This week’s newsletter addresses recent findings in the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report on Virginia’s K-12 funding formula; shares information on the continued, harmful attacks by the Youngkin administration on LGBTQ+ youth and their families; reflects on my recent trip to Charleston, South Carolina, for the Council of State Governments Southern Legislative Conference (SLC); and highlights select community engagements and events from this past week. Thank you for taking the time to read the newsletter and for staying informed.
How Virginia Funds Public Education
During the 2021 session, the Virginia General Assembly passed SJ294 directing the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) to study the cost of K-12 education in the Commonwealth and to assess the costs of meeting the Standards of Quality (SOQ). The full JLARC report can be accessed here.
To administrators, educators, staff, parents, and students, the report’s findings confirm what many have known from direct experience: Virginia has severely underfunded public education for years. The report’s key findings point to the following:
The Governor’s immediate response to the JLARC study was to tweet out the following:
The budget we passed last year was the largest education budget in history, including a 10 percent pay raise for our teachers. Today’s JLARC report lays plain that the previous two administrations failed to provide adequate funding in K-12 education.
This statement is disingenuous. The biennium budget passed in the 2022 Session was largely proposed by Governor Northam and supported by Democrats in the House and Senate. As the incoming Governor, Youngkin did not fully shape that budget; this is true for all outgoing / incoming administrations every four years in the Commonwealth. It is also unfair to criticize “the previous two administrations” given the fact that these Governors worked with Republican majorities in both Chambers, and these majorities consistently blocked measures to fund public education at the levels needed. In 2020, when Democrats had the first opportunity to make historic changes to the public education budget, significant funding was introduced but sadly had to be put on pause because of the unexpected and uncertain economic future facing us all with the global spread of the coronavirus.
We are now in a position to fund public education at the levels that are critically necessary and that have been laid bare by the JLARC report. The Senate budget proposals presented by our Democratic majority are ready to do just that. The Senate budget proposes $1.02 billion for public education, while the Republican House leadership proposes just $383.8 million. The Senate’s budget lifts the cap on the number of support staff, hires an estimated additional 1224 physical and mental health staff, and increases the number of instructors for English language learners. In addition, this budget helps to close the education gap for designated high-poverty schools.
Public education is our most essential public good. Further, we are required to provide high-quality education to all of Virginia’s students by the Virginia Constitution. With two-thirds of our 134 schools divisions receiving a majority of their funding from the state, the Commonwealth must meet its constitutional obligation to Virginia’s students by prioritizing education funding and agreeing to the Senate version of the budget amendments.
Continued Attacks on LGBTQ+ Youth
Reporting by the Virginia Mercury and the Washington Post earlier this week revealed that the Youngkin Administration quietly removed resources for LGBTQ+ youth from the Virginia Department of Health’s website. On Tuesday, members of the Senate Democratic Caucus held a joint press conference with Equality Virginia, Side By Side, and He She Ze and We calling out the stealth move by the Youngkin administration and asserting that access to affirming, inclusive spaces and information is lifesaving. With mental health concerns on the top of our list of crisis points in Virginia, this removal of essential resources is particularly pernicious. For a vulnerable community, in which nearly half of LGBTQ+ youth have considered suicide within the past year, this move is decidedly harmful.
Sadly, these actions on the part of the Youngkin administration reflect a compulsive desire to genuflect to polarizing politics rather than to sound policy. These actions are contrary to evidence-based practices; removing access to these essential resources caves in to pressures from extreme right-wing forces external to Virginia. At a time when LGBTQ+ rights are under assault in state legislatures across the country, including here in Virginia, our LGBTQ+ youth and their families deserve access to more – not fewer – informational materials and support.
On August 16, from 6:30 - 7:30 pm, my office will host a town hall with the ACLU of Virginia, Equality Virginia, and community members on how to best support LGBTQ+ students and their families, especially as we approach a new school year. Registration is available here.
Southern Legislative Conference
Earlier this week, I attended the Council of State Government’s Southern Legislative Conference in Charleston, South Carolina. This gathering offered regional legislators, legislative staff, and many others the opportunity to discuss issues and concerns that are common across the Southern region: education, transportation, energy, health, environmental concerns, and more.
I was honored to be elected to the position of Vice Chair of the SLC Education Committee. I look forward to working closely with the Chair, Representative Rhonda Baker of Oklahoma, and the CSG Education Committee staff to research, discuss, and develop effective policies for public education across the Southern states.
Highlights from Community Events & Meetings
Connecting With My Office