VEA Statement on Governor Youngkin’s Proposed Budget
January 5, 2023
January 5, 2023
The following statement is in response to a press conference Gov. Youngkin had today to discuss his budget proposals and can be attributed to Dr. James J. Fedderman, President of the Virginia Education Association:
Governor Youngkin gave a press conference on his plan for a $1 billion tax giveaway to profitable corporations and an income tax change that mostly benefits high-income individuals this afternoon. While he had every opportunity to seriously invest in public education by addressing staffing shortages, helping students and parents who are still dealing with the effects of the pandemic, and rewarding school staff who are doing their level best under considerable adversity, the governor chose to reward corporations and individuals already doing well in Virginia.
He campaigned promising the biggest education spending package ever, but the Youngkin budget fails to prioritize schools, spending extraordinarily little of our available resources on K-12 students and educators. The governor’s budget includes $422 million in new education spending, which comes mostly from automatic updates due to changes in enrollment and sales tax. This might sound like a lot to some, but the total available resources over the budget cycle exceed $4 billion, and his education investment only represents 10 percent, compared to the typical third of our budget that goes to education. Had the governor spent a third for schools, the expenditure based on available resources would have been more than three times higher, closer to $1.3 billion.
Virginia remains in the bottom tier in our nation for state per student spending, hovering between low-resource states like Mississippi and Louisiana. Moving out of that tier to better serve all students will require focused and research-informed investments, not wasteful tax giveaways. This budget is a major missed opportunity to make meaningful progress on addressing our education challenges. Lawmakers must come back and fix this budget, choosing kids and our shared future over short-term tax gimmicks.
Youngkin’s education investment represents only 10 percent of the available resources over the two-year budget cycle. If he’d invested the typical third of our budget in schools, his expenditure for education would have been more than three times the amount invested, closer to $1.3 billion.
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. Instead of backing our students and educators, he chose to reward corporations and individuals already doing well in Virginia.
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 one-time 1 percent bonus for certain school staff this August and a divisive $50 million for competitive 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. A reasonable starting place would be a 6 percent raise this year for state supported K-12 employees, which would cost just $327 million—a fraction of Youngkin’s tax cuts. This would help get Virginia to the national teacher pay average, a low bar for a relatively rich and high-cost state like ours.
The budget wastes an additional $50 million on laboratory schools, 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 that indicates students might do well in these experimental 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 vice principals, nurses, and behavioral health specialists, in teacher mentorships, and in high-poverty schools (all evidence-based investments with strong track records). Lab schools have no such track record.
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. 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.
Decades of longitudinal research has come to the conclusive finding that money matters for educational outcomes. Virginia remains bottom tier for state per student spending, hovering between low-resource states like Mississippi and Louisiana, and the Education Law Center just gave Virginia an F 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.