K-12: The Mo’ Money Drumbeat Plays On

by James A. Bacon

The Richmond Times-Dispatch has posted a front-page story today exploring all the reasons why Virginia needs to increase its K-12 education spending. Student achievement on standardized tests are declining. School facilities are crumbling. Racial/ethnic disparities persist. And then this factoid: State inflation-adjusted spending per student is 8% lower than before the Great Recession. Mo’ money is needed for reading specialists. Mo’ money for smaller class sizes. Mo money for schools with low-income students. Mo’ money for teacher pay. Mo’ money for English-as-Second-Language students. Mo’ money for everything.

The article quotes spending advocates as arguing that even the $1.2 billion in added biennial funding recommended by Governor Ralph Northam is not enough to meet K-12’s voracious needs. Says Caroline County teacher Rachel Levy: “The governor’s budget proposal for education is a step in the right direction, but unfortunately, it’s not sufficient.”

Northam comes across as the voice of fiscal reason. “Would we like to do more?” he is quoted as saying. “Absolutely. But we have to live within our means. Education will continue to be a top priority for us, but you can’t make up in just one year.”

Nary a dissenting voice was seen. The article contained not one hint of a whisper of a suggestion that maybe $1.2 billion was excessive in any way, or that there might be other ways to view the educational budget. The debate is entirely between the moderate Left and the far Left.

There are, in fact, other ways to look at the educational spending budget. You just won’t read or hear about them in the news coverage of the RTD, the Washington Post, Virginian-Pilot, Roanoke Times, Virginia Public Media, the Associated Press, or any other outlet of Virginia’s established media, all of which, with rare exceptions, have been captured by the progressive Left and make next to zero effort to report conservative perspectives.

Here are some quick-and-dirty thoughts inspired by the RTD piecc.

Want to improve educational outcomes? A collaboration of school districts in Southwest Virginia, the Comprehensive Instructional Program (CIP), has bucked statewide trends and improved Standards of Learning test scores by using metrics to identify best educational practices and then sharing those best practices. The cost of the program, funded entirely by participating school systems, is a decimal point of a percent of what Northam is asking for. I have yet to see any acknowledgement by the Virginia Board of Education, Northam, or the media of this program’s success.

About that 8%-less-spending-than-before-the-recession factoid… That figure, touted by the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis (CI), refers to state spending per student. Consumers of that data point are left to infer that schools generally are spending 8% less per student. But is that true? Local and federal governments also contribute to K-12 spending. Are they, too, 8% lower? CI doesn’t tell us that number, and the RTD doesn’t ask. Why the silence? One logical explanation is that a total per-pupil spending figure would undermine the case for billions more in educational boodle.

According to a June 1, 2018, article in Governing, based on national FY 2016 figures, state contributions account for 47.4% of K-12 revenue, localities 44.5% and the federal government 8.1%. When you add all revenue sources, nationally, inflation-adjusted per-pupil spending had increased from $11,189 in 2007 (the year before the recession) to $11,762 in 2016. It would be useful to know if the Virginia numbers follow a similar pattern. Failure to tell the whole story amounts to intellectual dishonesty.

Update: Chris Braunlich, president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy (a conservative think tank), cites VDOE data indicating the total per student funding has increased from $11,037 in FY 2007 to $12,171 in FY 2017. Inflation over that same period was 15.7 percent. The implication is that total adjusted funding lagged by almost 5.0% since 2007 — a real decline, but less than the commonly cited CI figure.

How is the money spent? Once upon a time, back when Virginia Republicans showed some chutzpah, they focused on how much money was spent in the classroom as opposed to money spent on “support” and “administration.”

That same article in Governing breaks down various spending categories, including “Instruction Per Pupil.” In FY 2016, general and school administrative spending in Virginia amounted to $862 per student — up $38 from two years previously. Why the increase?

The FY 2016 number compared to a benchmark of only $599 in Arizona and Utah (and $3,707 on the other extreme in Washington, D.C.) How does spending on administrative overhead vary within Virginia? How much administrative overhead is really needed? Has anyone even asked that question?

