February 6, 2023 News & Press Releases

EDITORIAL BOARD: Youngkin’s Handling of K-12 Funding Error is Inexcusable

by Democratic Party of Virginia

RICHMOND, VA – The Virginian-Pilot’s editorial board recently penned a letter decrying Governor Youngkin’s shameful budgeting error, costing K-12 public schools $201 million. This error is just the latest salvo in Youngkin’s war on public education – whether it be through “incompetence or malevolence,” as the editorial states.

To date, the Youngkin administration has not shared a plan to amend their mistake. This colossal error leaves every county school district in the Commonwealth, particularly in rural and low-income areas, with an insurmountable budgetary shortfall.

The Virginian-Pilot: Editorial: Youngkin administration’s handling of funding error is inexcusable

February 4, 2022 | The Virginian-Pilot & Daily Press Editorial Board

Incompetence or malevolence? These are the two most plausible reasons why the Youngkin administration plunged school districts across the commonwealth into fiscal uncertainty last week.

All signs point to the former, that bureaucratic ineptitude resulted in public schools expecting $201 million more than the state plans to provide. An online tool used by local school systems to estimate their share of state education funding did not incorporate changes to the tax code made in last year’s legislative session.

But Youngkin’s relentless assaults on Virginia’s schools — his preoccupation with tip lines and “divisive concepts,” rewriting history curricula and banishing the non-existent boogeyman of critical race theory — fuels suspicion of the latter.

Adding to that suspicion is the fact that the administration didn’t bother to inform local school districts until Jan. 27. That was weeks after someone in the executive branch — the governor isn’t saying who — identified the error and sounded the alarm.

What happened in the interim? Oh, only much of the hard work of building a state budget — a budget that now must be amended to accommodate the administration’s enormous math error.

Even Virginia Beach Republican Del. Barry Knight, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee couldn’t conceal his ire at the delayed disclosure.

“I didn’t know anything about it at all until this afternoon,” Knight told the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Monday, three days after Virginia Superintendent Jillian Balow emailed school division superintendents to explain the problem. “I’m not very happy. They did not bother to tell Appropriations that the numbers had changed.”

At issue is an error in the calculations used by the Department of Education to estimate local school divisions’ annual share of state funding. The General Assembly last year cut the state’s portion of the grocery tax, but included a provision in the legislation to hold localities harmless and provide funding to offset the loss of grocery tax revenue.

The DOE calculations failed to incorporate those changes into the formula. As a result, school districts will be short $201 million over two years, the current fiscal year and the one beginning July 1. Budget writers will need to make additional changes to address the administration’s mistake as they amend the biennial spending plan.

The districts most hurt are in rural and low-income areas, which rely heavily on support from Richmond. But even in larger, wealthier school districts, the uncertainty promises to be a source of concern until the issue is resolved.

Not that the administration offered a plan for how to do so. Education officials apologized and the governor’s office pledged to work to find a solution. It’s critical that the administration resolves this in a way that does not hurt students or school administrators.

In addition, the question of the gap between when the issue was discovered and when key stakeholders were informed lingers.

Hey, mistakes happen. Nobody’s perfect. The important thing in those situations is to promptly accept ownership of a misstep, do what’s necessary to clean up the mess, and make the changes necessary to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

That’s good advice for children, who are just learning their way in the world, and, it would appear, for the Youngkin administration. Its delay in informing lawmakers on the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees is inexcusable, especially given the small window of the short legislative session afforded lawmakers to amend the state budget.

Youngkin came to office as a political novice. Part of his appeal was that his experience was in the private sector, and he pledged to use the skills acquired in the boardroom to operate the machine of government.

That’s harder than it looks, as several of his predecessors can attest. The learning curve can be steep and knowing how to manage the executive branch requires cooperative relationships and reliable partnerships. It takes commitment and dedication.

A greater focus on nuts-and-bolts governance and less on teacher tip lines and the critical race theory boogeyman would be a good place to start.