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Are Funding Cuts Eroding Virginia Public Education Excellence?


Monday, January 12, 2015   

RICHMOND, Va. – As Virginia lawmakers get ready to consider funding for public education, teachers and other observers are warning that past budget cuts are already eroding nationally-recognized excellence.

The Virginia General Assembly has cut public school funding by nearly one-sixth in the last six years.

Meg Gruber is a longtime public school science teacher, now serving as president of the Virginia Education Association. She says that 17 percent cut in funding has cost the state thousands of teachers and support personnel, which she says has meant larger class sizes and is threatening education quality.

"Just try to imagine if you were a kindergarten teacher and you have 26 5-year-olds in a classroom, but you no longer have a teaching assistant," she says.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has promised to protect state funding for schools during the legislative session. But Republican leaders in the General Assembly have not ruled out more cuts to deal with the big state budget gap.

Michael Cassidy, president of The Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, says the state's complex public school funding formula is tied to real estate prices.

When the housing bubble burst, real estate prices fell the most in the rich counties. Cassidy says that meant the funding cuts ended up falling three times as hard on the poorest districts.

"The problem is, state lawmakers didn't do anything to offset this kind of upside down way that the education cuts played out," he states.

Cassidy maintains the results could mean long-lasting damage to the lives of students in poor, largely rural counties. And he says it also could hurt Virginia's efforts to build a future workforce.

Gruber says the state has been justifiably proud when it's seen as a national leader in public education. But today, she says 5,000 fewer teaching and other school positions – at a time when public schools have added 30,000 students – have started to jeopardize education quality.

"According to Education Week, overall, we were fourth in the nation, and now they've dropped us to fifth in the nation,” she says. “But you're beginning to see the impact of larger class sizes."

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