VEA Statement and Recommendations on State Senate and House Budget Proposals for FY23 and FY24
February 23, 2022
February 23, 2022
The House and Senate appropriation committees released their proposed budgets on February 20. Each body made some new investments in public education and the House, overall, made large cuts to Virginia’s schools. Like Governor Northam’s proposed budget, both new budgets fall short in funding the Virginia Board of Education-prescribed Standards of Quality (SOQs) – the minimum recommended standards by our state’s education experts. Based on topline numbers released Sunday, the Senate budget invests hundreds of millions of additional dollars in K-12 schools, while the House budget cuts $638 million in state direct aid. The average per pupil state direct aid reduction in the House budget was $525 but was more than three times larger in the 20% of school divisions with the highest share of student poverty ($1,023), than in divisions with the lowest share ($325). Additionally, the cuts in state direct aid in the House budget hit rural school divisions particularly hard, averaging $836 per student versus only $442 for non-rural school divisions. Below is a high-level overview of the major new investments included in each budget, including reaction quotes from leaders in the VEA.
James Fedderman, President of the Virginia Education Association, said of the budgets: “There are elements of both budgets that recognize the challenges our schools currently face. Yet, it’s clear the Senate budget goes much further and prioritizes K-12 investments most likely to improve student outcomes. The disproportionate cuts in the House budget to rural and high poverty school divisions would hit hardest the students that need the most support to overcome barriers to learning.”
Vital Support Positions in Both Budget Proposals
The Senate added $272 million in state direct aid to fund a number of critical school support positions. This investment is a step toward partially lifting the state “support cap” that was put in place in the wake of the Great Recession more than a decade ago. Accumulated trauma and mental health issues for students have been magnified as a result of the pandemic. Many of the positions funded in the Senate budget, which the state has been underfunding for more than a decade now, are critical to addressing those challenges, providing wraparound support in school settings, and ensuring students can focus on learning. With the inadequate staffing of these positions, other school staff, including teachers, have been on the front lines of giving up their bathroom and lunch breaks to meet student needs outside the classroom. This investment will bring substantial relief to the overstrained staff in school buildings and will have the added benefit of freeing up local school funding that is already being used to support some of these positions. That freed up funding could go towards meeting the state salary match.
The House budget does not include major additional funding for support positions but does include over a $100 million in funding to support additional principal and vice principal positions at schools (a SOQ revision recommendation from the Virginia Board of Education). Schools function best when they have a full-time school principal, and the VEA has endorsed this investment for years as a component of the SOQ revisions.
Senate Goes Further in Teacher and Staff Pay
The House proposed converting former Governor Northam’s proposed 5% salary increase for state supported teachers and school staff in each year of the biennium to a 4% increase with 1% bonus in each year. In this case, 4% plus 1% does not equal 5%. Because of the compounding nature of salary increases, this change does less to improve salaries in the long run and represents nearly a 20% reduction in proposed state support for teacher and staff salaries. Virginia has the least competitive teacher salaries in the country and must make meaningful increases if we aim to retain workers during a staffing crisis that experts expect to get worse. In addition, the House’s proposal would be less favorable to employees’ eventual retirement benefits because it would result in lower salaries over the biennium and the two bonus payments would not be reported to VRS as creditable compensation.
The Senate budget maintains the 10.25% permanent salary increase, and goes further, using federal relief funding to offer teachers and staff a $1,000 bonus this school year and a $2,500-$5,000 signing bonus for schools to use for hard-to-fill positions next year. The Senate investment is a step in the right direction and recognizes the substantial amount of work and additional stress teachers and staff have contended with over the past year to meet student needs.
Shane Riddle, VEA’s Director of Government Relations, said, “With a school staffing crisis slated to get worse over the coming years because of a shrinking teacher pipeline, it’s more important than ever to provide meaningful pay increases and incentives to retain and attract essential school-based roles.”
