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A Case Study in K-12 Cuts: Virginia Beach

By Neal Modi | February 17, 2012 | No Comments

Governor McDonnell’s education plan is already making waves around Virginia-especially in the Governor’s hometown of Virginia Beach.

This past January, Gov. McDonnell released his K-12 education plan calling for an increase in funding of $438 million for K-12 schools throughout the Commonwealth. (Read my first post about it here.) Yet, while on the surface the plan is laudable, only 22% of the proposed $438 million will go to the classroom while the remaining will head to the teacher pension system and other non-classroom needs. Furthermore, McDonnell’s refusal to peg education costs to inflation means less and less money for school districts. Even worse, the Governor’s proposal to increase the percentage of the sales tax going towards transportation translates to a concomitant decrease in education funding.

This has, in turn, forced school districts, who must manage rising costs as well as similar budget cuts taken by their city councils, to adjust priorities and make changes across the board – all to the detriment of students, parents, and schools alike.

For evidence of this, look no further than the city of Virginia Beach’s recent proposed city-wide school budget cuts.

Included in Superintendent James Merrill’s  budget cuts for FY 2012-2013 are numerous measures that appear contrary to the Governor’s overall education goals and mission. For instance, Merrill wants to increase class sizes by .5 students per class, reduce staff and teacher professional development, decrease tuition reimbursement to ALL employees for college level and professional development courses, reduce both pay and time worked for administrative, custodial, and security staff, and most of all, disincentive attendance to the city’s magnet programs.

The last proposed cut hurts the most. As a former student of the magnet programs in Virginia Beach, I believe I received the best public education in the state. I was challenged throughout and when I entered university, I was extremely well-prepared, even in comparison to my private school peers. In fact, it is no secret that Virginia Beach’s magnet schools strengthen the city’s schools altogether. Yet by disincentivizing attendance to these schools by revoking transportation to them (these academies cater to the whole city and are dispersed throughout; accordingly, students need not reside in a particular school district to attend), we are setting our communities and state aback.

(Students and teachers alike have been protesting this measure. Many have posted messages and uploaded pictures to this Facebook page, which convincingly makes a case against cutting transportation to Virginia Beach’s magnet programs, among other grievances.)

As I wrote earlier, innovation and ingenuity stem from our K-12 schools and especially arise in magnet programs. Disincetivizing the reason to attend these schools by revoking transportation to them seems especially brutal. Not only does it make parents think twice about sending their child to these programs because of the new economic costs of providing transportation on a day-to-day basis, but it also restricts students’ opportunity to do research or participate in activities that their home school may not provide.

In a time where many believe that our socio-economic status or the neighborhood we live in should not restrict our opportunities to succeed, the City of Virginia Beach’s school cuts, jump-started by the new burden Gov. McDonnell’s education and budget plan has put, will be doing exactly this.

On the one hand, the Governor has stated a commitment to ensuring that our education system is strong and robust, yet on the other, he is forcing localities to re-prioritize their education objectives –  some of which work against the Governor’s goals of increasing the number of students in higher education or the number of students who pursue STEM careers. This is bad policy. It lacks forethought and collaboration.

While I understand the state’s goals are not necessarily the same as localities’, the Governor and city leaders should recognize and find common ground. Forcing municipalities to make harsh budget cuts is a detriment to our state and is poor public policy as well.


Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this post are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of members of the NDP Steering Committee



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