Education funding still unclear: Prince William schools waiting on Richmond

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State leaders in Richmond are still lacking answers for local school divisions on just how much money they’ll have to work with.

In a presentation to the School Board, Prince William County Schools Chief Financial Officer John Wallingford said the school system is being held harmless for about $800,000 it lost in state funding in fiscal 2023 due to a Virginia Department of Education calculation error through the “skinny budget” that passed the General Assembly last month.

But county schools still stand to lose more than $4 million in fiscal 2024 if state leaders and the General Assembly don’t make any changes.

At the same time, the lack of a full budget agreement in the General Assembly could also end up costing the school system millions. In the “skinny budget” the legislature passed before adjourning from its regular session, Prince William County Schools would lose out on more than $3 million between the current fiscal year and fiscal 2024, according to Wallingford.

“The only thing we can really do is sit and wait,” Wallingford told the School Board on March 1. “We’ve had two or three occurrences over the past 10 years where the General Assembly did not get their budget done on time and what we’ve ended up doing is passing an interim budget, effectively, and then gone back for adoption when we get our actual numbers.”

Ultimately, the General Assembly will need to reconvene to hammer out a full budget agreement before the end of June, which could see all of that money returned to the schools.

But the competing proposals on the table — from Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, the Democratic-controlled state Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Delegates — offer wildly diverging funding levels for the commonwealth’s public schools.

Additional money for salary increases, retention bonuses, eliminating the Recession-era state support cap and school security are all on the table in the Senate proposal, whereas Youngkin and the House have pushed for broader tax cuts and additional funding for “lab schools,” which K-12 schools established by colleges and universities intended to foster educational innovation.

“If the House side of the budget passes, I think we actually lose $4 or $5 million more. And if the Senate side of the budget passes, we could get up to $20 or $30 million more,” School Board Chair Babur Lateef told InsideNoVa. “We suspect that there’s going to be some compromise, and so we may end up getting $5 to $10 million more.”

The School Board continued to work on the division’s proposed $1.6 billion budget this week with a markup session on Wednesday.

In the spending plan, Superintendent LaTanya McDade proposed a 5% employee raise — from a 2% raise with a 3% step increase — and a small increase in employee health insurance premiums. But they’re still doing so with little clarity on the state funding picture.

The Prince William Education Association, meanwhile, is calling for a 10% raise. The association recently won the exclusive collective bargaining rights for all nonadministrative county schools employees, but a formal collective bargaining process won’t begin until the school division starts budgeting for fiscal 2025.

The state Senate proposal would call for a mandatory 7% raise for all educators, with the state funding about half of the raises and local schools paying the remaining balance.

“The General Assembly is going to have to come back sometime in the next several weeks and resolve the differences that they could not resolve in conference,” Wallingford said.

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