There are many other ways to slice and dice the data in the hunt for ways to improve educational outcomes without spending more money. There is no visible evidence, however, that the Northam administration has looked for efficiencies and savings. Neither, from what I have seen, has the Commonwealth Institute, nor has any mainstream media outlet. The answer to Virginia’s K-12 deficiencies always comes down to mo’ money.


There are currently no comments highlighted.

6 responses to “K-12: The Mo’ Money Drumbeat Plays On

  1. In response to this post I asked myself a few questions …
    1. How does VA per pupil spending compare with other states? US Census says VA = $11,886
    • The national average public school spending / student is approximately $14,369 (2019-20).
    • The state with the highest average student spending is New York, with $32,967 spent per student.
    • The state with the lowest average student spending is Utah, with $6,122 per student

    2. How do individual districts compare? State average was $11,432 in 2016
    Arlington $19,323 the way out in front highest. King George is lowest at $8,962. That ia a big divide.
    • For the 2019-20 school year, there are 39 public schools managed by Arlington Co Pblc Schs School District serving 26,176 students in Arlington, Virginia.
    • Minority enrollment is 54% of the student body (majority Hispanic), which is more than the Virginia state average of 50%.
    • The student:teacher ratio of 14:1 is less than the state average of 15:1.

    3. So how come the discrepancy and where does the $ come from?
    Virginia’s public schools are financed through a combination of state, local and federal funds. The private sector also contributes through partnerships with schools and school divisions.
    The apportionment of the state funds for public education is the responsibility of the General Assembly, through the Appropriations Act. General fund appropriations serve as the mainstay of state support for the commonwealth’s public schools, augmented by retail sales and use tax revenues, state lottery proceeds, and other sources as part of formula.

    So, maybe someone else understands this crazy quilt of state support to the local school boards. State share seems to be based on a percentage … then the ‘composite Index Formula” is applied. There is a local ‘required effort’. The locality must meet their SOQ effort, then a formula invented in the 1980’s is applied. The formula uses 3 indicators to estimates ‘ability to pay’ for each locality including, values of real property (50%), adjusted gross income (40%), and taxable retail sales(10%).

    4. My final question … What the heck is the General Assembly doing defining specifics of local School Board budgetary decisions?

    In CT the State was an educational resource and a performance insurer, and an ‘ability to pay’ equalizer. The local Boards annually reported Profile and Performance data to meet the state’s basic compulsory educational laws. State funding allocation was based only on the localities ability to pay.

    Finally, the state seems to have been on educational hold. Looking back at numbers from 2013 … Then, on average Virginia spent $10,960 per pupil in 2013, which ranked it 23rd highest in the nation. The state’s graduation rate was 84.5 percent. The stats Don’t seem to look so good today.

  2. Why not take 10 grand from Arlington and give it to King George? Gap closed. The student teacher ratio is a completely cooked up number and should be disregarded. Your typical high school class filled with everyday kids is going to be somewhere in the high twenties to over thirty students. The bean counters artificially lower student teacher ratios by adding in tons of small specialized classes that range from a special education class, an elective such as classical guitar, and so on. This is how that student teacher ratio is lowered.

    • John Randolph of Roanoke –

      What a great comment yours is: “The student teacher ratio is a completely cooked up number and should be disregarded. Your typical high school class filled with everyday kids is going to be somewhere in the high twenties to over thirty students.”

      This is the way K-12 classrooms are, and always have been, with great teaching success, so long as those classrooms and their schools are well and truly run by fine administrators and empowered teachers who know how to well and truly teach their kids.

      This has been proven over and over again, not only today with great schools like the Success Academies in New York City, but also in the past with Thomas Sowell’s southern missionary schools set up in the south after the American civil war, and their ilk that continued in schools like Dunbar in Washington DC until those schools were broken up in 1950’s by progressive educators who now have destroyed much of black education in this country up to today where it continues.

      But now the threat grows exponentially in Virginia where:

      That same progressive education establishment now is trying to double and triple down on those failed policies by flooding the zone in Virginia schools with ever more indoctrinated teachers for ever fewer kids students in ever more classrooms, so as to drive costs through the roof, and education for their kids into the toilet.

