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Is the Governor Gaslighting Virginia about K-12 Education funding?

Richmond General Assembly building at night

As the 2024 General Assembly draws to a close, the drama over the budget continues to ramp up. Much of the discussion about the budget revolves around the underfunding of Virginia’s public schools which can affect public schools across Virginia. Although, if you ask the Governor or his recently appointed Chair of the Board of Education, public schools in Virginia are “adequately funded.” What is the truth, and what is an attempt to gaslight Virginians? 

At the Statehouse logo

Final week of the 2024 General Assembly 

There is a flurry of activity at the statehouse as the House of Delegates and the State Senate work to finalize bills during this last official week of the 2024 Session. The status of active priority K-12 education bills can be found at this link. At this time of this writing, (Wednesday, March 6th), seven priority education bills passed both chambers and five bills are scheduled to go to conference to resolve differences between versions of the bills that the House and Senate passed. 

Saturday, March 9th, is the official last day of the 2024 session; however, getting the bills out of the General Assembly is just one step in the process. Each bill must still be considered by the Governor, and even if they pass, many bills will not be implemented unless they are funded through state appropriations via the budget. Many of these bills are not currently funded in the Governor’s budget, so keep a close eye on this.

This week the Joint Senate and House Budget Committee is combining the House and Senate Budget Bills (HB30 and SB30) into one bill containing proposed amendments to the Governor’s proposed budget bill. 4 Public Education urges the Budget Conferees to include the key investments that are needed to ensure every student in Virginia’s public schools receives a quality education. Public school advocates know that these investments are needed for a quality school system and that funding these investments will show that Virginia values our teachers, our staff, our students, and our public schools, and will help bridge the achievement gap between low income and more affluent communities in Virginia.

To fund or not to fund public education? 

The question remains whether Virginia will fund or underfund its public schools. The House and Senate both proposed in their budget bills that substantially more funds be allocated to Virginia’s public schools than did the Governor in his bill. This was because the House and Senate took to heart the recommendations made by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) on how to resolve the deficiencies in public school funding and the teacher pipeline. Unfortunately, the Governor appears to have dismissed the reports by this non-partisan and highly respected commission, and this difference has set the stage for a battle over the budget. Much depends on whether the budget conferees include the critical funding needs for K-12 education in their joint budget bill and whether the Governor accepts their amendments. It should be noted that many organizations in Virginians have already objected to the Governor’s proposed budget as being unacceptable

All indications are that the Governor will challenge critically needed K-12 education funding that was already identified and passed via bills in the General Assembly. In his March 1, 2024 letter to the budget conferees, Governor Youngkin challenged the JLARC recommendations for greater K-12 funding as being unnecessary, but as it turns out, his claims were based on a flawed analysis and erroneous assumptions. . 

His dismissal of the JLARC recommendations and claim that their analysis was faulty led to an immediate rebuttal by JLARC as well as criticism by the Virginia Education Association and other financial experts. Apparently, the Governor’s analysis contains “inaccuracies and mischaracterizations”* that led to the his flawed claims. This is unsurprising, since Virginians are well aware that the Governor’s Department of Education has trouble with numbers–remember when they lost over $200 million in public school funding

Sadly, this appears to be another attempt by the Governor to gaslight Virginians with misinformation.

From his March 1, 2024 letter, it is apparent that Governor Youngkins does not understand how to properly analyze the data he used to make his claims. For example, he claimed that the increase in state funding in 2020 more than made up for the 14% underfunding by the state, but this is incorrect for a number of reasons. 

It was not state funding but instead the overall (federal, state and local) funding that underfunded schools by 14% compared with the average budgets for public schools in the United States. The Governor should have used 56% as the amount Virginia underfunded their school systems relative to the national average, not 14%.* In Virginia, localities use property and other local taxes to try to make up for the state funding shortfall, but less affluent communities have a difficult time doing this and as a result are severely underfunded. 

Figure 1-2 from JLARC report: School divisions received $20.1 billion in state, local, and federal funds (FY21)

If the Governor used the correct state funding and inflation data to compare Virginia with the average state funding levels, Virginia’s underfunding would still be 17 to 22% (including federal and local contributions) compared to the national average in 2023. This contrasts with his claim that Virginia closed the shortfall “with room to spare”.*

Another erroneous claim made by the Governor is that Virginia’s average teacher pay outpaces the national average. His use of mixed data sources with known differences between them, lead to this erroneous conclusion. If he used the correct data and based the calculations on his Department of Education’s estimates and budgeted teacher salary increases, average teacher pay in 2024 would still be several thousand dollars below the national average for teacher pay.* This contrasts with the Governor’s claim that Virginia has closed the gap in teacher pay relative to the national average, again an attempt to convince legislators and Virginians that there is not a need for additional K-12 funding. 

Our Governor asserted that, “We have no greater shared priority in the Commonwealth than fulfilling our Constitutional and moral obligation to provide a quality education for our students” yet he used a flawed analysis to dismiss recommendations by a respected commission that was directed by the legislature to review and audit public school funding and the teacher pipeline. 4 Public Education urges the Joint House and Senate budget conferees to refer to the accurate analyses that are available from JLARC and The Commonwealth Institute.* 

The watchdogs are watching the governor and Virginians should, too.

* These statements are based on an unpublished analysis provided by Laura Goren at The Commonwealth Institute.


Norm Hall
Norm Hall

Thanks for focusing on this most essential issue!

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