Jul 11, 2023 - Education

Report: Virginia spends less on public schools than most other states

School bus with money

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Virginia is cheaping out on public school funding compared to most other states, according to a major new report.

What's happening: Virginia allocates about $1,900 less per student than the national average, even after accounting for regional differences in labor costs.

  • That's the top line of a 160-page study state lawmakers requested from the General Assembly's Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission.

Why it matters: The commission has a reputation at the Capitol for rigorous, nonpartisan research, and its findings are likely to supercharge debate over school funding reforms in the General Assembly.

Data: JLARC analysis of NCES data; Chart: Axios Visuals
Data: JLARC analysis of NCES data; Chart: Axios Visuals

Zoom in: The report pans the state's current system for determining school funding, an opaque and complex formula known as the Standards of Quality (SOQ).

  • At its most basic level, researchers found the formula fails to accurately estimate the total spending necessary to provide a quality education, noting that in fiscal year 2021 it estimated districts would only need state and local funding totaling $10.7 billion when in reality divisions spent $17.3 billion.
  • “It’s a misnomer to call it the SOQ; it’s not quality at all," the report quotes one unnamed school administrator telling researchers.

Among many problems, the researchers noted the formula underestimates the total staffing schools need to operate, in part because cuts made to the formula during the Great Recession were never restored.

  • Of special interest to Richmond and other high-poverty school districts, researchers fault the formula for failing to adequately account for the higher cost of educating at-risk students.

What they're saying: Gov. Youngkin called the report a "wake-up call."

  • In a series of tweets, he blamed his Democratic predecessors for not pursuing reforms and noted he backed a nearly $428 million increase in school funding earlier this year.

What's next: The researchers recommended an array of reforms to the state's funding formula, which would increase school funding $1 billion in the short term and another $2.5 billion in the coming decade.

  • It will be up to lawmakers during next year's legislative session to decide whether and how to act.

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