School Children in Trailers: Let Them Eat Cake… Er, Moon Pies

Ever inquisitive, Bacon’s Rebellion has been busy investigating the concerns of Del. Brian Moran, D-Alexandria, that the Republican transportation plan would fund road building at the expense of “holding more classes in trailers, having fewer nursing-home beds for our elderly and failing to provide equipment to our first-responders.”

(Ritual disclaimer: I am not defending the financing elements of the GOP plan, which I regard with loathing. I am addressing the flawed logic of those who oppose it for the wrong reasons.)

In particular, I am interested in Del. Moran’s insinuation that increasing K-12 spending by a mere 19 percent during the current biennial budget is insufficient to hold down the number of children schooled in pre-fabricated dwellings, and that only the continued break-neck expansion of state aid to education can prevent Virginia’s schools from evolving into trailer parks, albeit trailer parks with books. (On this last point, actually, one cannot be entirely confident that Republicans don’t have it in mind to deprive the children of books as well.)

One of the legitimate factors driving increased K-12 spending is the increase in number of school children. More children translates into more school buildings (trailers, whatever), more teachers, more local education bureaucrats and more state education bureaucrats. One could hardly begrudge an increase in state aid that kept pace with the increase in the number of loveable little tykes thirsty for knowledge.

It so happens that the Weldon Cooper Center for Public Services projects the number of school children that Virginia will have to educate in the years ahead. Here are the numbers:

School year Enrollment
2006-20007…… 1,202,686
2007-2008……… 1,207,360
2008-2009……… 1,211,140
2010-2011………. 1,217,478
201102012……… 1,224,028

That represents an enrollment growth rate of less than one half of one percent annually. I can’t find any projections for population increase during those same years, but the population of Virginia grew approximately eight percent between 2000 and 2006, or more than one percent a year.

In other words, the increase in school enrollment is slowing to a crawl, and it is greated outpaced by the increase in the general population. (Even if the rate of population increase slows from the torrid pace of the early decade, a significant gap is likely to persist.) More inhabitants means more taxpayers, which means more tax revenue. It would be fully within the state’s means, even if one percent of the General Fund were diverted to transportation, to continue dumping money into Virginia’s public education system at a rate that greatly exceeds the incremental increase in the number of students.

If exercising modest restraint in the metastazing growth in education spending results in relegating more school children to trailers, then Virginia’s education system is even more dysfunctional than it is acknowledged to be. Such a development would signal that priorities are seriously skewed, and that someone needs to ask where the money is going.

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10 responses to “School Children in Trailers: Let Them Eat Cake… Er, Moon Pies”

  1. Jim Wamsley Avatar
    Jim Wamsley

    There is an interesting report by Michael Spar, Demographics & Workforce Section, Weldon Cooper Center, University of Virginia, that leads me to question your selection of the statewide numbers in your post.

    Here are two snips:

    Map 2 shows the school divisions expected to grow
    the most in the next five years. Twelve are forecast to
    gain over 1,000 students, led by Loudoun County,
    with an increase of 21,350. Prince William County’s
    student count will balloon by over 16,000, and both
    Stafford and Spotsylvania will grow by over 5,000.
    Map 2 also shows that a large number of divisions are
    going to lose students in the next five years. Virginia
    Beach is projected to lose about 4,500 students, and
    Norfolk, Richmond, and Hampton are expected to
    lose around 1,500 students each. Over half (60%) of
    the state’s 132 school divisions are forecast to have
    enrollment losses over the next half decade.

    But most local school divisions are losing students, so
    the increase will have an uneven impact across the
    state. Some school divisions will need to race to keep
    up with ever increasing numbers of students. Other
    divisions will be faced with the prospect of closing
    schools as their membership declines. Either situation
    makes a compelling argument for good planning,
    which depends on accurate numbers for success.

  2. Groveton Avatar

    When I went to Groveton High School (a Fairfax County public school now called West Potomac) I attended classes in trailers. That was 30 years ago.

    My oldest son goes to Fairfax County public high school now. He attends some classes in trailers.

    So what? The trailers were/are fine.

    It’s time to start talkiing about SAT scores instead of trailers.

    This is the lowest form of politics – using something with a bad connotation (i.e. trailers) to obscure a real fact (i.e. need more money for transportation).

    Moran = moron.

  3. Roll Tide Avatar
    Roll Tide

    Mr. Bacon,

    I think that even the most rabid supporters of education would agree that there will never be enough money for that service.

    That said, there are three points that should be mentioned.

    First, the Commonwealth has never lived up to its commitment to fund fully the Standards of Quality. In order to get around that commitment, the General Assembly just changes the standards.

    Second, of many things that local governments have to contend, mandates imposed by the federal government, the state government, and PARENTS are the most burdensome. Just ask local officials about the political firestorm that ensues when they try to close underutilized schools or change school boundaries. No Child Left Behind? Enough said there.

