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Vivian's Views > Education

COMMITMENT

Fairfax County's schools and her taxpayers are not treated fairly in the distribution of state public school support. Fairfax schools have larger average class sizes at every grade level than three-quarters of the rest of Virginia's school districts. Smaller maximum class sizes are critical to meeting the needs of mainstream students as well as students with special needs and to retaining teachers in the face of growing teacher shortage.

vivian with school children

When my children were in Fairfax schools, I was president of our local PTA.  I also chaired a countywide School Bond Campaign.  I continue to be just as dedicated to quality education for all children.  Together, we can equip our children to take their place in building the American dream.

STATE FUNDING

Over 23% of Fairfax County’s school budget comes from the State.   There was a slight increase in 2015 because of two General Assembly actions:

  • $4.7 million more to fund the state’s share of a 1.5% salary increase and
  • a $6 million break on our payment to the state teacher pension program.   This is a one time gain, however, due to$250 million in the sale of old unclaimed state stocks to get the retirement system in better balance.

Even with these increases, the State still contributes less per student statewide than in 2009.

In addition, the amount each locality gets is based on a seriously flawed, 50-year-old formula, which came out of a court ruling that children in poor localities should have equal educational opportunities.  As a result, the General Assembly adopted a funding formula that measures local ability to pay based on 50% personal income (AGI), 40% real estate values, and 10% sales tax collections. 

The most serious flaw in this formula is that Fairfax has no way to tax income.  Even though real estate values are 40% of the formula, for many long time residents, the current value of the house they’ve lived in for 30+ years is much higher than their ability to pay on a fixed income.  Nevertheless, as a county, Fairfax has nowhere to turn but the real estate tax, while cities can get substantial revenue from hotel, restaurant, and local cigarette taxes (which is $1.15 per pack in Falls Church.)  The state formula ignores those taxes, giving areas – like the City of Virginia Beach – substantially more state school funding.

The unfairness of ability to pay being driven by untaxable AGI often is illustrated right within Northern Virginia (NV).  In 2005, Fairfax County had 3 times as many students as Prince William County.  We both gained about 5,000 new students between 2003 and 2005.  And, yet, Prince William got $45 million MORE in state funds while Fairfax got $29 million LESS due to the formula.  This was my effort at the time to lay out Fairfax County's school funding needs as simply as possible for other legislators.

Indeed, every year since 2002, I've introduced a bill or budget language to change the State School Funding Formula.  Typically, my formula change is politely heard in an early morning House subcommittee and tabled.  However, in 2009 for the first time, HB 2198 was one of two bills sent on for further consideration to a special House Senate Committee and I was allowed to make a full statement on the serious problems and inequities of the State Education Funding Formula.  As I addressed all the problems with the complex formula, I had the feeling that several members of the Joint Committee were considering some issues for the first time. 

Not only has statewide per pupil funding not increased since 2009, but since 2012 NV localities have had to fight attempts to severely cut or eliminate the NV cost of living adjustment.  After complex adjustments, the state only had been adding about 2% -- far short of the 26% paid state police when they're stationed in NoVa -- but, until 2012, that still produced $30 million more for Fairfax.  It is doubly unfair for the State to not recognize how NV's high cost of living inflates what it costs to meet our needs, when how much the State gains from taxes out of NV is equally inflated.

Solutions:

  • Target any funding increases to areas funded on a fixed amount per student, such a text books and vocational expansion;

(For example, in 2004, I negotiated a permanent increase in state school funds -- equal to about a penny on the real estate tax rate or $14 million in FY2005 -- based purely on the number of school children we have, not on how wealthy we are.)

  • Continue to try to build a coalition to change the school funding formula;
  • Recognize that densely-populated Fairfax County should be a city;
  • Increase public school funding statewide.

TEACHERS
Each teacher deserves an opportunity to teach, not just manage.  I will continue to work hard to ensure a top-quality, sound academic and vocational education by attracting and keeping quality teachers and raising teacher salaries.  Virginia's average salary currently ranks 34th among the 50 states, while Maryland is 7th.

REDUCE CLASS SIZES

Especially after seeing the difference that smaller classes made when I visited Project Excel schools within the 39th District, I've been convinced smaller class sizes are critical.  Academic performance definitely improves. Perhaps equally important, smaller classes make it possible to actively involve all the kids.   By the time they reach adolescence these kids will have a well-established sense of belonging and acceptance, under-cutting much of the initial appeal of gangs and reducing dropouts.

TESTING

While students, teachers, and schools must be held accountable, being able to use rapidly-changing technology throughout his/her life will depend upon a student’s ability to engage in structured thinking and analysis. Higher standards must not stop with rote memory.  We need to continue to reduce over emphasis on test-taking.   Last year we eliminated 5 of 22 state-required tests.   In 2015, we approved 3rd though 8th graders retaking a test, as high school students can. The student must have passed the class and only narrowly failed the state test.

Regarding the proper role of testing,

  • Virginia SOL tests should target remedial help and not be the sole measure used to deny school accreditation or to fail a student;
  • Any federal program should honor state tests that are more demanding;
  • Special education students should be tested based on their Individual Education Program;
  • Non-English speaking students should be enrolled for two years before their scores are included in measuring a school's performance;
  • Modifications are needed to reduce excessive paperwork and move testing to as late in the school year as possible to maximize classroom learning.