Where’s the Debate on Education Funding?

Everybody’s “for” education, and everybody wants to pump more money into Virginia’s educational system. From what I can tell, it looks like the Dems want to increase educational spending a lot more than the GOP-dominated House of Delegates in the next biennial budget. But I’ve seen very little discussion on the topic.

According to documents maintained by the Department of Planning and Budget, here are the budget numbers of the Department of Education, including Fiscal 2007 and 2008 proposed by departing Gov. Mark R. Warner:

FY 2003…… $ 9.55 billion
FY 2004…… $ 9.97 billion (+4.4 percent)
FY 2005…… $11.2o billion (+12.4 percent)
FY 2006…… $12.05 billion (+7.6 percent)
FY 2007…… $13.70 billion (proposed) (+13.7 percent)
FY 2008…… $13.95 billion (proposed) (+1.8 percent)

As can be readily seen, after the “starving time” of the early Warner administration, spending on education has soared, and would continue to soar if Warner’s proposed budget were enacted. The proposed 2007/2008 budget represents a 16.4 percent biennial budget-to-biennial budget increase.

Now, here’s what Vincent F. Callahan, Jr., House appropriations chairman, says the House budget is doing for education:

The budget will provide approximately $11.5 billion in funding for public education over the next two years. This represents an increase of $1.5 billion over the current funding level or approximately 36 percent of the net new revenues available. … The budget will invest approximately $419 million in additional general fund support for higher education. This represents an increase of approximately 13 percent over base funding levels.

If I’m comparing apples to apples, in the House budget, educational spending would increase “only” 8 percent from one biennial budget to the next. Bottom line: The House would increase education spending at half the rate of the Warner plan. (If I’m comparing apples to oranges, I’d appreciate it if someone would let me know.)

The House plan is a bad thing if you think the only solution to Virginia’s educational woes is pouring more money into the existing system. It’s a good thing if you think there’s a limited amount that the system can usefully absorb, or if you think the system needs serious reform. So far, I’ve seen very little debate on this issue. Any observations?

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5 responses to “Where’s the Debate on Education Funding?”

  1. Lucy Jones Avatar

    My [probably under-educated] opinion is that if the additional money is used to build more schools with less crowding and more teacher-pupil attention then I’m for it. Vouchers sound like a good idea to me as well.

    If additional money is used to continue the current system, I’m not sure I’m game. I think throwing money at education without reform is just as effective as throwing money at transportation without basic reforms. It won’t work in either situation.

    I say the same about higher education. You can keep throwing money at colleges but if lower and middle class citizens can’t afford to send their children to them, it does nothing but further separate the classes.

    I’m really glad you brought this up. I’m very interested in the opinions of others who are more knowledgeable on the education system. This is a major concern of mine but unfortunately, I’m in no position to offer practical solutions.

  2. Anonymous Avatar

    Sorry, Lucy, but very little state money goes into school construction or other capital costs — those are local problems. The vast, vasy majority of this money goes to personnel — instructional, administrative, some very necessary and some quite worthless toward the ultimate goal of better education for children. I’ll be happier if it goes to merit pay and substantial raises for the best teachers, but after all these years I have little hope of that. The idiots get the same raises as the superstars, and the real idiots get jobs somewhere in the central office pushing paper.

    Callahan has K-12 education getting $1.5 billion more in the next biennium represented 36 percent of the new money available. Higher Ed, both in operating funds and the research programs, gets another major chunk. No bull: if transportation had that record of annual increase over the past ten years, nobody would be kvetching.

  3. Rtwng Extrmst Avatar
    Rtwng Extrmst

    My observations:

    Yes, there’s been very little debate on this issue. What I have seen is alot of demagoguery of anyone who opposes large increases in education spending. Additionally any real attempts at reform in the GA (particularly the Senate) are killed in committee. Those proposals are also usually greeted with cries from the PTSA and VEA of “they want to destroy the publics schools”.

  4. Lucy Jones Avatar

    It wouldn’t be possible for the state to require that no more than X number of students are allowed per teacher, per building and then somehow fund the building of new schools?

  5. Lucy, Florida mandated maximum student to teacher ratios via constitutional amenedment a couple of years ago. THe governor and legislature are still fighting it. The cost is super-prohibitive…and this from a state with 2,500 employees in the FL DOE…10X that of VA.

    The biggest problem with debating the education budgets is that the GA has adopted both the SOQs for K12 and the BBA (Base Budget Adequacy) Model for higher ed. So, they are bound by their own rules and nobody has the will to move that they go in an change those. This particularly true in higher ed where the model has never been fully funded. Further, even it were fully funded, there would still be deficit in that the institutions feel they should be funded for the tremendous enrllment growth they took without the full funding. (That won’t happen.)

    It will take great political will and courage to change the funding structure. And, since any new structure is likely to produce a lower number, the schools and institutions will fight it every step of the way.

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