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SOQ Support Position Bill Survives

As previously reported, legislation seeking to enact prescriptions from the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) has been reduced in scope to focus on creating staffing ratios in the Standards of Quality (SOQs) for certain K-12 support positions. SB 1257 (McClellan) would require local school divisions to employ or contract to provide at least three specialized support positions per 1,000 students. These positions could include school social workers, school psychologists, school nurses, licensed behavioral analysts, or other licensed health and behavioral positions. Local school divisions would have flexibility to determine which three positions to staff based on their needs. According to testimony provided by House Appropriations staff, the majority of school divisions are already meeting this proposed threshold, though approximately 40 would need to hire additional staff.

Funding for K-12 education in Virginia is a shared effort between the state and local governments, with local governments providing several billion dollars above the required local effort. Given the changes to state funding of K-12 education brought on by the Great Recession, the state artificially capped funding for support positions using an arbitrary ratio that often does not reflect local prevailing practice. In the decade since its imposition, removing this “support cap” has been a long-held goal for education and local government advocates. In previous General Assembly sessions, VACo unsuccessfully introduced budget language to fully restore this funding.

Given the bill’s original fiscal impact to the state of $462.3 million, SB 1257 was reduced in scale by the Senate but funded in the Senate’s proposed budget. In its amended form, SB 1257 does not remove the support cap, however it would provide approximately $49.2 million in FY 2022 for the state share of funding for the three specialized positions. For school divisions already meeting this threshold, this would represent additional state funding for positions that are currently funded by local governments. School divisions not meeting this threshold would be provided the state share of the cost for these positions as determined by their local composite index (LCI), but also would be required to fund the local share of the cost. Testimony from the patron focused on the need for these positions, especially as the fiscal, emotional, and health impacts of the pandemic continue to be felt by Virginia’s students.

SB 1257 was reported by the House Appropriations Committee, 13-7, on February 17.

VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett

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