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School divisions get uneven support from the state

As students across Virginia head back to school, those schools are not receiving the same amount of financial support from the state.

The way Virginia funds schools puts a heavy burden on local governments to help pay the bills, and that creates wide disparities in places where local governments can afford more compared to places that are already struggling to make ends meet.

Laura Goren is research director at the Commonwealth Institute, which recently released an analysis of each school division in Virginia.

"While statewide school divisions contributed more than twice what the state's funding formula said was required, in rural school divisions it was just 65% more," Goren explains. "And in some of the highest poverty schools like Petersburg and Tazewell, it was less than 10% more."

Shane Riddle at the Virginia Education Association says the funding formula ends up spending more on schools that are already meeting standards while spending less on schools that are not meeting standards.

"The ultimate solution would be to fix the funding formula, but there's a low likelihood of that in the near term in the General Assembly we believe, Riddle says. "But we believe concentrating on the at-risk add on is one of the best prospects."

The at-risk add on would increase funding for schools that have high rates of poverty, which could offset some of the inequity created by the way Virginia funds its schools. State lawmakers will be considering that proposal when they meet in January.

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

Updated: August 25, 2022 at 3:10 PM EDT
The Virginia Education Association is a financial supporter of Radio IQ.
Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.