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Ken Plum: Virginia in the nation

Virginia spends less on per-pupil funding K-12 than does the state of Mississippi, according to an editorial in the Roanoke Times last week. Not much less; but less along with twelve other states that spend less than Mississippi, the state that has always been thought to be the bottom rung on the ladder for school funding. Virginia’s state per pupil funding of $4,840 was significantly less than the national average of $6,139 and less than Maryland at $6,503 and West Virginia at $6,116. Our rank of 38th lowest is a drop from being the 33rd lowest in 2006-07.

Of course, public education is a partnership between the state and local governments in Virginia and in most states. The numbers above are only part of the story. To understand the full story, one needs also to consider local funding. Virginia’s budget is based on a split of the costs of schools with the state on the average paying 55 percent and the local government paying 45 percent. The actual monies a locality receives is based on its wealth as measured by a composite index. Wealthy communities must pay up to 80 percent of their education costs while the poorest localities may pay as little as 20 percent of educational costs. In practice, however, the state has seldom reached its average of 55 percent. In 2007-08, before the full impact of the recession, Virginia was providing only 41 percent of K-12 revenue; localities had to pick up 53 percent rather than 45 percent. The federal government provided 6 percent of revenue. Put all the sources of revenue together and Virginia’s $11,080 per pupil funding is slightly above the national average of $11,004.

As you have already figured out, if the state is not providing its required share the localities must make up the difference. That is why the Commonwealth ranks 12th in local per-pupil funding. Local school boards and local supervisors attempt to preserve their schools as much as they can, and when state revenue is not provided they have to provide more local money. The only source for major local revenue is the property tax. As property values have gone down tax rates have had to be adjusted upward to offset the loss of state revenue. While Richmond politicians brag about not raising taxes, they actually have in reality by forcing more and more school costs down to localities and onto the property tax payers’ backs. Local communities pick up the difference because of their commitment to quality schools.

If you want to check the source of any of these numbers, go to Go to the publication, “Virginia Compared to Other States, 2011.” I will address other comparisons in future columns.

Ken Plum is a member of the Virginia House of Delegates.

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