Watch Out for the “Fully Funding Our Schools” Ploy

The debate over this year’s $641 budget shortfall may be a mere prelude to a bigger budget wrangle next year over education spending. Timothy M. Kaine has stumped all over the state for a modest expansion of pre-K programs in Virginia, but that’s chump change compared to the real driver of educational spending: the Standards of Quality.

Hints of the debate to come can be gleaned from a recent letter from House Minority Leader Ward Armstrong, D-Martinsville, to House Speaker William J. Howell.

“Next year,” Armstrong wrote, “we will have to re-benchmark the Standards of Quality to ensure that our primary and secondary schools remain fully funded. Prominent members of your caucus have said they are opposed to the re-benchmarking of the SOQs, which would significantly jeopardize our schools and childrens’ future.”

Later in the letter, he wrote: “I am asking that you pledge that we do not shortchange our children’s future by cutting primary and secondary education and that we will fully fund our schools.”

Refresher course: The SOQs, or standards of quality, are the auto-pilot mechanism by which the standards for educational inputs (student-teacher ratios, number of guidance counselors, that sort of thing) are relentlessly ratcheted higher, and also by which $5.8 billion in state aid to K-12 education program is used to redistribute wealth from Virginia’s wealthy municipalities to its poorer municipalities. (See my treatment of this cost driver in “The ABCs of SOQs.”

Each “re-benchmarking” according to the dictates of an all-but-indecipherable formula raises the mandated level of funding by hundreds of millions of dollars. Supporters of the educational status quo run around squealing that schools aren’t “fully funded” and that “the children” are being short-changed, creating political pressure for ever-higher, and utterly unaccountable spending.

Any increase in K-12 funding next year should be tied to a reform of the funding system. Lil Tuttle with the Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute, has argued for a new, transparent formula for allocating state aid to public education. The state would provide one “Student Funding Allotment” (SFA) for each student, weighting the allotments for special needs, as follows:

1.9 SFA for severely disabled
1.2 SFA for poverty
1.2 for limited English
1.2 for learning disabled

Such a system would help local school systems cope with lots of poor, disabled and foreign-language kids without the auto-escalator effect of the current formula. What’s more, it’s so transparent that anyone can understand it. That’s precisely why the political class will never change the formula. But it’s nice to know that some one in the General Assembly appears to be taking a closer look.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


15 responses to “Watch Out for the “Fully Funding Our Schools” Ploy”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    public funding of K-12 is a scam in Virginia from two perspectives.

    The first is – that in most localities where there are significant numbers of well-off parents – the school systems know just what buttons to push to get these folks to the polls – to support “fully funding” and the number of localities where the BOS has less than friendly relations with the elected local school boards is not insignificant.

    The second aspect is the way that Virginia decides which localities should, essentially, be subsidized by other localities and this is more than a scam; it is an outright scandal.

    We need to hold localities accountable that are slurping state funds taken from places like NoVa so they can keep their own property taxes lower, when they are perfectly capable of paying their own way.

    If a county is truly destitute, yes, help them out, but take a look at the localities that are deemed unable to fully fund their own systems.

    (courtesy of Groveton).

    Reforming education in Virginia should be a priority – but politically it’s a no go – worse than trying to raise the gas tax.

  2. Anonymous Avatar


    Back up a minute.

    Are you refering to the Composite Index? I’ve also heard it called the Ability to Pay formula…?

  3. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    The SOQs specify minimum staffing levels.

    The State helps pay for these positions if it is determined that the locality “needs help”.

    The problem is not with the SOQs but with how the State determines “need”.

    When you have places like Charlottesville, Culpeper and Hampton, Chesterfield and Henrico receiving State aid – correction NoVa money – then we have a problem.

    3 reforms:

    1. – fix the wrong way of means testing

    2. – fund MINIMUM for truly needy localities that fall below low thresholds

    3. – offer match funding for counties that are “in-between” IF their SOLs are adequate.

    If not, REQUIRE THEM to fully fund the SOQs from their own property taxes.

