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Saxman: Getting Serious about Getting Serious

By Chris Saxman

Over the weekend, a member of the House of Delegates, David Reid (Loudoun), penned an op-ed in the Roanoke Times (Roanoke) in which he lambastes Virginia Republicans in several areas of state funding, mainly K-12 funding.

The op-ed is entitled Getting Serious About School Funding [1].

This is a completely legitimate policy discussion to have and in an election year one can expect heightened levels of partisanship.

Note to readers: Virginia has elections of consequence every year. It’s what we do. We also argue every year about K-12 funding and our state/local funding formulas add to the fun.

Delegate Reid, who is by all accounts a serious, intelligent, and effective legislator, submitted the op-ed in the Roanoke Times which last month knocked Virginia Democrats for turning “their backs on rural Virginia.” [2]

The Roanoke Times admitted to using strong words on February 19th:

On Wednesday, a House of Delegates committee tabled — that’s a polite way of saying “killed” — a proposed constitutional amendment that would have guaranteed “equal educational opportunities” for all Virginia students.

Those legislators who voted to kill this amendment, sponsored by state Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, gave some fancy technical reasons for doing so. Namely, that they have already set two constitutional amendments in motion to be on ballots in 2022 and we shouldn’t have to vote on more than two constitutional amendments at a time.

Pardon our language, but this is a load of bovine fertilizer.

That’s politics, right?

Here’s the link to the Privileges and Elections Committee 11-10 vote to table the amendment. [3]

(Reid voted to table the amendment and apparently drew the short straw on the committee for having to respond to the Roanoke Times. The better play would have been to let this one go.)

In Reid’s op-ed he states:

For more than 20 years the Republicans were in the majority in the General Assembly and did nothing to address school funding.

… adding later …

The Republican majority had ample opportunity to address the problem with school funding in Virginia and chose to do nothing.

Nothing twice. Bringing the heat.

But don’t tell Democratic Governors Mark Warner, Tim Kaine, Terry McAuliffe, and Ralph Northam they did nothing for K-12 funding in their sixteen of the twenty years referenced.

It’s time to get serious.

So, I went and compared Direct Aid to Public Education in the Biennial Budgets of 2002-2003 and 2021-2022.

Biennial state (not including local) funding has increased from $9.2 Billion to $18 Billion in that time. Doubling state funding doesn’t strike one as choosing “to do nothing”; however, the political fight for more K-12 funding is as old as K-12 schools.

Reid at the end of the column states:

So where do we find a 13% increase in revenue to fund the deficit left by the Republicans? We might be able to issue state-supported bonds to address $2 to $3 billion of the problem, while still maintaining our AAA bond rating, but how do we prioritize which school system gets how much of those limited resources?

Well, wait a second – how is Virginia K-12 doing compared to other states anyway?

(I thought you would ask and want to know.)

US News ranks Virginia education at #12 overall. They combine Higher Ed and K-12. [4]

Wallet Hub ranks K-12 on Quality and Safety. Virginia is #4. [5]

USA Today ranks Virginia at #10. [6]

Reid also mentions that the General Assembly created a commission and a JLARC study to get updated cost estimates on what the tab will be going forward for K-12. He says the deficit is 13 percent but I guess making sure can’t hurt. After all, at 13 percent of $18B that comes to a $2.34 Billion funding increase over the biennium and Reid did say between $2 and $3 billion.

And that ain’t nothing.

Still, it never hurts to have updated information in this area. In fact, it’s more important than ever given all the enrollment and population changes due to COVID.

The question will always come down to Sean Connery’s admonition about “the Chicago Way” to Kevin Costner in “The Untouchables.”

What are you prepared to do?

Now that the Democrats have the majority in both chambers of the General Assembly and hold the Governor’s Mansion, Republicans cannot stop them. That excuse is now nothing.

What are they prepared to do?

With three years in a row of House of Delegates elections coming up, both parties will have ample time to discuss how Virginians want their representatives to address school funding.

Taxpayers – business leaders in particular – all across the Commonwealth will be very curious as to what is meant by “Getting Serious About School Funding.”

Virginia already ranks #35 in Cost of Doing Business according to the last survey by CNBC which also ranked Virginia #1 Best State for Business. [7]

Here’s how CNBC looks at CODB in part:

We look at the competitiveness of each state’s tax climate, as well as state-sponsored incentives that can lower the cost of doing business.

Maybe those Democratic governors and Republican legislative majorities knew that working across the aisle in a bipartisan approach while engaging the business community on the projected needs of the Commonwealth a.k.a “the Virginia Way” beats the “the Chicago Way.”

Every day.

p.s. NO I don’t mean the Chicago Way literally as described by Connery. It’s just an analogy.

p.p.s I made Ina Garten’s Ultimate Beef Stew over the weekend. MASSIVE RECOMMENDATION!  [8]WOW. Great recipe.

Chris Saxman represented the 20th District in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2002-10. A businessman and active member of the community, he is Executive Director of Virginia FREE, a non-partisan, non-profit that informs the business community in order to advance free enterprise and responsible, pro-business government. Join Virginia FREE by clicking here [9]. Chris and his wife Michele live in Richmond.