Virginia's State Capitol. The General Assembly begins its new session January 8th, 2020.
Statewide groups in Virginia have launched a campaign to boost education spending by nearly $1 billion when the next General Assembly starts in January.
The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a Richmond-based think tank, and three groups representing educators and civil rights advocates announced the Fund Our Schools campaign Wednesday, which also calls on lawmakers to lift a funding cap for counselors, psychologists and other support workers that was imposed after the Great Recession of 2008. The coalition is part of a growing push by advocates and educators across Virginia to increase spending on public schools.
In Virginia, state funding per student has fallen 9% since the 2008-2009 school year, according to the Commonwealth Institute, one of the groups behind the campaign. School systems, in turn, have relied increasingly on local dollars to fund schools. Affluent communities can often afford to spend more, exacerbating inequities among schools, the groups say.
The state's economy has recovered in the last decade, but the cap was never lifted, according to the Commonwealth Institute. As a result, support staff positions in public schools fell by more than 2,300 since 2008-2009, while enrollment grew by more than 55,000 students.
"We've had an entire generation of students move through our public schools in Virginia living under these harsh cuts," said Rachael Deane, a legal director at the Legal Aid Justice Center, which fights to end poverty and is part of the coalition.
The Virginia Board of Education said in its annual report that schools are underfunded. A state audit found that Virginia ranked 42nd in the country in state spending per student. The National Education Association, the country's largest teacher's union, ranks the $51,994 average salary for Virginia teachers as 32nd in the country.
In October, the state education board recommended updates to public school standards that would require $950 million for programs and more school employees, including English teachers, counselors and reading specialists.
Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is expected to release his proposed state budget next week. He provided a glimpse into his priorities on Tuesday, unveiling a $95 million plan to boost spending on early childhood education for three-and four-year-old children from low-income families.