      So instead Virginia’s schools now will get:

      1/ Ever more teachers, and ever more professors training those teachers, all of whom will be making ever more money at ever growing enormous public expense,

      and simultaneously,

      2/ Ever more teachers, and ever more professors training those teachers, will not be educating kids to read, write, and speak fluently with highly competent cultural literacy so they can independently succeed in the world, but instead those Virginia’s kids will be trained to think like ideologues, and thus become in school and later out of school in adult life, to be trained social justice warriors out in society promoting the leftist state, like happens now in places like Charlottesville, and its Curry School of Education and Human Development.

      This is our great threat and challenge over the next decade, stopping this march to a leftist leviathan state where leftist ideology swings full circle to join forces with Fascism.

      Thus the problem already infecting and dominant in higher education is now being spread to K-12 education in the state of Virginia. There are parallels for this in American history but never on such as scale.

      For example, see this letter to the editor in today’s Wall Street Journal:

      “The situation of UCLA law professor Stephen Bainbridge represents an extremely frightening situation for our entire country (“Notable & Quotable: ‘Diversity and Inclusion,’” Jan. 3). He cites the ratio of liberal to conservative faculty members as 166 to 6 at Cornell, 151 to 17 at Stanford, 141 to 9 at UCLA, and 116 to 5 at Colorado. He also states the stunning fact that at 92.67% of all UCLA Law employees’ political contributions went to Democrats and affiliated groups, and that few Republican donors are hired.

      This is an exact mirror image of the McCarthy era, where character assassination, career destruction and blacklists were at fever pitch. Then the career destroying question asked was: “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” (even though it was, in fact, legal). Today the question putting careers in jeopardy in academia is: “Are you now or have you ever been a supporter of the Republican Party?”

      As hard as it is to imagine, the situation today is actually far worse than in McCarthy’s time. Then it was basically one ruthless and ego-maniacal senator running the show, and he was eventually stopped. Today there are thousands of faculty members, administrators and employees in all university positions countrywide, teaching and influencing a whole new generation of students on the faults and deficiencies of America, while touting none of its virtues. It will take infinitely more time and effort to root out the ensconced academic tyrants than stopping one maniac.
      Letter to editor by Max Wisotsky, Ph.D.
      Highland Park, N.J.

      See “Mutant McCarthyism Reappears on Campus, Many college campuses represent an exact, ideological mirror image of the McCarthy era.” This is found at:


      • I note that this is a letter to the editor … a personal opinion … not a news article.
        I am not sure how he arrives at …” Today the question putting careers in jeopardy in academia is: “Are you now or have you ever been a supporter of the Republican Party?”
        or … “Today there are thousands of faculty members, administrators and employees in all university positions countrywide, teaching and influencing a whole new generation of students on the faults and deficiencies of America, while touting none of its virtues.”

        Is achedemia more leftist? Probably, but that does not mean what he claims regarding how and what they teach.

      • “Probably, but that does not mean what he claims regarding how and what they teach.”

        All who seriously look know how they teach and the toxic ideology they push, and they often tell us themselves.

        And, of course, anyone who is open and aware of the real world can see the disastrous results of their work in front of our nose every day, all around us. Save of course for other the ideologues among us and those too incurious or busy with the real world, to look at and deeply into the mess that today’s academia is in, so most of us will typically remain blind and clueless.

        Of course, this lack of knowledge is the general state of most all societies in all times, this lack of awareness of what is really going on the present instead of the disinformation we are fed daily, as Doris Lessing and Reinhold Niebuhr so wonderfully taught us. We have discussed these great teachers, one a leftist herself, in this context on this blog several times at least.

        Should you be interested, go to comments register found on this blog, and look up our earlier discussions for insights into these great observers of the human condition in modern times, and all they can teach us about leftists and fascists.

  3. You could say that that money transfer already exists … in the state income tax. I just think that the local boards should have more control and not be confined by a miasma of wierd money requirements when their towns do not have the real estate value to finance their systems properly.

    It has been a long time since I served on my CT School Board, but I will say that I was surprised by the low student teacher average ratio. In the older days we were fighting to keep that ratio below 20 for elementary and 30 for high school. I would surmise it is the additional specialists that have upped that ratio and I am not sure if that low number is necessary, but that is only one aspect of educational costs. The fact is that we ought to be looking at outcomes as they relate to dollars.

Leave a Reply