Last week, the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) released its findings from an 18-month study of how Virginia funds K-12 public schools. The independent study’s findings are alarming and provide confirmation of what school board members and school administrators have known for many years. Virginia’s school funding model lags the nation and policymakers at the state level must seek practical solutions to modernize our method of appropriating the state’s share of funding to public education so each student can receive the best possible education no matter which locality they reside.
Specifically concerning in the study was the finding that Virginia’s school divisions receive 14% less funding from the state than the national average which equates to about $1,900 less per student. The review concluded Virginia spends less on K-12 schools when compared to neighboring states Kentucky, Maryland, and West Virginia.
JLARC identified the state’s Standards of Quality (SOQ) funding formula as a major factor in the underfunding of public schools by the state. The report indicated that the formula underestimates how much funding schools need to fulfill the government’s responsibility to provide every Virginia child with a quality education. In Fiscal Year 2021, the SOQ formula indicated Virginia schools needed $10.7 billion in state and local funds. The actual cost for the year equated to $17.3 billion which is a staggering $7.4 billion dollars greater than estimated by the SOQ funding formula.
Now is the time to come together to solve this pressing issue in the Commonwealth. We must resist the urge to engage in the political blame game and reach across the aisle in a bipartisan effort to reform Virginia’s funding mechanisms for K-12 public education. The JLARC report offers a variety of recommendations that with proper discourse between lawmakers and local school board members, could have a significant impact on making progress to a more equitable system to funding our schools.
As President of the Virginia School Boards Association, I express the desire of the association to engage in productive conversations that lead to a legislative solution to the Commonwealth’s school funding formulas. We encourage state policy makers to convene a working group of local school board members, legislators, administration officials, business, and parents to address the findings and recommendations from this report with the goal of having specific legislative fixes to the funding formula in time for the 2024 session of the Virginia General Assembly. Together, we can solve these issues. The time to get to work is now.