On July 24 and 25, the Virginia Board of Education (VBOE) met to continue its discussion of priorities and goals for revisions to the Standards of Quality (SOQs), which set minimum requirements that must be met by all local school divisions for K-12 education in Virginia. The latest set of Department of Education (VDOE) staff proposals under consideration contain previous recommendations from 2016, revised proposals from earlier this year, as well as four new proposals. If all proposals under consideration were to be adopted and enacted, the estimated fiscal impact to the state budget would exceed $1 billion. Importantly, this figure does not include any accompanying local efforts that would be required to match state funds.
As previously reported, VBOE reviews the SOQs every two years and typically submits its recommendations for consideration by the General Assembly in September or October as mandated by Article VIII, Section 2 of the Constitution of Virginia. The SOQs have wide ranging fiscal impacts to localities, as they determine a variety of factors including school staffing ratios, distribution of state aid, and other requirements for public education. VACo staff and/or members of the VACo Education Steering Committee participated in all four regional meetings held by the Board in May, as well as submitting formal comments on the process in June. Throughout this process, VACo has stressed the importance of maintaining and creating local flexibility as well as restoration of state funding to pre-Recession era levels of support.
The most recent proposals previewed at last week’s meeting contain new mandatory standards for reading specialist ratios in grades K-5 based on the number of students failing third-grade Standards of Learning reading assessments, new state and superintendent region level work-based learning coordinators to advance work-based learning opportunities in all school divisions, moving the K-3 Class Size Reduction program into the SOQs and expanding the program to include grades 4-6, and a new statewide principal mentorship program to support the development of school leaders with a focus on teacher retention and student achievement strategies.
Funding of SOQ requirements is met by a combination of state and local resources. Local ability to pay for standards with required local effort (RLE) is determined by the composite index formula, which is updated every two years to account for the latest available state and local values in real property, adjusted gross income, retail sales, average daily membership of students, and total population.
Even though the SOQs set the minimum standards for K-12 education in Virginia, they do not reflect the actual prevailing costs of maintaining a high standard K-12 education system. No locality in Virginia funds its share of K-12 responsibilities at the minimum standards as prescribed by the state. In FY 2018, 92% of school divisions exceeded RLE by more than 25%. A quarter of all school divisions exceeded the RLE by 75% to 100%. On average this equates to $4 billion spent by localities beyond state requirements, making Virginia localities one of the top ten supporters of K-12 education by proportion of local funding in the nation according to the latest census data.
In good news, VBOE has consistently considered its 2016 recommendation to eliminate the “support position cap.” The cap is budget language first implemented by the General Assembly in 2010 that established an artificial ratio on the number of support staff positions to instructional staff positions that receive state funding support. These positions provide vital assistance for successful student achievement and include but are not limited to teachers’ aides, administrative support positions, and operations and maintenance staff. Only 68% of K-12 positions employed by local school divisions are recognized by the SOQ. VBOE is also considering enhancing VDOE data collections regarding school staffing to provide better information regarding local practices.
Elimination of the cap and state support for existing local practices have been consistent priorities for VACo and numerous education associations throughout Virginia since the implementation of the cap and other funding changes during the recession as budget saving measures. The Commonwealth Institute recently published a study detailing the impacts of this budget policy decision on every local school division in Virginia. In the first year the cap was implemented, nearly 13,000 support positions lost state funding, causing either the elimination of these positions or full funding by localities. Since that time, there are 2,801 fewer support staff positions even as statewide student enrollment has risen by more than 55,000 students.
All the new proposals under consideration by VBOE in their current form would involve a combination of state funding and RLE. Some localities may already have committed to funding some of the proposed requirements, and as such, would be eligible to receive new additional state funding support should they be enacted. However, this may not be the case for all of the proposals and for all localities. Additionally, any new standards approved by the Board would need to be funded by the General Assembly.
In recent years there has been resistance from the General Assembly to fully funding VBOE recommendations. At the VBOE meetings last week, Board members discussed the option of issuing SOQs as prescriptions, not recommendations. This would potentially force the General Assembly to either adopt them as prescribed or to make alterations in the biennial budget. VBOE next meets on September 19, 2019, and will likely entertain proposals for final review. VACo will continue to track and engage on this issue.
In other VBOE related news, VBOE adopted final regulations governing the use of physical seclusion and restraint. As previously reported, this is a highly emotional issue with the potential for some local fiscal impact. VBOE also reselected Dan Gecker as Board Chairman who was reappointed to the VBOE by Governor Northam and welcomed the administration appointee Pamela Davis-Vaught, principal at Highland View Elementary in Bristol, as the newest VBOE member.
VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett