“Mr. Speaker, Ladies and Gentlemen of the House:
I rise this morning to again draw attention to what should be one of the number one priorities in this year’s budget – education. Education is important not just to provide our children the skills they will need to compete in a complex economy, but for continued business growth and retention in our Commonwealth.
Like many of you, I read the newspapers every morning. And, like many of you, I have noticed increased concerns about the impact of the Governor’s proposed budget on education.
Here’s what people are saying:
In my own district, Albemarle County School’s projected shortfall is $2.4 million. In my own home city, Charlottesville’s school board is considering closing a school because of lack of funds. In neighboring Augusta County, they are projecting a $4.5 million deficit. Throughout the state, the headlines are alarming:
- [Loudoun] School Board Cuts Proposed Budget by $11 million, Leesburg Today, February 8, 2012
- Virginia Beach Reports $39 million Shortfall, Virginian Pilot, February 9, 2012, Va. Beach Schools Chair Asks Legislators for Help
- Danville Reports a $5.2 million Shortfall, Danville Register & Bee, February 5, 2012
- Richmond Times-Dispatch projects Richmond’s deficit at $23.8 million, Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 6, 2012, Public Stays Quiet on Richmond Schools Budget
- Montgomery County Eyes Hefty Real Estate Tax Jump to Pay for Schools, Roanoke Times, February 7, 2012
- Henrico Schools Contend with a $26.3 million Shortfall, Richmond Times-Dispatch, February 10, 2012
It is clear that without our help, localities will have to enact cuts, increase tax, or both.
Therefore, I want to follow up on the kind offer of the Majority Leader[Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights] to continue our dialogue on the budget in an open and transparent fashion.
On this side of the aisle, we have been very clear in stating that the Governor’s budget for education is simply inadequate.
We have also been very clear in stating what many of us in this Chamber know – that investment in education is a key element of future job and business growth. Education is key to providing our youngsters with the necessary skills to compete in an increasingly complex global economy.
We are approaching decision time and it is our last chance to make an impact on an inadequate Governor’s budget.
What do we want, what do we care about? Let me tell you about several from this side.
- First, we want to restore funding that the Governor eliminated for teachers and school personnel in areas which have high costs of living – the so-called “cost to compete”. Restoring this funding is critical to recruiting and retaining quality teachers in the classroom.
- Second, we support a budget that increases monies going into classrooms throughout the state, particularly for teachers’ salaries. The magic happens in the classrooms, and our salaries continue to lag. Virginia ranks 35th in the nation for teacher’s salaries.
- Third, we should provide more monies to localities to cushion the proposed changes in the VRS contributions. It is on this item where localities are being whip-sawed the most. It may appear as if our schools are receiving significant increases in state monies, but when you take into account what they have to return for their VRS contribution, the school divisions are hurting. Localities are facing a triple whammy in the form of declining real estate values, higher fixed costs, and less assistance from the state. That explains the headlines above.
- Finally, we propose that Pre-K be funded at the levels suggested by the Board of Education. While the Governor has not technically cut Pre-K spending, he has not followed the recommendations of his own Board of Education. The result is that children that could utilize this critical resource will go unserved. Business groups and studies from the Federal Reserve Bank document the effectiveness of good Pre-K programs, and we need to have the dollars available for those who need them.
I realize some people will ask – how will you pay for these? These same people will suggest that all we want to do is raise taxes. But we offer real solutions for how we can accomplish these goals without implementing any tax increases.
- First, we propose eliminating the Governor’s proposed transfer of money from the General Fund to transportation. This would free up $100 million over the biennium that could be used to fund these school initiatives.
- Second, we propose transferring the monies that the Governor has set aside for the Federal Action Contingency Fund back to the General Fund. We’ve not heard a substantive rationale for why the Governor should have yet another discretionary fund, and it frees up another $50 million for education funding.
- Third, impose limited caps on some of the tax credits, and do not approve or extend any more tax credits until further study has been done to determine which ones work and which ones do not. We have already been told that Virginia provides tax credits that involve millions of dollars per year. It is time to impose more discipline on our budgetary process and fund programs that are proven to work for the Commonwealth.
- Fourth, let us take a close look at our funding of the Rainy Day Fund. The Governor’s proposed transfer moves an additional $76 million above the statutory requirement of $223 million. While this is only a one-time infusion, this money could help in the short-term.
These are several ideas that are not tax increases which would provide more funding for education. The Governor has proposed his budget, which reflects his priorities. Now, it is about our priorities. We believe the budget has short-changed education and our children, and we would like to restore that priority. A priority we believe will spur with job creation and economic opportunity.
The citizens of the Commonwealth want us to work together to produce a budget that works for Virginia. We remain willing to do that, so long as we focus on the priorities that are important; and number one on this list is education.”