Republican Lawmakers on Education: Mo’ Money!

Del. Christopher Peace, R-Mechanicsville, is a bright, young up-and-comer in the House of Delegates. I’ve been impressed by the way he has worked with the Virginia Open Education Foundation in pursuit of open-source textbooks for Virginia schools that can be easily updated and printed on demand as circumstances warrant. (See “A ‘Textbook’ Study of Knowledge-Wave Education Policy.”)

But I was terribly disappointed by Peace’s defense of GOP budgeting for education in an op-ed piece published in today’s Times-Dispatch. The House of Delegates’ budget “does more for public schools” than any of the Democratic alternatives, he argues. By “doing more,” he means, “spends more money.”

Our budget increases funding for K-12 public education by more than $1 billion compared to the existing budget. In total, the House budget directs $13 billion to public education — exceeding the Senate’s proposal by $68 million and the governor’s by $193 million. By adopting our budget, we not only rejected the governor’s proposal to cut school construction grants by $220 million, but actually added $70 million. We also made a first-year pay raise for teachers a priority by providing the state’s share of a 2 percent raise in 2008.

This is why people pejoratively refer to Virginia’s two parties as the Repucrats and Demoplicans. The only answer either party offers for the challenge of reinventing education for the 21st century is “Mo’ Money!” Other than the so-called “65% solution,” which would require school districts to spend a larger share of their funds in the classroom and less on administrative overhead, Republicans have devised few alternatives to the if-schools-are-failing-they-must-need-even-more-money approach to education.

In Peace’s defense, his column does address the runaway-spending aspects of the Standards of Quality formula that determines the allocation of state aid for K-12 school programs. But that’s not a cause that will catalyze people into thinking creatively about education. The formula is so arcane — almost kabbalistic in its impenetrability — that peoples’ eyes glaze over when anyone tries to describe it. By contrast, open-source textbooks was a clever idea that anyone can grasp. Why can’t we see more fresh thinking like that?

If the Republicans want to differentiate themselves from the Democrats, bragging how they spend more money on education won’t do the trick. The public will always associate Democrats with greater spending on education. If the GOP wants to present an alternative to voters, they need to argue, it’s not how much you spend but how you spend it.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I think what we are doing is the Forest Gump school of Stupid is as Stupid does Process of Education funding.

    Both sides frustrate the heck out of me.

    The tax&spenders think that whatever amount of money can be extracted from taxpayers is appropriate and their only regret is that they could not figure out how to get even more money…

    But the guys who claim Conservative Fiscal principles are essentially knuckle-daggers in their approach because they also never talk in terms of specifics – only their unsubstantiated opinions of what is “enough” and what is not – and their opinion changes due to factors that have nothing to do with what is needed – because they don’t know what is needed and they’re too lazy to figure out what is needed.

    We never ask what the “right” level of funding should be and we never state what we should be accomplishing for a particular level of funding.

    We do know things:

    For instance, we know that Massachusetts spends 11,642 per kid compared to Virginia’s 8,886 and that Virginia’s kids score this way for $8K worth of funding:

    Grade 4 Reading Proficiency (%) 44 (Mass) 37 (Va)
    Grade 4 Math Proficiency (
    %) 49 39
    Grade 8 Reading Proficiency (%) 44 36
    Grade 8 Math Proficiency
    (%) 43 33

    and we know this:

    Instructional Expenditures
    7,410 Mass
    5,449 Va

    but do we, in Virginia, at the GA and local levels argue on this kind of a basis for more or less or the “right” amount of funding?

    No.. we don’t..

    we argue instead about money – “mo” money..

    like I said.. this is the Forest Gump school of figuring out what to do and for Virginia, sometimes it seems to me to be “Stupid is a stupid does”.

    when will we see – from either side an intelligent discussion of how much “mo” money should be spent (or not)?

