By Wayne “Dempsey” Worner
Worner is a retired Virginia Tech dean. He spent ten years in public school administration; twenty-five years as a university professor and dean and the last twenty years as a consultant to local school boards and other education agencies.
Second of a two-part series.
Virginia’s pre-k-12 funding challenges are threefold. The first is the labeling of mandated requirements as Standards of Quality. What we have in place are standards of mediocrity or worse. Second, is the problem of adequacy. The state simply does not put enough money into funding the intent of the constitutional mandate. Finally, there is the problem of equity. If, and when, the Board of Education establishes meaningful quality standards and the General Assembly agrees to fund them, those funds need to be distributed in a manner that does not result in such glaring disparities.
And finally, we need to stop playing games around the issues of funding. Some of the most recent illustrations are:
• We have just heard that the state is providing a nice salary increase for teachers — 5%. Not so. The state is providing only half of the 5% to fund SOQ positions around the state or 2.5%. But wait a minute! Not this year but fiscal year 2020. And those dollars are only for SOQ positions. Approximately 20% of the employees of local school divisions are not SOQ employees. The local government must come up with the money to pay the entire 5% for those “non-SOQ” employees and their benefits. So, the politicians take credit for a 5% increase and provide something less then one-third of the money school divisions must spend to meet that promise.
• Some twenty years ago (1996) the voters approved a constitutional amendment that the general assembly could not “raid” the teacher’s retirement fund. Fifteen years later, Gov. Bob McDonnell recommended, and the General Assembly concurred, that no additional funding would be provided to support K-12 operations during the upcoming biennium but, to ease the pain of increased costs, local school divisions were told they would not have to make contributions to the teacher’s retirement fund for several years. Predictably, within three or four years, the retirement fund was facing a shortage and school divisions had to begin making even larger contributions than previously. Was the fund raided or not?
Shame on the governor and the General Assembly for these actions.
And, it seems, our General Assembly presumes to know what and how school systems should be operated, funds spent, and priorities established. Occasionally “helping out” by proposing legislation that requires school divisions to spend or reallocate funds without providing any funding for their mandates.
This is the same General Assembly whose members are in near agreement that school buildings around the Commonwealth are “crumbling,” yet they demurred when asked to allow the citizens to decide whether bonds should be issued to help build or retrofit those buildings.
And this creative proposition to allow local school divisions to raise funds: Put advertising on the school buses. That would help supplement the PTA book and picture sales; the bake sales; the 50:50 ticket sales; and the door-to-door popcorn sales to support the girls’ soccer team in school divisions that lack the fiscal capacity to fund programs at a reasonable level. That idea failed but the General Assembly will allow local school divisions to install solar panels (that they cannot afford) to sell excess electricity to power companies.
Shame on the General Assembly for not doing better for ALL of the children in Virginia.
“Lipstick on the Pig?” A few weeks ago, former U.S. Rep. Eric Cantor, under the headline “Time to let families lead the way in education” in an op-ed piece, lends support to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVoss in her promotion of vouchers, charter schools, and tax incentives. All of which are helpful tools for those who would (and can afford to) move their children out of the public schools and into environments that he says will focus on students “rather than adults and bureaucrats.” Another effort to blame the public schools for contributing to societies problems and the teachers whose average salary in Virginia places them 33rd in nation — one step ahead of Alabama.
Shame on politicians and others who stand on the sideline and criticize the public schools and teachers working in outdated facilities with inadequate resources for not solving all of society’s problems
Over the years we have listened to our politicians describe themselves as public education supporters. So, what happened along the way? Maybe Gilda Radner was right when she said, “Oh, never mind!”
Shame on all of us for not expecting and demanding more of those in positions who might:
1. Better define and establish real quality indicators;
2. Allocate the necessary resources to meet the expectations of those who articulated the education component of the 1971 Virginia Constitution; and
3. Develop a system of funding that guarantees that all children in Virginia will have access to a system of high quality schools that does not depend on where they live.
In summary, we do not have a unified system of schools in Virginia.
Instead, we have 132 separate school systems.
And they are not equal!