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State Lawmakers Face Unique Challenge With Doling Out Education Funding Next Year


Lawmakers will return to Richmond next month – and writing a new budget will be a priority. But, they'll have to answer some questions about what kind of assumptions they want to make about schools.

Funding for Virginia schools is based on how many students are in each division. That creates a problem for schools across Virginia, which lost about 45,000 students after the pandemic hit.

J.T. Kessler with the Virginia School Boards Association says the latest enrollment data is not a good metric for calculating how much money schools need.

"We believe that once the pandemic is over, we will see the vast majority, if not all those children, come back to the public schools," Kessler says. "And it would be very hurtful to our public school divisions if they are penalized because of a pandemic and choices that parents and guardians have made to not send their students back to the public school at this time."

Chris Duncombe at the Commonwealth Institute says the old pre-pandemic enrollment data will be a more useful metric for lawmakers than the current enrollment data.

"2020 is an anomaly of a year, and these may be the enrollment numbers that schools are seeing for this one particular year," Duncombe explains. "But this is not the enrollment numbers they're going to be seeing on an ongoing basis. And so it's not a good data point. It's not something that should be used in calculating state aid."

Lawmakers have never done this before, and they'll be in uncharted waters as they navigate through how much revenue they'll be taking in and how much money they plan to spend in 2021.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.