6 Things to Know About K-12 Funding in Youngkin’s Budget
December 20, 2022
December 20, 2022
On Thursday, December 15th, Governor Youngkin presented his first proposed state budget. For a Governor who campaigned promising the biggest education spending package ever, his budget fails to prioritize schools, spending extraordinarily little of our available resources on K-12. Below are the top 6 things to know about what’s in and out of Youngkin’s budget for K-12 schools.
1. Youngkin spends remarkably little on schools
Youngkin’s budget includes $422 million in new education spending (mostly automatic updates due to changes in enrollment and sales tax). While this might sound like a lot to some, the total available resources over the budget cycle exceeded $4 billion, and his education investment only represents 10%. For perspective, normally a third of our budget goes to education spending. A typical expenditure for education based on available resources would have been more than three times the amount invested, closer to $1.3 billion.
2. Youngkin chooses corporations over children
By far, Youngkin’s biggest priority was a $1 billion tax giveaway to profitable corporations and an income tax change that mostly benefits high-income individuals. Governor Youngkin had every opportunity to seriously invest in addressing staffing shortages, students and parents who are still dealing with the effects of the pandemic, and school staff who are doing their level best under considerable adversity. Instead, he chose to reward corporations and individuals already doing well in Virginia.
3. Not a dime in desperately needed competitive wages
Despite Virginia having among the least competitive teacher pay in the country, and severe staffing shortages that all our internal and external surveys tell us is primarily caused by inadequate pay, Youngkin chose not to invest anything in school salary adjustments. His budget only included a piddling $45 million for a one-time 1% bonus for certain school staff this August and a divisive $50 million for performance-pay scheme bonuses for teachers based on measures the state ultimately decides count for “academic growth.” Teachers have told us loud and clear: bonuses don’t incentivize them to stay in the field. In fact, the bonus proposed by Youngkin polled the lowest of any incentives in a recent large scale EdWeek survey of interventions that would keep teachers in the field – just 5% said it would be effective. At a time of major staffing shortages, we need prudent investments that improve retention. A reasonable starting place would be a 6% pay increase this year for state supported K-12 employees costing just $327 million – a fraction of Youngkin’s tax cuts. This would get Virginia to the national teacher pay average, a low bar for a relatively rich and high-cost state like ours.
4. $50 million squander to fulfill campaign promise
The budget wastes an additional $50 million on laboratory schools that represent a highly experimental approach to fulfill a campaign promise and create new schools for which there has not been demand. After failing to advance a charter school agenda last year, Youngkin’s administration switched to promoting “lab schools” – experimental K-12 schools established and run by higher education institutions with no experience in the industry. While the administration claims these schools will spur “innovation”, they have yet to point to a shred of research to indicate students might do well in these experimental school models. State education experts have researched high-return-on-investment K-12 strategies for years and made recommendations through the Virginia Board of Education to update our Standards of Quality (SOQ). These include investing in critical school staff like reading specialists, vice principals, nurses, behavioral health specialists, teacher mentorships, and in high-poverty schools (all evidence-based investments with strong track records). Lab schools have no such track record.
5. Handful of small-scale investments that won’t move needle
While a handful of small investments will provide students with some additional beneficial services, it’s critical to place this funding in the context of the greater need. There’s $17 million for 4th and 5th grade reading specialists, $7 million for math specialists, $15 million for school-based mental health integration programs, $9 million for expanded telehealth mental health services in schools and higher education institutions, and $1 million for the nonprofit Communities in Schools – all worthy investments addressing critical needs. But for years our education experts on the Virginia Board of Education have pointed to additional funding needs in Virginia schools to meet the constitutionally minimum standard for providing an adequate education to students and these amounts have been in the billions or high hundreds of millions of dollars. Despite a $1 billion investment by the state in K-12 infrastructures needs last year, this amount probably won’t even be enough to keep up with the growing $25 billion backlog. It would take an additional $327 million to get to the state share of the national teacher pay average next year and seriously address our staffing shortages. While Youngkin does have a handful of worthy small-scale investments to point to, this shouldn’t distract folks from his abdication of seriously addressing ANY of the large-scale K-12 state challenges in his budget.
6. Virginia to remain bottom tier for state K-12 spending in Youngkin budget
Decades of longitudinal research has come to the conclusive finding that money matters for educational outcomes. While it might be convenient to imagine silver bullet reform efforts that serve a small number of students is enough, Virginia remains bottom tier for state per student spending, hovering between low-resource states like Mississippi and Louisiana. Education Law Center just moved Virginia down to an F grade for funding effort this year in their annual “Making the Grade Report”. Moving out of the bottom tier to better serve all students will require focused and research-informed investments. This budget is a major missed opportunity by the Governor to make meaningful progress on addressing our education challenges. Lawmakers must come back and fix this budget and seriously address our school challenges.