Sen. Jennifer McClellan: 2019 General Assembly Session Updates

By Senator Jennifer McClellan

In this last week of the 2019 General Assembly Session, amendments to the biennial budget adopted last year are in conference to resolve differences between the House and Senate.  Here is an overview on where we stand on education funding, which has been a top priority for my constituents. 

Teacher Pay: The Governor increased the state's share of an initially budgeted 3% raise to a 5% raise for teachers and school staff for the 2019-2020 school year. The Senate adopted this proposal and added language allowing school divisions to provide a partial increase between 3-5% and still receive the state match. The House includes similar language, but only funds half the year, leaving the gap to local school divisions to address. Virginia’s teachers work hard every day, with extraordinary results, often in some of the most difficult situations; we need to pay them a salary that encourages them to stay and do the good work they are trained to do.

School Counselors: The Governor starts a three-year phase-in to the desired ratio of one school counselor for every 250 students. The House funds the first year of this increase, while the Senate only includes one-third of these funds for the state share of an additional 250 counselor positions. School counselors play a critical role not only in improving school safety and school climate, but in preparing students for college and workforce opportunities. At current caseload levels, counselors cannot effectively serve students and teachers are already overloaded with their primary duties to provide sufficient backup. Students are left unsupported by the very folks who are in the schools to help them. We must reduce these caseloads to the 1:250 best practice ratio.

At-Risk Add-On: The Governor included a $35 million increase in lottery revenues in Virginia's supplemental aid to school divisions with high concentrations of poverty to reduce the inequity of the state's school funding distribution. The House eliminated this proposal, instead shifting much of the funds into the Lottery Per Pupil Allocation (Lottery PPA); however, Lottery PPA funds are allocated based solely on enrollment. The Senate budget partially funds the Governor's proposal. The at-risk add-on is crucial to providing targeted supports to the school divisions and students most in need. On average, most states offer a range of additional aid that can extend up to 29%; it is time for Virginia to begin to increase these supports for our own students.

Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) Plus: The Governor invests state funds to cover the costs of an expiring federal grant extending Virginia's state preschool program to serve an additional 13,000 four-year olds living in low-income households. The House eliminated the grant program while the Senate includes about three-quarters of the funding. Making sure our very young students are ready to learn when they enter kindergarten is one of the smartest returns on investment we can make as a Commonwealth. We must make sure all Virginia children have high-quality preschool opportunities.

We are scheduled to adjourn this Saturday, and I will provide an overview of the final budget amendments adopted by the General Assembly next week.