The Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) met on May 15 and approved a plan of work for 2023. Several study projects were directed by legislation or by previous Commission action; staff provided updates on the progress of studies currently underway, as well as a timeline for briefing members on study findings. The Auditor of Public Accounts (APA), Staci A. Henshaw, also presented a workplan for the year, as well as an update on work by her office to monitor localities for potential fiscal distress. Legislators were concerned about information in the APA’s presentation regarding delays in local submissions of financial information; Ms. Henshaw explained that workforce shortages in the accounting field, paired with increasingly complex reporting requirements, have presented challenges for many localities in submitting the reports on time, but also expressed concern that delays are more widespread and persistent this year than in the past. Language included in the Governor’s budget in December would require certain notifications to be made by the APA if a locality is 18 months late in submitting its financial reports and trigger the existing process for providing technical assistance to fiscally distressed localities if certain conditions are met.
Planned studies include several items of interest to local governments, notably several projects for which VACo has been interviewed by JLARC staff.
- K-12 Standards of Quality funding formula: This study was directed by legislation in 2021 which requires JLARC to determine the true cost of public education. As previously reported, JLARC staff’s update on this study found that for FY 2021, Virginia School Divisions received $20.1 billion in funding, the majority of which (52 percent) came from local governments, while the state contributed 39 percent and the federal government provided 9 percent. This echoes the Virginia Board of Education’s 2022 Annual Report on the Condition and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia, which found that despite significant progress by the legislature, state direct aid per-pupil has decreased 3.4 percent, adjusted for inflation, since 2008-2009. For FY 2021, local governments in Virginia invested $4.2 billion above the required local effort for SOQ programs. VACo staff interviewed with JLARC staff last year to provide a local government perspective on the issue. (Planned briefing: July 2023)
- Supply of qualified K-12 teachers: This study will examine the “teacher pipeline,” to include evaluating the effectiveness of Virginia’s traditional teacher preparation programs, as well as alternative programs and the teacher licensure process, and will identify opportunities for improvements. (Planned briefing: September 2023)
- Self-sufficiency and child care: Commission staff will review the extent to which three key programs providing financial assistance to low-income households (TANF, SNAP, and the child care subsidy program) support self-sufficiency, as well as how effectively the programs are designed and administered, and how well they are coordinated with workforce development programs. VACo supports efforts to increase at-risk children’s access to high-quality, enriching learning environments, including more resources and flexibility for localities participating in programs like the Virginia Preschool Initiative and Head Start. (Planned briefing: October 2023)
- Enhanced retirement benefits for public safety occupations: Several bills that would provide enhanced retirement benefits for certain state or local employees have been referred to JLARC, which last examined the issue in 2008. Staff will assess job-related risks and responsibilities and estimate costs for extending enhanced retirement benefits to certain categories of employees. VACo staff interviewed with JLARC staff earlier this year to provide a local government perspective on the issue. (Planned briefing: October 2023)
- Public defenders, court-appointed attorneys, and Commonwealth’s Attorneys: Several bills relating to indigent defense were referred to JLARC in 2022. Staff will evaluate the quality of indigent defense, analyze compensation for Commonwealth’s Attorneys, public defenders, and court-appointed attorneys, and consider whether defendants should be provided counsel at their first court appearance and whether a bail hearing should be held on the same day. (Planned briefing: November 2023)
- State psychiatric hospitals: This study will review staffing at state hospitals; assess whether individuals could be served in other settings; evaluate the care provided at the hospitals, to include whether effective treatment practices are used and whether hospitals conduct effective discharge planning; and assess the oversight provided by hospital leadership and the Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services. (Planned briefing: December 2023)
- GO Virginia: This study will review the program and determine whether it is effective in promoting regional collaboration in diversifying regional economies, as well as reviewing the program’s structure and administration and whether it duplicates other state economic development or workforce programs. (Planned briefing: December 2023)
JLARC staff will also provide periodic reports as part of its required ongoing oversight of economic development incentives, the Virginia Retirement System, the Virginia College Savings Plan, and the Virginia Information Technologies Agency. The full workplan for 2023 is available at this link.