SOQs Out of Control

As the General Assembly works on its budget, the “rebenchmarking” of the educational Standards of Quality looms large. This Constitutionally mandated process recalculates how much Virginia school districts receive in some $6.2 billion in Direct Aid to Public Education dollars distributed by the state.

As I’ve often observed before, this rebenchmarking process represents one of the greatest inter-regional transfers of wealth in the state. By a complicated process, it punishes municipalities that choose to spend more local tax dollars on tax education. Each time the SOLs are rebenchmarked, the more dramatic the redistribution gets. Accordingly, it is instructive to see what happened when the SOLs were last rebenchmarked, in 2006. Many Virginia cities and counties enjoyed such a windfall of state revenue that they could cut their contributions of local tax dollars.

Chris Braunlich, a Fairfax resident and regular contributor to Bacon’s Rebellion, has documented this perverse effect. You can view the full document here. Here are some highlights:

In 2006, the City of Lexington received $1,139 in additional state funds per pupil — and cut their own contribution by $446 per pupil.

The City of Covington received $796 per pupil more from the state, and cut its local contribution by $644.

My home county, Henrico, an affluent suburban jurisdiction, received $423 more per pupil and cut its local contribution by $53.

Chesterfield County, the fourth most populous jurisdiction in Virginia, received $415 more per pupil and cut its own contribution by $239.

If Northern Virginia taxpayers want to know how they’re getting shafted in Richmond, this is where they ought to be looking. As a Henrico resident, I’m a beneficiary of the funding formula. But that doesn’t make it right. 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 boondoggle — they could start here.

(Hat tip: The blogger known as Too Many Taxes.)

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  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m flabbergasted.

    BR gets dozens on vigorous comments on such arcane “controversy’s” as a proposed water park in Fredericksburg

    … but then on an issue that consumes money from taxpayers at this rate:

    Virginia Direct Aid

    to Education

    FY Budget (billions)
    2003 $3,923
    2004 4,069
    2005 4,653
    2006 4,993
    2007 5,681
    2008 5,809


    Folks – that’s about $900 per year per adult capita over and above your local property taxes…

    I read through most of Virginia s news coverage of the General Assembly and the SOQ formula is simply not on the radar screen (or perhaps hopefully I’m wrong)…

    There has been some news coverage that Kaine has been looking into it… so we’ll see what he might propose… given the obvious budget difficulties…

    the problem is that reforming something like the SOQs is better done when budget shortfalls are not involved because inevitably it will get portrayed as “cutting” the schools as opposed to reforming costly and outmoded formulas.

    According to Clara Luce Booth, Virginia is but one of 4 states that use the SOQ-type framework and the one in Virginia is 40 years old.

    sigh… I guess SOQ reform is just not a “sexy” topic..


  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Larry, it amazes me also. People get more worked up over abusive drivers fees than a blatantly unfair formula for public schools. But then the average voter’s attention span is about 60 seconds.

    Reasonable people can draw lines in different places, but if we operate public schools, then even lower income areas need to contribute something for their own students. Aid should go to poor districts only and then when they make a reasonable local tax effort that is not sufficient to operate schools.

    Give me Doug Wilder any day!


  3. James Atticus Bowden Avatar
    James Atticus Bowden

    We really need to get into the details here. Read the particulars.

    In the past SOQs have served as a jobs program for the VEA. The SOQs create mandated positions.

    Where can we find what is up for consideration – before it is voted on?

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