  2. Accurate Avatar

    What ever happened to the Republicans being the party of fiscal conservation? The President seems to have forgotten that and this article shows that on the state level, the folks from that party have forgotten about it.

    Here in Oregon, the teachers union, holds a HUGE stick over the legislature and pretty much get what they want. Typically it comes down to the voters refusing to add even more taxes to themselves that keeps the school budgets to some degree of modesty – if it were up to the legislature education would get over twice what they are budgeted. And if you’ve seen the results coming out of public schools, you KNOW we aren’t getting even 1/2 of what we are paying for.

  3. Anonymous Avatar

    Dear Jim,

    First, I respect your thoughts and analysis very much, and after writing my op-ed I knew that it would be subject to such a critique because I too believe that “spending” is not the only answer. We must pursue strategic investments and alternative solution oriented approaches. For example, I have been a co-patron of Del. Saxman’s tuition tax credit to help families free themselves from the grip of the public school system especially in failing circumstances.

    This year Del. Loupassi and I worked on House Bill 60 to see more of the money the state invests actually get to the classroom. It would have required each local school division to allocate 65% of its operating budget to instructional spending. Hanover County has an excellent record in education but Del. Loupassi has seen first hand the plight of an entire system.

    In my essay in the RTD, I made a special point to highlight what the House budget proposes with reforming the SOQs. On January 11th, you posted a comment on Lil Tuttle’s essay. She correctly points out the inherent flaws in the rebenchmarking process. “This formula is broken. Lil Tuttle with the Clare Booth Luce Policy Institute has suggested a formula that makes far more sense. If lawmakers sincerely want to fix public education — as opposed to perpetuate the current boondog — they could start here.” And so we have.

    Up until now, the state has continuously reimbursed salaries at that higher rate in the next biennium far more than the rates previously approved by the legislature. Without structural reform, public education will soon eclipse any other portion of the state budget as the single largest factor increasing spending and eliminating consideration of other important priorities. Our decoupling proposal will help us reign in spending not increase it.

    It is my sincere hope that our conferees are able to remove the automatic and unaccountable provision in the SOQ rebenchmarking scheme. The state legislature should be able to review how certain local inputs drive state spending; in my humble opinion that is where your criticism should be most centered. Education is a priority but we should only invest or “spend” wisely.

    Unfortunately these important measures continue to meet opposition from the entrenched education elite and special interest. You will not be suprised to know that these same groups also originally opposed my digital textbook concept too. Remarkable…

    Thank you for your support of open education resources. I would like to partner with you to see this concept become a reality. This year I sponsored House Bill 137 which took us a “baby” step in that direction by opening the definition of textbook to alternative sources to hardbound texts including print and electronic media. The bill reorganizes the textbook purchasing process and repeals several sections of outdated code. Through our Advisory Committee on JCOTS, I will be looking to expand the PPEA to include computer infrastructure and also a pilot project in a local school sub-division.

    Please do not hesitate to contact me if you have any questions or concerns.

    Christopher K. Peace

  4. I think it is high time we give parents more tools to determine educational choices of our children. Yes, I’m talking school choice, folks. Government has messed up the public school system so badly (no matter how much money they throw at the schools) that the best they can do now is give poorer parents vouchers so they can choose better schools for their children. Why shouldn’t a single mother in the inner cities have the same choices on education as the well-to-do family in the suburbs?

  5. Jim Bacon Avatar
    Jim Bacon

    Del. Peace, Thanks for responding. I did acknowledge in my post the GOP support for the 65% solution (although I didn’t realize how closely you were involved with it) and alluded to your effort to tackle the SOQ rebenchmarking formula.

    I suppose my critique was really directed at the *rhetoric* of your column: “We spend more on K-12 than the Dems do.” That’s the point that people will remember from the column. I don’t think I’m putting words in your mouth to suggest that you’d rather have people remember you for working creatively to provide better education at less cost. I’m happy to highlight any efforts you expend in that regard.

Leave a Reply