Fairfax County Education Budget: The “$6 Million Cut” is False!

I’ve received several e-mails from my constituents this session saying that a quality Fairfax County public education was an important factor in their decision to move to Northern Virginia. I agree! And this is not just politician lip service. First, you may recall that I am a Fairfax County public school graduate (Rolling Valley Elem. – West Springfield High School). In addition to that, my son, Ben, will be starting kindergarten at Sangster Elementary next year. So obviously, I want to make sure Ben and your children have the #1 schools in the U.S.

Many of these e-mails have been quoting some statistics that somehow the state is cutting money from Fairfax County schools. I would appreciate you sharing the following with whoever gave you the information.

Here is the short and sweet fact: In the 2010-2011 Budget, Fairfax schools are actually receiving not just more money, but a lot more state money than they did in the 2008-2009 budget. And in the current version of the House of Delegates budget, while Fairfax is receiving about $2 million less in 2011 than it did in 2010, that is solely because Fairfax has had a drop in the number of students. Even with this $2 million drop in funding, we are actually spending more on each pupil.

You don’t have to rely on me. You can look all of this up on your own on the House of Delegates Appropriations Committee website, located at http://hac.virginia.gov/. Just download the Elementary & Secondary Education subcommittee report in PDF format, and read it for yourself. Or, if you don’t want to spend hours poring through them, here is a summary.

For the 2010-2011 budget, here’s what happened: Virginia was hurting financially. We were (and are) experiencing the worst recession since the Great Depression, and we had a massive shortfall in revenues. This caused unfortunate cuts in K-12 funding. In his proposed budget, former Governor Kaine made cuts. I am not faulting him. He had to do what he had to do. But these cuts hurt less affluent areas hard, because they have little ability to make up the difference locally. To help these areas, Governor Kaine messed around with the funding formula known as the “Local Composite Index” (LCI). This formula apportions how state money is allocated across the state. Every year this LCI formula is altered to reflect the economic conditions, student population, and local ability to pay. Usually, the LCI operates to send more money to Southern Virginia’s less affluent areas than it does to NOVA, which is more affluent. Every year since I have been in the General Assembly, we NOVA legislators have bitterly complained about this rip off. We Fairfax citizens pay 25% of all the states taxes, but get only 7.4% of the education funds. But a strange thing happened last year. Since Fairfax housing prices dropped so dramatically, the formula actually benefited us. While 95% of the other school districts lost money, Fairfax gained $61 million. So to help these Southern Virginia schools, Governor Kaine delayed/froze implementation of the new Local Composite Index or “LCI.”  And by delaying the implementation of the LCI in last year’s budget, Fairfax would not get any of the $61 million in additional state funds that the new LCI would direct to us. We NOVA legislators were livid!  For years, Northern Virginia has been cut and cut by the LCI. We pleaded for changes to the LCI but Southern Virginia consistently refused to change it. Now, when the LCI on its own finally sends more money to our area, the Governor decided not to use the LCI. I found this to be the apex of hypocrisy. Despite the fact that the vast majority of Delegates benefit from freezing the LCI, I, along with my NOVA colleagues, was able to convince the rest of the General Assembly that freezing the LCI is not fair and that adjusting it as we do every year is the right thing to do. So, while I am usually “bashing” Southern Virginia, I must compliment them for recognizing that it would be completely hypocritical not to use the current version of the LCI.

Because of my NOVA team’s work, even after all the cuts to education, our schools received an additional $36.1 million ($61 million in new LCI money less $24.9 million in cuts) in the current budget above what they did the previous year. This is especially impressive when you learn that 95% of all the other districts in Virginia suffered huge cuts. As you will recall, when Governor Kaine’s budget came out, the School Board was threatening all of the nightmare scenarios (e.g. cutting band, freshman sports, all day kindergarten, and foreign language immersion). None of these were implemented because Fairfax received so much money in comparison to the rest of the state.

For this year’s budget, as proposed by the House of Delegates, here’s the story: Last year, the General Assembly tentatively approved $470.8 million for 2011. This year, we did vote to lower the funding to $468.3 million, and that may be what some people are claiming as a “$6 million cut.” However, as you can see, that’s a $2.5 million difference, not $6 million. But even though our spending is decreasing, we’re actually receiving more in per-pupil funding. Our total spending is going down because the number of students in our schools is going down, but this year’s House budget is increasing spending on each student from $2,791 to $2,796. So contrary to the information you received, we are getting more money per pupil.

I hope this has addressed your concerns. Any state budget cuts you have been warned of are fictitious.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Dave Albo

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