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The prevailing political philosophy in Richmond starves public schools of sufficient funding. Voters must object.
Sunday, June 9, 2013
Roanoke City Public Schools will spend a million dollars this summer on RCPS+, a new program designed not to offer remedial help to struggling students but instead enrichment for all elementary and middle school students wanting to excel. Superintendent Rita Bishop will tell you it is worth every dollar and more, if the 2,850 children enrolled show up for the first day this fall ready to learn, rather than relearn.
Given the success of nearly every enrichment and remedial program Bishop has shepherded, there are no doubters on the school board or even city council. But there is deep concern: If this program is successful, it will need sustainable funding. And for a school system quickly spending down a reserve fund built mostly through city taxpayers’ willingness to Eat for Education (the two-year, 2-cent, now-expired meals tax), can it afford the “plus”?
Many area school systems would envy the question. They don’t have reserve funds, and there isn’t room for any pluses, only minuses.
As the difficult school board budget-making season comes to a close, it’s instructive to remember the underlying lesson: The commonwealth is required to be a full and equal partner in funding public education, but doesn’t come close to holding up its end. Virginia was slipping on its responsibility before the recession hit. The governor and lawmakers then used the cover of the economic downturn to shirk their responsibility even further.
As Roanoke’s school board chairman reminds in an essay on Page 4, “city schools are currently funded almost $6 million below the 2006-07 level.” A crime visited upon every Virginia school system.
Recall that in January 2011, Gov. Bob McDonnell opened the legislative session by strongly urging lawmakers to focus on core services of state government. He spared not one of his 5,342 words to identify public school education as a core service. His belated efforts this year to address shortcomings were sparse, and included such inane measures as assigning letter grades to schools and proposing a statewide school division to take command of some schools and turn them over to charter school operators.
Until now, the public hasn’t held the power to reject a philosophy that abandons funding for the essential services necessary to keep public schools running, claiming dollars should go only to classroom teachers. Support staff, bus drivers and cafeteria workers, maintenance and capital projects require funding, too. As the cost of running schools depends increasingly on local dollars, fewer resources are left to educate students. Government wouldn’t fight fires by insisting that since firefighters put out blazes, we’ll pay their salaries but won’t fund trucks, hoses and fire stations. It wouldn’t take long before houses burned to the ground.
There are those making decisions in Richmond who wouldn’t mind seeing public schools meet that fate. It’s not too late to stop them.
The gubernatorial election and many contested House of Delegates seats offer the best chance. Voters must seek clarity from candidates as to whether they believe, as they should, that public school education is a fundamental core responsibility of the state. If so, what are they prepared to do to restore funding?
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