader who wins in all this, they should consider Del. James H. Dillard, II, R-Fairfax, not just the Governor, the Speaker of the House or Republican Senate leaders who may seek more power or higher office. Even members of the House of Delegates who have opposed him would agree that Dillard has been absolutely forthright and indefatigable in his efforts to establish education as a true priority, to set standards and to fund them responsibly.


From his positions as chairman of the House Education Committee and the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Education, Dillard has lectured and prodded and pushed his colleagues for years to do the right thing. This year Dillard helped convince enough of his Republican colleagues to join with enough Democrats to pass new revenue bills devoted to education. And even though he was not named to the budget conference committee as he has been in the past, Dillard’s well-developed plans for investing new revenue wisely in education priorities carried the day. Education won in Virginia this year and because his priority has never been anything other than education, so did Jim Dillard.

May 10, 2004












































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J. Douglas Koelemay

Managing Director

Qorvis Communications

8484 Westpark Drive

Suite 800

McLean, Virginia 22102

Phone: (703) 744-7800

Fax:    (703) 744-7994

Email:   [email protected]