The governing body for Virginia’s public education system wants state lawmakers to give schools an influx of nearly $1 billion.
The Virginia Board of Education on Thursday unanimously approved changes to the state’s Standards of Quality, the base requirements public schools are expected to meet. The revised standards call for roughly $950 million in recurring funding to be spent on more reading specialists, smaller class sizes and money specifically for schools serving students from low-income families, among other things.
Daniel Gecker, the president of the board, said the changes are “an effort to assist those children who need it the most.”
The $950 million—if funded—would add roughly 18% to the $5.36 billion spent by the state on public education in 2017-18.
While the board has said what Virginia schools need, the General Assembly must still decide whether to fund it.
Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Gov. Ralph Northam, said Thursday that the governor “will take these recommendations into consideration as part of his budget process.”
That budget must be approved by the legislature, which last year signed off on a Northam proposal to give teachers a 5% raise and provide $12 million for more school counselors.
House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said earlier this week that lawmakers should have been involved in crafting the proposals. A spokesman did not immediately return a request for comment Thursday.
“If even a portion of this gets funded, I think we’ll have made a significant difference in the lives of our children,” said Diane Atkinson, the vice president of the board.
State spending per student is currently down 8% compared with before the Great Recession, according to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a Richmond-based research organization. An average of $5,749 is spent on every student, compared with $6,225 in the 2008-09 school year, after adjusting for inflation.
Among the changes approved Thursday is the creation of a statewide “equity fund,” which would combine $233 million in existing state money with an additional $131 million.
That money would be given to school districts based on the number and percentage of students who are eligible for free school meals, a rough barometer of childhood poverty, to pay for hiring extra teachers or support staff members and pay raises for teachers in schools with the highest concentrations of poverty.
Chris Duncombe, the policy director for the Commonwealth Institute, said the fund “is an important step forward in modernizing how Virginia funds schools and supports students.”
Duncombe said 24 other states—and now Virginia—factor in students’ socioeconomic status when deciding who gets which resources.
“This is needed so that every student can achieve academic success and it’s also where the research shows funding has the biggest impact,” he said.
The board also recommended rolling back a state-imposed limit on school support positions, such as social workers, custodians and psychologists. In 2010, the first year of the cap, there were 4.03 instructional staff members in schools for each support staff member. It’s now at 4.27.
“We are meeting our constitutional mandate here to prescribe Standards of Quality for what is really needed for our students and we recognize that our standards have fallen behind the reality in a significant way,” said board member Anne Holton.
The Standards of Quality are reviewed every two years.