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Virginia Board of Education Prioritizes Equity In Funding Recommendations

G.W. Carver Elementary School
Districts like Richmond Public Schools with a high concentration of students in poverty would receive additional funding under the new Board of Education recommendations. (Photo: Crixell Matthews)

Virginia’s state Board of Education unanimously approved some significant changes to how they want the state to allocate money to public schools during their meeting, Thursday.

One of the most dramatic changes the Board has recommended: more funding for schools with a high number of students living in poverty through the creation of a statewide equity fund. It would send additional funds to schools like those in Richmond with more than 55 percent of their students living below the poverty line.

“These standards were not arrived at lightly,” said Dan Gecker, president of the board. He pointed to a committee on evidence-based policymaking that the board tasked with looking into changes in November 2017. He said the board followed “where the evidence led,” and read a statement from the committee’s chair Kim Adkins.

“In my view, this highly anticipated action will become a turning point for the Board, where we will have made it undeniably clear that the Commonwealth of Virginia has a legal and moral responsibility to advance equity by first and foremost establishing at the state level fully a system of quality of education for all students,” Adkins said in the statement.

Schools with a high concentration of poverty could use additional funds to help recruit and retain qualified teachers, as well as pay for specialists and support programs.

Gecker said the changes go beyond just the money, and represent a clear shift in the board’s focus.

“What this is today is an effort to assist those children who need it most so they have the same opportunity for a positive outcome as any other child in the Commonwealth,” Gecker said. “They equity challenges the Commonwealth faces – and frankly the country faces – are not going away any time soon.”

The board also recommended boosting funding for teacher and principal mentoring, as well as funding full-time principals in each school and an assistant principal for every 400 students.

They also recommend properly staffing each school with recommended ratios of school psychologists, social workers, and nurses. Additionally, they propose funding of reading specialists in schools based on the number of students failing third-grade state reading tests. Only half of Richmond and Petersburg students were reading on grade level last year.

“We are now in many ways catching up the mandated standards with the true minimums recognized in the field, and particularly helping catch them up for those communities and those students who most need a quality education as a trampoline to life’s success,” said board member Diane Atkinson.” I feel like our equity lens compels this action today.”

Ultimately, lawmakers have to approve the changes. These discussions will come into play when the General Assembly reconvenes in January and begins looking at the state’s budget. 

A previous version of this story misspelled Kim Adkins name as Atkins. It also stated that the Governor has to approve SOQ changes, but SOQs are subject to revision only by the General Assembly.