News →

Politifact VA: Republicans' budget wouldn't cut education spending, but it would invest less than Democrats'

People leave bus
Students exit their buses at the first day of school at Hopewell High School. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Speaker: Democratic Party of Virginia
Statement: “The proposed House budget cuts hundreds of millions in funding for public education…”
Date: April 4
Setting: News release

Virginia’s Democratic Party says the Republican-controlled House of Delegates wants to gut funding for public schools.

“This session, Republicans launched attack after attack on Virginia’s public schools, teachers and students,” the party said in an April 4 news release.

“They have repeatedly threatened to defund public education and their budget is proof of their true intentions. The proposed House budget cuts hundreds of millions in funding for public education, including gutting teacher pay raises by 20% and slashing tens of millions in funding for early childhood education.”

We’ll focus this fact check on the Democrats’ central claim: “The proposed House budget cuts hundreds of millions in funding from public education.” It’s a highly misleading statement that carries over to other claims the party makes.

The General Assembly is hashing out a new two-year state budget that will go into effect July 1. Former Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, proposed his final budget in December 2021 - one month before leaving office. The House and the Senate separately amended Northam’s plan, and each chamber approved its own two-year budget.

House and Senate budget negotiators are now hammering out their differences. After the legislature approves a compromise, its budget will be sent to the new governor,  Republican Glenn Youngkin.

Virginia is brimming with cash as revenues during pandemic-struck 2021 came in 14% higher than predicted.

The Democrat-led Senate - following Northam’s lead - views the surplus as an opportunity to expand programs, especially in education and mental health, with some room for tax relief.

The Republican-led House - following Youngkin’s lead - is heavily focused on cutting taxes and issuing rebates. Even so, the House’s budget would increase general fund spending on education by 14.5% from the current two-year budget to the coming two-year plan.

The current base budget for public schools is $14.8 billion. The House would raise it to $16.95 billion in the next biennial budget, a $2.15 billion boost to education spending over the next two fiscal years.

The Democrats’ math

How does the Democratic Party figure that the House budget cuts “hundreds of millions” from public education?

It doesn’t compare spending in the current budget to approved House spending in the next.

Instead, it compares the money Northam proposed spending in his budget for the next two years to the amount the House approved. The party doesn’t reveal that in its news release, which was featured on the landing page of its website.

Northam proposed spending $17.2 billion in general funds for education for the next two years - a $2.4 billion increase over the current budget. In other words, the party’s starting point in claiming the House budget deeply cuts education is bolstered by $2.4 billion that hasn’t existed in the past.

Another way to describe it: Northam proposed a $2.4 billion increase to education over the next two years while the House approved a $2.15 billion hike. That’s a $250 million difference in new investment in education, not the amount that would be cut.

At the risk of more complication, the Senate has proposed $17.5 billion in general fund spending on education over the next two years - an 18.2% increase over the previous budget and $550 million more than the House approved. Negotiators are seeking a compromise.

Democratic Party particulars

The Democratic Party, seeking to back its claim, sent us a list of education programs that the House budget would reduce in funding from Northam’s recommended levels.  The list underscores serious policy differences between the House and Senate. But the House did not cut any of the cited programs from their current budget levels. For example:

  • Northam’s budget proposed giving teachers a 5% raise in each of the next two school years. The House approved a 4% raise each year with 1% bonuses
  • Northam sought $268 million in new funding to create more spots for at-risk three-year-olds in the state’s preschool program. The House approved a $59 million increase.
  • The House rejected an $8 million Northam proposal to expand STEM programs.
  • The House nixed a $22 million proposal to hire more instructors to teach English as a second language. 

Our ruling

The Democratic Party of Virginia said in a news release, “The proposed House budget cuts hundreds of millions in funding for public education…”

The release, featured on the party’s website, creates the wrong impression that the Republican-controlled House of Delegates wants to slash the state’s current education budget. To the contrary, the House has passed a new two-year state budget that would increase school spending by $2.15 billion – or 14.5% - over the current biennium.

What the party didn’t say, however, is that it was not comparing spending levels in the current two-year budget to those in the House-approved budget for the next two-years. Instead, it compared the $17.2 billion that former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam recommended spending on education over the next two years to the $16.95 billion the House has approved.

The House sliced $250 million from Northam’s proposal. If Democrats had said that, they’d have been correct. But it is misleading to suggest that the House budget would cut Virginia’s actual spending on education.

We rate the Democratic Party’s statement False.

Sources
Democratic Party of Virginia, News release, April 4, 2022
Joseph Flores, “Economic Outlook and Revenue Forecast,” Dec. 16, 2021
Ralph Northam, Budget bill, Dec. 16, 2021
Email from Gianni Snidle. Press secretary for the Democratic Party of Virginia, April 6, 2022
Interview with Snidle and Nicky Zamostny, legislative consultant for Democratic Party of Virginia, April 6, 2022
House 2022 budget amendments, Items 129# 4h, 131 #1h, 136 #9h, 137 #3h, 137 #9h, 137 #10h, 129 #1h, 137 #11h, 137 #13h, 137 #18h, 137 #20h
House Appropriations Committee, “An Overview of Virginia’s Biennial Budget for FY2022 - FY 2024,” Jan. 12, 2022
Legislative Information System, Virginia budget, 2021