  4. Anonymous Avatar

    Rebenchmarking adds about $1.5-2 billion per biennium. It is absolutely impossible to continue funding at this rate without a massive statewide tax increase. Republicans know it, democrats know it (and love it), and most of all, the VEA knows it.

    Prediction: Kaine’s budget in 2009 (prior to leaving office)will include a massive tax increase for public education – at least 1% to the state sales tax.

  5. Anonymous Avatar

    “…and the number of localities where the BOS has less than friendly relations with the elected local school boards is not insignificant.”

    If you get to elect your school board consider yourself blessed. In my locality the school board is appointed.

    What’s worse, 80% of the board lives on the same side of town….probably within a mile of one another.

    To make a long story shot, our city basically let’s the inmates run the asylum.

    If for no other reason then for the simple sanctity of the board, I feel it should be made up of people who will provide oversight to what is going on. All it is now is one big RUBBER STAMP.

    Oh, and can you imagine what one must do to be “appointed” to the board?

  6. Anonymous Avatar

    What happened to the 1.9 SFA for gifted students?


  7. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Be careful what you wish for.

    Here’s the issue that I feel is divisive – whether a School Board is appointed or elected.

    In a nutshell, they make a budget but they don’t have to face voters for increases in the property taxes that are necessitated by increases beyond growth and inflation – essentially new/expanded programs.

    So, school boards often bring forward, what they often refer to as a “needs-based” budget even if it far exceeds growth + inflation.

    This is no dialogue about balancing the desire for expanded program with tax increases.

    If an impasse results, then often, the issue is (in my mind) pandered with phrases like “fully funds the schools” and “don’t shortchange our kids”.

    So here’s a question.

    Would you favor letting school boards set the tax rate required to fund their portion of the county budget?

  8. Groveton Avatar

    This is a classic…

    Latest data I have:

    Martinsville, VA:

    Median homeowner income: $35,567
    Average home value: $69,100
    Real estate tax rate: .67%
    Median real estate taxes paid: $461

    Fairfax, Virginia (the city, I guess)

    Median homeowner income: $79,876
    Median hime value: $192,100
    Real estate tax rate: .92%
    Median real estate taxes: $1,772

    First things first – these are figures from a web site called TOWNSUSA.ORG. I have not verified the facts and figures. However, for the sake of argument (and until better facts and figures are available):

    1. Homeowners in Fairfax make 2.2 times as much as homeowners in MArtinsville.

    2. The homes in Fairfax cost 2.8 times as much as the himes in Martinsville.

    3. The residents in Fairfax pay 3.8 times as much in real estate taxes as the residents of Martinsville.

    4. The homeowners in Fairfax pay 2.2% of their income in real estate taxes. The homeowners in Martinsville pay 1.3% of their income in real estate taxes.

    5. The real estate tax rate in Martinsville is only 73% of the rate in Fairfax.

    And none of this takes into account the vastly lower cost of living in Martinsville vs. Fairfax.

    The education system in Fairfax is better than the education system in Martinsville because the citizens of Fairfax are willing to sacrifice more of their income (in dollars and by percent)to pay for a good school system.

    The citizens of Martinsville and their elected officials should be ashamed of themselves.

  9. Anonymous Avatar

    See how much easier it is to make sense of things when you have the numbers?

    There might be some other numbers out there that offset or refute part of this. (Like maybe the education system in Fairfax isn’t really that much better.)

    Until that happens we have a fair, apples to apples comparison, based on similar metrics. How hard is that?


  10. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    I’m caught on this because the moral of this story is.. that if you thrown enough money at Education (AKA Fairfax), you can get the jobs that Martinsville cannot because they won’t do what Fairfax does.

  11. Groveton Avatar

    As far as Fairfax County throwing money at education … maybe. However, the county thinks it’s pretty efficient (vs. other “high tech” counties):

    The big problem is that you can educate kids but you can’t make them stay in your county after they graduate.

    Talent follows money.

