By Dick Hall-Sizemore
Although I am not happy about it, I am going to join, at least temporarily, this blog’s critics of newspapers. Today’s Richmond Times-Dispatch has an article that is significantly slanted and ignores an important aspect of the subject being covered.
The article deals with the funding proposals in the General Assembly for K-12 education. In the print version, the sub-headline reads: “Budgets from each chamber will not fully finance new state standards for schools.” Throughout the article, there are references to the “revised Standards of Quality prescribed by the Board of Education” as well as to the state constitution’s requirement that the legislature “find the money to pay for the SOQ.” After reading this article, one has the distinct impression that the General Assembly is violating its constitutional duty by not providing the funds needed to pay for the revised SOQ (approximately $1 billion annually) that the board adopted last fall. (For a detailed description of these changes, see my earlier post here.)
The article ignores an important aspect of the SOQ. The state constitution does authorize the Board of Education to prescribe standards of quality “from time to time.” However, those standards are “subject to revision only by the General Assembly.” Therefore, the General Assembly has the last word on what constitutes the Standards of Quality to which the state aspires. Because the G.A. is still in session and consideration of the new SOQ proposal by the board is still in progress, it is premature to say that the state is not fully funding the SOQ.
The SOQs are formally set out in the Code of Virginia. SB 728, introduced by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, incorporates the SOQ changes proposed by the Board of Education. Because the governor included funding in his budget bill for some of the board’s proposals, but not all of them, the additional funding needed to implement all of the proposals as set out in SB 728 is estimated to be $496.8 million in FY 2021 and $435.3 million in FY 2022. (See fiscal impact statement here.)
The Senate passed SB 728 as introduced, except for one amendment. It put on THE CLAUSE. That is “Senate-speak” for an enacting clause at the end of the bill that says the bill does not take effect unless there is sufficient appropriation in the final appropriation bill “to effectuate the purposes of this act.”
Both the House and Senate budget proposals include more funding for K-12 than the Governor proposed. However, that additional funding is less than what would be required to fund the new SOQ proposed by the Board of Education. Furthermore, much of that additional funding is for purposes outside the SOQ, primarily pay raises for teachers.
The SOQ have taken on somewhat mythical qualities. Some would have you believe that they are engraved in the state constitution or promulgated exclusively by the Board of Education and the dollars have to follow the standards. However, early in my career, I learned from the late Sen. Hunter Andrews the “dirty secret” about the SOQ. Because the General Assembly “disposes,” as he would say, the SOQ will reflect the amount of money the legislature is willing to allot for them. If the legislature follows this approach this year, I expect SB 728 to sit in the House Appropriations Committee until the budget conferees have agreed how they will fund K-12. Then SB 728 will either be amended to reflect those funding decisions or it will be left to die in committee.
Advocates for public education may protest that the legislature is not providing the funding that schools need to “properly teach students.” But that is not the same as saying that the G.A. is not funding the SOQ. In the end, by definition, the G.A. will fully fund the SOQ.
Now, back to the RTD article. Even if one gives the reporter the benefit of the doubt that, instead of just writing an article based on the press releases of education advocates, he was unaware that the G.A. can revise the SOQ adopted by the Board of Education, that is still inexcusable.There are currently no comments highlighted.