SOQs: Education Spending on Auto-Pilot

Speaking of the VA Cost Cutting Blog (see previous post), here’s a topic I wish the contributors would address: Virginia’s Standards of Quality. The little-understood SOQs are so complex they make most peoples’ eyes glaze over. The press writes next to nothing about them, and legislators are apparently terrified to touch them. Yet SOQs are one of the most aggressive drivers of government spending in Virginia — and legislators have little control over them.

In a nutshell: The SOQs set the formula that distributes about 90 percent of all state contributions to local education. This “input” driven model sets the staffing standards for the number, ratio and compensation of teachers, aides, guidance counselors, administrators, etc. in Virginia schools, as well as other educational costs. Not only does this statist, top-down system eliminate any staffing flexibility on the part of local school systems, it “re-benchmarks” the standards every two years, adding huge new costs — more than $1 billion each biennium — that must be borne by the state.

This monstrosity runs on auto-pilot. A handful of bureaucrats who understand the SOQ formula crank out the new standards every two years, and legislators are compelled to find the money to meet them. As a consequence, the Governor of Virginia and the General Assembly have little latitude in launching new educational initiatives because the SOQ standards have the first call on any new educational dollars.

I’ve written about SOQs in my latest column, “The ABCs of SOQs.”

For a detailed critique of the SOQs, readers should consult an excellent report by Lil Tuttle with the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, “Education Funding in Virginia: Aligning Dollars to Achievement Priorities.”

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8 responses to “SOQs: Education Spending on Auto-Pilot”

  1. Anonymous Avatar

    After looking at the Tuttle report, it seems that a disproportionate amount of money is spent on “Special Education”.

    If a child is identified as having a 3rd grade IQ, and they stay in a school system for 12 or 13 years and at the end they still have a 3rd grade IQ, how have they benefited from being in a school system in the first place?

    I am in no way saying that kids with special needs should be denied an education. Their parents pay taxes just like we do. I just think a traditional public school environment may not be the place.

  2. Rtwng Extrmst Avatar
    Rtwng Extrmst

    Excellent article Jim. I have never understood the SOQ’s and while the details don’t get much press, the VEA and local press certainly use them as a hammer to pound fiscal conservatives during elections trying to label them as “destroyers of public education”.

    It certainly makes sense to me now why they find the SOQ’s so important. The linkage to numbers of teachers and built-in monetary increases certainly seems like a direct money flow for those in the NEA who’s goal is to bring in more members and more political power to their organization.

  3. Jim Bacon Avatar

    Rtwng Extrmst, Bingo! Clearly, the VEA is a major beneficiary of the SOQs. I’ve long wondered if the VEA plays a role behind the scenes in affecting either the re-benchmarking process or the addition of entirely new standards. I wish I had more time to dig into it. Maybe some of our readers have some answers.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    The spending on special education is heavily driven by federal mandates and the overwhelmingly favorable treatment that population gets in the courts. Under the law they really are entitled and huge amounts of money are spent on individuals who sadly will not ultimately get better. No regular kid, no extra bright kid, will ever get those kinds of resources for their advancement.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    It drives me crazy to hear Bill Gates, the Wall Street Journal, GWB, and the rest talk about how we really, really, really need to beef up our science-math-tech education and then see all of these unfunded mandates regarding special ed, ESL, etc. When these low level classes are mandated and the science labs, advanced math, & high tech classes aren’t, you know what is going to be funded and pushed, right?

    Education in the US isn’t an issue of more money per se. If it were, then DC would have the best schools in the US and North Dakota would be near the bottom; but, in fact, the exact opposite prevails. When are we going to wake up to this fact?

    I am so sick of hearing Bill Gates, the WSJ, and GWB tell us how we need wide open borders for cheap labor AND to improve our K-12 schools. These two “goals” are mutually exclusive. We can’t “educate” the world and still have decent schools for the vast majority of US students whose parents can’t afford to live in exclusive school districts or to send them to private school.

  6. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    A few years ago, when my kids were in K-12, Poquoson was #133 out of 134 on spending per pupil. Darn Wise Co (I believe) beat us with lower spending. Poquoson was #3 in quality of education (name your measure) or 2 behind Fairfax and somebody else. Since then our property taxes have gotten so high that our city council is flush with money and spending to blow our position in low spending.

    It’s not the money.

    SOQ is a jobs program for VEA and purchasing program for vendors – computers, builders, supplies, etc.

  7. Chris Saxman Avatar
    Chris Saxman

    I will begin some conversations with some of our folks and get back to you. This is an interesting topic to say the least. Rebenchmarking will run about 1.2 billion this biennial budget – I think. Some of my colleagues have openly questioned whether or not our funding should be based on children or staffing. Before the CCC wades into that tide, we should know what they are and what they do.
    Great issue though, thanks for bringing it to our attention.

    It has been a busy but VERY productive week at the GA and most people are pleased with the adherence to the procedural rules of the House which have not been followed as closely as they should have been. The net result is that committees are moving MUCH faster than before. More on that later.

  8. Rtwng Extrmst Avatar
    Rtwng Extrmst

    I’m glad to see some of our delegates look at these blogs.

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