Date: Nov 24, 2014 10:09:07 AM
Subject: CLI: Senate Finance Committee Retreat: PK-12 Funding Threatened
Virginia's senators gathered in Staunton Thursday and Friday at the annual Senate Finance Committee's Annual Meeting.
The opening remarks from Co-Chairs Colgan and Stosch set the mark for the budget development challenge ahead. The good news is that it appears that revenue may come in at about $150 million over projections. The bad news is that there is a $321.8 million hole to fill.
Stosch asserted that, "... there are areas where we need to refocus our energies. We still lose too many of our young men and women in the education pipeline. We may be losing our competitive edge on educational attainment." He added, "... we may need to take a serious look at our tax policies. Tax preferences that worked in prior decades may no longer be a good fit for our rapidly evolving economy."
George Mason University's Dr. Stephen S. Fuller was the first speaker, and his topic was "The Virginia Economy." He detailed how the cutbacks in federal spending have had a disproportionate negative impact on Virginia's federally dependent economy. The federal cutbacks have hit Northern Virginia, which represents a third of Virginia's economy, particularly hard. He echoed our Governor's call for a New Virginia Economy. To create this "New Economy," we will need to "Increase the capacity of the state's educational and skills training institutions."
Fuller said that between now and 2029 there will be 531,600 net new jobs in Virginia, but that "resident population is only projected to add 371,000 new potential workers." Envisioning states across the nation competing to attract workers, he rhetorically asked, "Who is going to fill the state's workforce requirements?"
Senate Finance Committee (SFC) Staff Director Betsey Daley offered two sobering statements regarding what to expect in the session ahead:
1. "[There is] Little opportunity to make investments in key areas, unless funded through spending reallocations or identification of other resources."
2. She then offered the following as one of the adoptions for addressing the remaining cuts, "Make targeted reductions to those programs that were not included in the reversions, namely K-12 public education and Medicaid."
This assertion from Daley was a contrasting cause for optimism:
"The foundations of Virginia's economy are shifting. To adapt will require the Commonwealth to:
-- Improve educational preparation and attainment to create a competitive workforce.
-- Provide post-secondary education, training, and credentials to further develop the workforce.
-- Maintain a "best for business" environment; encourage entrepreneurship and small firm formation."
Day two of the annual Senate Finance Committee retreat included a presentation entitled "The 'New' Virginia Economy: Not Business as Usual, Translating Education and Workforce Efforts into Economic Success." There was some cause for optimism regarding what was presented. Assertions included, "Virginians will need to further their education from 'cradle to gray,'" and "Elevate the teaching profession by recruiting more of the right people (leading organically to more autonomy/prestige/pay) and making the best use of the most effective teachers."
Some of the demographic information presented reveals challenges for our schools. Between 2004 and 2013 the number of economically disadvantaged students in our schools increased by 45.1% and the number of Limited English Proficiency students increased by 68.5%. It is amazing that our graduation rate and achievement scores have increased during these years.
One thing is clear: some are looking to balance the budget on the backs of Virginia's students when we should be putting kids first.