    Finally, education is expensive at any level. It is labor intensive whether public or private, and anything that employs a lot of people, whether a business or government service, costs a lot of money.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    “The trailers were/are fine.”

    Based upon the trailers MY son went to school in, I would disagree.

    Perhaps the trailers he had class in are not indicative of those across the state, however, he attended classes in trailers in 2 different districts in different regions of the state.

    During a rainstorm, class instruction came to a halt. Why? Because the kids couldn’t hear the teacher. They switched over to silent work. Fine, except that really messes up planning and is quite a problem when it rains all day.

    Many of the trailers I have seen are decrepit, have exceedingly poor air circulation, and some that my son has been in have had mold problems. School divisions seem to be of the opinion that a flimsy metal trailer will last as long as a cinderblock building.

    Storage is a real problem. I’ve asked teachers what they do. Many pay for a storage space out of their own pocket in order to have room for the materials they need throughout the year. It’s a good thing some of them have kind hearts.

    Bathroom breaks are a real problem. Kids have to put on their coats, go out in the weather, and somehow the teacher is supposed to keep track of where these kids are.

  5. Groveton Avatar


    I was in the Fairfax County public school trailers myself. You’d only know you were in a trailer because you had to walk outside for a moment to get there.

    Not sure about the bathroom break problem. Don’t the students have to walk out of any classroom and down the hall to go to the bathroom? Doesn’t the teacher have to keep count of who’s in the classroom vs. going to the bathroom whether they are leaving from a trailer or a traditional classroom?

    The trailers I went to school in had their own air conditioners. While the main school smoldered in June or September the trailers were cool. Given our choice – we’d have taken all of our classes in the trailers.

    I asked my son about the trailers. He could care less. Says they are no different than the classrooms.

    The simple fact of demographics is upon us. When I went to school I was among the baby boomers. There were too few schools and trailers were a near term option. Then the county started building new schools. After my Junior year my entire high school stopped using the old school building (which became a Middle School) and we all started using a beautiful new, 3 building campus – school about 3 miles from the old school.

    Guess what happened?

    Within 5 years the baby boom kids (like me – I was at the tail end) graduated. There were too many schools and not enough students. The county started closing schools. They had to combine my high school with another high school in that campus – school beauce there weren’t enough students to keep both high schools open. Makes you wonder whether they should have built the new school at all.

    Fast forward to today – the echo boom is in high school (i.e. the baby boomers’ babies). Guess what? Not enough room in the schools. What to do?

    1. Build new schools that will be vacant in 5 years?

    2. Put trailers on the existing schools and then remove the trailers in 5 years.

    This is not a hard decision in my mind and I have the unusual advantage of having lived through this process myself and now have my kids living through the process.

    No big deal.

    If Fairfax wants to spend more money (if that’s even possible) they schould steal an idea from Henrico’s schools and give all the kids computers.

    Kids in trailers with computers or in traditional schools without computers?

    Give ’em the computers.

    But then again I had to live in a trailer for a short while when I was growing up and my family fell upon hard economic times. So I guess it just doesn’t have quite the stigma for me that it does for some people.

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    Cok’Cola anna MoonPie.

    Breakfast of Southerners.

  7. Darrell -- Chesapeake Avatar
    Darrell — Chesapeake

    Hmmm.. Seems to me it would make sense to build a core unit for offices, a gym, library, and auditorium. Then have all the classrooms transportable. That way as class size grows, you add more units. As the size decreases, you move the units to where they are needed. Design the things so they are more sturdy than the normal tin can trailers, make them energy efficient and capable of using alternative energy sources. We have tons of engineering students in college. We have even more students of tradescraft. How’s about we turn them loose in a real world lesson in practical products and marketing?

  8. nova_middle_man Avatar

    Excellent idea

    School Budgets like other forms of government only grow regardless of actual need or return on investment. The best you can do is slow the rate of growth.

    In Fairfax County the student growth is around 1%. The main increases for the budget are ESL and Special Education. Just reporting the facts.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    Which LIARS do I believe?

    The Republicans who promised “less government”, “lower taxes”, “abolish the car tax” or the Democrats who hyperbolize the Education issues?

    Maybe we could tell Al-Quaida that they are kissing pigs in Richmond and let them do to our legislators what they did to the twin towers, and we could start with a clean slate? I can’t think of anyone in Richmond worth saving!

  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I just wanted to point out that a “seat” for a school kid is about 10K .. give or take….

    whereas.. the cost to educate him/her is 10K .. per YEAR.

    Kids might be in trailers… but the real cost of education is salaries…. every one of those “trailers” has salaried person …..

    I’m no blind advocate for “fully funding education”, in fact, I feel similarily about education as I do about VDOT… LOTS of dollars NOT spent effectively.

    But I know about the teachers in the trenches…. I spend most every night sitting on a couch next to my school teaching wife who, for 2-3 hours does “homework” grading papers, writing up plans, etc until bedtime.

    If she got paid by the “billable hour”, we’d be rich.


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