Board of Education Wants $950 Million Mo’ Money

by James A. Bacon

Elections have consequences, as former President Obama famously said. In Virginia, where the Democratic Party displays enormous momentum in the 2019 election for control of the state Senate and House of Delegates, you can get an idea of what those consequences will be in this article today in the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

In a preview of a Virginia Board of Education (SBOE) meeting today, Justin Mattingly with the RTD reports that the board will review a proposal calling for $950 million in new money for public schools, much of which will be reserved for schools serving high proportions of low-income households.

In a Republican-dominated legislature, even one that prioritizes K-12 spending, the proposals would be Dead on Arrival. But there’s no telling what a Democratic-controlled General Assembly will do in collaboration with Governor Ralph Northam, who, in contrition for his blackface episode of 35 years ago, has pledged to redeem himself with policies favored by progressive politicians.

Proposed changes to the Standards of Quality (SOQ) guidelines for resource inputs into schools would reduce class sizes and hire more reading specialists. The board also is considering the creation of a $364 million statewide “equity fund,” funded with existing and new money sources, to hire extra teachers and support staff and boost pay at schools with high concentrations of poverty.

Adjusted for inflation, state support per student is 8% less than it was before the 2017-18 recession, contend advocates of greater state spending. Adding $950 million to state support for K-12 education would increase state support for K-12 education 18% over what the state spent in 2017-18.

“We’re looking to maximize the potential of every student in the commonwealth and to make sure school divisions have the resources to be able to do so,” said the state superintendent of public instruction, James Lane.

“If these are passed, it will be because the [Board of Education] believes that this set of recommendations will move us down the path toward equitable outcomes for all of our children,” said Daniel Gecker, the president of the board. “There is no doubt that it is a more expensive proposal than what’s currently being funded by the legislature, but it is one that we believe where the cost is justified.”

Here are some questions taxpayers should pose to legislative candidates in next months’ election:

  • Is there any correlation between per-student spending and student achievement (based on standardized test scores) in Virginia schools?
  • Is there any correlation between student-teacher ratios and student achievement in Virginia schools?
  • Is there any correlation between teacher pay and student achievement in Virginia schools?
  • Doesn’t Virginia’s state funding formula already favor school districts with large poor populations?
  • Don’t federal programs already favor school districts with large poor populations?
  • What evidence is there that redistributing more wealth from middle-class to lower-income Virginians will actually improve educational results for lower-income Virginians?
  • Can you think of no other reason than school funding that low-income Virginians might under-perform their more affluent peers academically?

House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, groused that lawmakers should have been involved in crafting the board’s proposals. Said he: “These are major changes to the commonwealth’s public school funding mechanisms that are happening largely without the input of the General Assembly, and that’s concerning in and of itself.”

That’s it? That’s all he had to say –that he wasn’t consulted? Well guess what, Mr.Cox, there’s a very good chance that the Democrats will win a House majority this fall, you won’t be Speaker of the House any more, and the SBOE believes that consulting Republican legislators would be a waste of time.

If the Republican leadership can’t turn another proposed billion-dollar raid on the middle class into a winning campaign issue for Republicans, then they don’t deserve to control the legislature. It’s time to reinvent the GOP into an institution that offers more than cheaper, watered-down versions of Democratic solutions to Virginia’s social problems.