    Money = jobs that pay a lot.

    Example: the investment bankers who make a gazillion dollars a year in Manhattan didn’t necessarily get their education in Manhattan. They moved to Manhattan because that’s where the money was.

    Example: Silicon Valley was a bunch of fruit orchards not too very long ago. It now is an area with great jobs and great educational system. But the jobs came first. Without the jobs they’re still growing fruit in San Jose.

    If you want to throw money at something where there are too few good jobs – throw the money at getting the good jobs.

  12. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    re: chicken/eggs/jobs/education

    then Martinsville is doomed… no matter what they do…


  13. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Headline: Henry County hit with 2nd round of job losses
    Ridgeway Furniture is set to close, adding to Stanley Furniture’s job cuts.

    We keep talking about why companies won’t locate to these places but the fact is that companies DID locate there.

    In other words, there WAS an exceptable environment there for jobs.

    And the products are still being made – but now – not there.

    So the world has changed and those engaged in making buggy whips or furniture using labor that is no longer competitive.

    For every job that Henry Country loses – though NoVa probably gains 10.

    Can’t blame Henry for not adapting. Of course, you can’t credit them with doing anything originally to attract those jobs. The companies were looking for an inexpensive place to build/operate and cheap labor.

    The world still wants cheap labor but access to cheap labor has widened considerably and folks who made $3 a day will gladly work for $3 an hour whereas the folks in Henry are basically out of luck.

    I know this thread is about fully funding schools – but what is the purpose of schools?

    I know there are cynics who frequent this blog who believe that most schools are little more than high-priced babysitting services.

    Clearly – in my view – the kids who go to Fairfax County schools – are going to be way better prepared to compete for world-class jobs though – than those in Henry County – in part – because in Henry and many other similiar places – the kids didn’t need to know anymore than what the furntiture companies needed for them to do those jobs..

    As Groveton said .. if somehow Henry County school ramp up to deliver a Fairfax-equivalent education – what would be the result?

    Well.. again… as Groveton said – those kids WILL HAVE to move away.

    Now, if we pretend that Henry’s School Systems actually produce kids who are on or near par with Fairfax educations – where will those kids go for work?

    In this day and time, all roads literally lead to places like NoVa because that is where the jobs are.

    What does this mean?

    Well it means that “more places” is not going to happen to places like Henry unless they have something that businesses need and want.

    So.. fully funding schools in Henry is of what benefit to Virginia and especially NoVa which, in effect, sends Henry, more than $500 per kid.

    Well..yes.. we have a moral obligation – all of Virginia does and I think.. should result in the state examining exactly what “fully funding” means and what education in Va should accomplish.

  14. Anonymous Avatar

    “Example: the investment bankers who make a gazillion dollars a year in Manhattan didn’t necessarily get their education in Manhattan.”

    True, Groveton. And the people making not gazillions but lots of money in NOVA didn’t necessarily go to school in NOVA. In fact, in the over 35 years I spent there, it was rare to find a “native”. I myself left SW VA because a career – especially for a woman in the 60’s – wasn’t to be had in small town SW VA.

    Jobs/careers are the key.

    The much praised Fairfax County schools came about because a large number of people from all over the country moved to the DC area and settled in Fairfax County. They didn’t come there because of the schools. They came there because of the JOBS – the jobs in DC. The schools came because they demanded them. It goes without saying that a large number of these people couldn’t have afforded the best areas of DC, which would have had the better schools, and weren’t about to put their children in the rest of the DC schools.

    Let’s say that Martinsville does raise property taxes and pays more for schools. How long can this last if the kids getting this swell education in Martinsville have to go to NoVA to get a decent job? If there were better job opportunities in other areas of VA, no doubt they would not only have an incentive to invest more in education, they’d have the tax base to do so as well.

  15. Anonymous Avatar

    it was rare to find a “native”.

    Should have said ‘it was rare to find a “native” in my age group.’ Saw more younger people from NoVA as time went by.

    Deena Flinchum

Leave a Reply