Senate Making Progress to Fund the Revised SOQs, House Slides Backwards
In addition to partially lifting the support cap (mentioned above), the Senate budget also includes new expenditures to meet select recommendations put forth by the Virginia Board of Education to revise the state’s Standards of Quality (SOQs) – the minimum educational standards in Virginia. The Senate budget maintains $269 million in supplemental funding for high-poverty school divisions (At-Risk Add-On), and over $20 million for improving English Learner teacher ratios as proposed in the initial budget.
The House budget made some progress by investing in new principal and vice principal positions but reduced other investments by hundreds of millions of dollars. The House budget eliminates the proposed new funding for English Learner teachers and slashed $210 million in At-Risk Add-On support for our highest poverty divisions. English Learner students in Virginia faced the most barriers to learning during the pandemic and lost the most academic ground in all subject areas. Similarly, students from low-income families faced challenges during remote learning with accessing the internet and books, and were less likely to have parents available to help them. These challenges all contributed to disproportionate lost learning time and achievement on our state tests.
Addressing Our School Infrastructure Backlog
With the zeroing out of most state support for school infrastructure over the past decade, Virginia school divisions have an increasingly large backlog of needed upgrades, according to our state agencies – around $25 billion at this point – and are in desperate need of new funding sources to modernize. That is why the $500 million in one-time school construction grants and $166 million in freed-up Literary Fund loan funding in the initial proposed budget represent such a welcome step by education advocates across the state. The Senate maintained the significant funding originally proposed in the governor’s budget for school infrastructure.
The House budget reduces the overall school infrastructure support from the initial budget. The House makes several changes to how the school infrastructure support can be used, including by reducing the school construction grants by $210 million and relying more on the use of the Literary Fund ($250 million) while reducing general fund support for teacher retirement costs. The House budget also uses lottery proceeds ($59 million) to increase operations and infrastructure per pupil payments.
Senate and House Budgets Far Apart on K-12 Support
Overall, the House budget reduces K-12 direct aid by $638 million while the Senate budget increases it by $278 million from the initially proposed budget by Governor Northam. The Senate budget also includes an additional $137 million during the current school year for K-12 staff bonuses to retain employees.
The difference between the two proposals is stark, and essentially boils down to available revenues given the chambers’ diverging tax policies. The House is proposing to provide new tax cuts to corporations and moderate-to-high income earners. In the near term, these actions are projected to slash state revenue by billions of dollars. The Senate, recognizing that recent revenue growth is not expected to continue beyond the coming biennium, has taken a more balanced approach to tax relief, including providing the most significant tax relief to our lowest income families via the state refundable Earned Income Tax Credit, while subsidizing higher income earners via sales and corporate tax reductions. The Senate is proposing to use a greater share of available surplus funds to make long-promised investments in Virginia’s schools, teachers, roads, infrastructure, environment, and other priorities. Alternatively, the House is proposing many permanent tax policies based on a temporary surplus, which will lead to reduced revenue in the future for funding our long-standing K-12 priorities.
The Virginia Education Association urges the House and Senate to take the best K-12 investments from both budget proposals.
The House and Senate’s proposed investments in support positions, teacher salaries, funding parts of the SOQs, and modernizing school infrastructure represent important steps to provide more adequate education funding as schools struggle to address so many new challenges to meet student needs. Over the coming weeks, the Senate and House will select conferees from each chamber to work with each other and produce a joint Conference Budget to vote on in the General Assembly and send to the governor for consideration. VEA calls on lawmakers to: protect the teacher and staff funding at the more adequate 10.25% level; provide immediate bonuses to retain critical school staff while offering incentive bonuses for hard-to-fill positions (as proposed by the Senate); include the addition of support staff as proposed by the Senate and new principal and vice principal positions as proposed by the House; maintain funding for students that need the most support via the At-Risk Add-On and improved English Learner teacher ratios (proposed by the Senate); and maintain the larger amount to address school infrastructure as put forth by the Senate without decreasing state support for teacher retirement as the House proposed.