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Ken Plum: Schools feeling impact of cutbacks

I learned recently that the Page County School Board has decided to close GroveHillElementary School that I attended for my first seven years of schooling. The locality has lost too much in state education funding and local tax revenues to be able to keep the 100-year-old community school open. The longer bus rides to other schools that the 150 students will have to take to attend larger classes are but a few examples of how the recession and the reductions in state school funding are impacting on schools. In my district, schools are increasing class size, reducing programs, and adding fees to make up for some of the lost revenue.

A paper, “The Evolution of Virginia Public School Finance: From the Beginnings to Today’s Difficulties” by Professor Richard G. Salmon of Virginia Tech who is the acknowledged expert on public school finances in the state, quantifies the fiscal challenges being felt by the public schools. According to his report that is in the June, 2010, The Virginian News Letter of the WeldonCooperCenter for Public Service at the University of Virginia (, Virginia “ranks among the lowest in the nation for fiscal effort for education based on personal income.” The National Education Association estimates that for the 2009-2010 school year Virginia will rank 47th lowest in public school funding as a percent of personal income.

As is true for all states, Virginia’s education funding would be even bleaker if it had not been for the infusion of federal stimulus dollars. Federal aid per pupil in Virginia for the past several years has hovered around $700; this year with the stimulus money it jumped to over $1,200. Next year it is likely to revert back.

Professor Salmon has a reputation for being direct in his findings and conclusions on public school funding. He does not disappoint in this report. “Both the executive and the legislature,” he wrote, “have relied exclusively on cost containment and have implemented massive budget reductions for virtually all state agencies in order to balance the budget. The reductions have fallen particularly hard on public education…Both [the executive and the legislature] have attempted to convince the public that their constitutional obligation to provide and maintain a high quality system of public schools has been fulfilled by engaging in a series of charades.” The charades he refers to are the use of the federal stimulus dollars, reduction in personnel requirements, and a raid on the state Literacy Fund.

As the public becomes more aware of the impact that current budgeting practices are having on educational programs for their children, grandchildren, and children in the community, will the public demand that their legislators develop the backbone and will to deal more realistically with the budget? I voted against the current budget as being inadequate. Next year the impact on schools will be even greater.

Column by State Del. Ken Plum. Online at

Keywords: education virginia, education funding virginia