by Keith Perrigan, Superintendent of Schools, Bristol City and Leader of Steering Committee of the Small and Rural Schools Coalition
money had been used to fund Dels. Israel O’Quinn and Lashrecse Aird’s At-Risk Add On Budget Amendment.
There is a discrepancy in how state money has been allocated to rural school divisions since the recession of 2009. Rural school divisions have seen a decrease of 11 percent in per pupil state funding while urban divisions have experienced a 5 percent increase. Rural localities already are struggling to provide the essential services necessary to efficiently govern a community.
Small and rural localities have limited opportunities to raise local taxes because so many residents live in poverty. (More than 30 percent of families earn less than $30,000 annually in our rural communities.) As a result, localities can’t make up the difference in the per pupil decline in state appropriations. When you add declining enrollments to the equation, rural schools are in dire straits.
Virginia has the financial capacity to do better. Our Commonwealth has one of the strongest state economies in the country. However, Virginia earns a grade of F from the Education Law Center’s recent National Report Card, released earlier this week, for the amount and way PK-12 education is funded. We spend less for our students in high poverty communities than in more affluent areas. The national average for additional per pupil funding for at-risk students is 29 percent. Virginia only provides up to 13 percent and the Senate’s and governor’s budgets only raise that to 14 percent in the second year of the biennium. The House budget leaves the highest top At Risk Add On at 13 percent. At-risk funding is one reason why Virginia received such a low grade for funding public educations. We are ranked 44th nationally in that category.
Another reason for our low grade is teacher wage competitiveness, where Virginia ranks 49th (http://www.schoolfundingfairness.org/). This makes the omission of teacher pay raises in the Senate budget even more offensive to educators across the Commonwealth.
At some point, Virginia’s elected officials should follow the innovative leadership that is being provided by delegates such as Israel O’Quinn, Lashrecse Aird, Sam Rasoul, and others who supported the At-Risk Add On Budget Amendment (Terry Kilgore, Todd Pillion, Jeff Campbell, Will Morefield, Nick Rush, Cia Price). We can’t continue to overlook Virginia’s most vulnerable students and divisions by continuing to fund public education the way we always have.
The Local Composite Index provides a starting point for determining how state funds should be distributed, but it does not take into account the additional money it takes to provide an equitable education in communities where large numbers of students live in poverty.
Increasing the At-Risk Add On to 18 percent is a common-sense way to provide equity to all students and school divisions. And, it is the right thing to do.
This article appeared as an Opinion piece in the Roanoke Times.