More Angst over SOQ

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.

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14 responses to “More Angst over SOQ

  1. I had the same thought over my coffee this morning. That reporter got rolled.

  2. Dick and Steve, you both are true experts on General Assembly history and procedure and work very hard to keep us informed. Thanks for your work and caring enough to share it with us.

  3. Let’s do a quickie analysis of whom the reporter quotes in the article:

    * Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, which has been beating the drums for higher education spending. Where does CI get its funding? Is it an unbiased source, or is it doing someone’s bidding? Who knows?

    * Brian Teucke, “a civics and economics teacher in Gloucester County.” He’s not just any old civics teacher, though. Not mentioned in the article, he is also resident of Gloucester Education Association.

    * House Majority Leader Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria.

    * Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras. Kamras has been an outspoken proponent of greater education spending.

    * A.E. Dick Howard, a University of Virginia professor who led the rewriting of the constitution in 1971. Howard is the only dis-interested source in the entire article.

    * Rachael Deane, legal director of the JustChildren program at the Legal Aid Justice Center.

    * Virginia Education Association President Jim Livingston.

    As I’ve said previously, the RTD covers K-12 education as an intramural squabble between moderate liberals and far-left progressives. Conservative viewpoints almost never make it into the RTD articles.

  4. Very informative. I have a much better understanding of how the SOQs are funded and debated now. It would be useful for an education watchdog to wade into the SOQs. I suspect that a significant amount of waste is present.

    I noticed the student to teacher ratio language is stricken and replaced. Schools with high percentages of poverty etc will be required to have a much lower ratio than in the past. I don’t like the formula presented because it has set numbers based on the percentage of free and reduced lunch. This looks like equity “code speak” for taking from one group and giving to another. All students will benefit from lower class sizes.

    I also see that teachers can be reassigned to work in underperforming schools in a district and that no school should have high concentrations of ineffective teachers. Lousy vague language that just won’t work. Some teachers are in for nasty little surprise.

    WOW! My head is spinning. The redlines and insertions are numerous. Major revisions to the SOQs. Does Senator McClellan even have the expertise to author such a document? Who really wrote this? This is mighty big check to write out.

    • McClellan is a smart woman and she probably understands the bill. I can’t say that about a lot of legislators who put in complicated legislation. I can’t say for sure, but I am pretty certain the bill was drafted by someone in the Department of Education. Because the Board of Education had “prescribed” those changes, there has to be some some statutory language to implement them.

      • Probably yet another bill making far deeper changes than many realize. I haven’t taken time to read it…..when the demographic disparities remain five years from now, what next?

  5. The whole area of SOQs is not well understood.

    The local school board points out every year that when the State gives teachers raises – it’s ONLY the ones that are “officially” SOQ teachers. Any other teachers and other personnel have to have their raises funded locally and they have to do it if there is going to be a consistent single pay scale vice a two-tier one.

    There are many positions that most school systems feel are absolutely necessary that State SOQs will not pay for.

    A short article about the how and whys of SOQs would be a useful one in BR IMHO. I’m not sure how many newspaper writers really well know the SOQs either.

    I’m not even sure that most local school board budgets actually distinguish positions that are SOQ and ones that are not.

  6. Understood about the one-sided POV, Jim, but not sure where the reporter would go. Perhaps somebody on the money committee staff, or one of the Governor’s people, who would have some incentive to prevent the impression they were under-funding the schools. But what organization serves as a watchdog for the taxpayer? As with energy consumers or consumers in general, not many groups stand up for the taxpayer. He could have called Family Foundation, or Americans for Prosperity, and then Larry would have a conniption. I would have been happy to comment wearing my tinfoil hat as “Senior Fellow” for the Thomas Jefferson Institute, and would have pointed out that the Board of Education’s wish list is not the final SOQ determination. Perhaps the fact that I comment so much here discourages that (and frankly I don’t know that many of the reporters anymore.) The left is far better organized, funded and motivated, as this GA is proving right and left. You are right that no effort was made to check for a contrary opinion, but then we contrarians aren’t making it easy.

    • Actually, there are two parts to this. The first part is understanding the SOQs themselves both in terms of intent and process – and then the second part can be a debate about money and need.

      For instance how does the SOQ work with regard to the Local composite index. Are there two separate pots of money or do these two work together?

      I know that somewhere in the middle of this is a policy that the State fund 55% and the locality 45%.

      With regard to both of them, how would public education “work” in Virginia if neither existed and funding was left up to the local jurisdiction and if we need to do this to maintain some level of equity
      across school systems in Virginia, one does wonder how non-public schools maintain their quality and standards without such guaranteed funding. How would they handle ESL or Autism or other “needs” of kids in the local community?

      And when it comes to the money – some are opposed to the concept itself of the State taxing all of us, to then “wealth transfer” to lower income counties/cities. Others think any increase in funding is unacceptable if it requires increasing taxes on taxpayers both from
      richer counties as well as basic conservatives.

      To be fair, the other side thinks every additional penny is needed and it won’t happen unless the State exercises that nasty old “coercive power” to force taxpayers to cough up the money!

      But back to the top – I still don’t understand all the parts and pieces and without that knowledge, I’m not sure my “informed” view would be “informed” enough. I realize that does not stop folks who say taxes are inherently evil and not a penny more is ever justified!

      Oh, and I STILL think if you don’t like the current mainstream media – then why not form media more to your liking? Seems churlish to continue to read that nasty liberal media and just complain about it endlessly without really doing anything about it.

  7. so maybe partially got the answer to some of my questions:

    https://www.vml.org/wp-content/uploads/pdf/Local%20Composite%20Index.pdf

    Overview of LCI•

    The General Assembly determines the amounts the state and local governments will pay for K-12.

    •The state uses a local composite index to pinpoint a school division’s ability to pay for the local required share of education costs for the Standards of Quality.

    •The index also determines the amount of funding the state is required to make for the SOQ

    this looks like an editorial view of the VML:

    Challenges for the LCI

    •The LCI is complex and not easily understood.

    •LCI does not measure students’ educational needs. Instead, it effectively suppresses the state’s funding obligation.

    •A single change to the formula to one school division’s LCI affects, either positively or negatively, all school divisions.

    •The result is political paralysis in that the General Assembly is wary of both intended and unintended consequences.6

    go read the rest of the slides at the link

  8. playing with numbers:

    ” funds needed to pay for the revised SOQ (approximately $1 billion annually”

    that’s $117 per capita in Virginia.

    and on a per student basis for the 1.3 million kids
    in public schools = $769 per kid.

    something doesn’t seem right about these numbers… more
    ignorance on my part, I’m sure……

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