- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 22, 2001

RICHMOND The state would have to pay an additional $1 billion in the next two school terms to fund a realistic estimate of its share of the cost of basic education standards, the General Assembly's investigative agency said.
State law requires the state to pay 55 percent of the costs of Virginia's Standards of Quality, which set out the minimum program requirements for public school divisions.
But changes in cost estimates and outdated figures used to calculate the state's share of the expense have left local school divisions underfunded, according to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC).
"This is saying what we've been saying all along: that the state is a weak partner in funding education," said Rob Jones, director of government relations with the state's largest public school teacher organization, the Virginia Education Association (VEA).
For the 2002-2004 biennium, JLARC staff estimated the state would have to pay an additional $389 million just to account for routine cost increases.
An additional $671 million would take into account such expenses as increases in health insurance premiums, accurate salary levels of support and instructional staff, and administrative personnel costs, which the Department of Education stopped funding in 1993.
Those figures account for the increase to the more than $4 billion the state is paying for education this fiscal year, said Bob Rotz, JLARC division chief.
"Over the years there has been some neglect, and there needs to be some catching up," said Charles Ward, who heads the Albemarle County School Board and traveled to Richmond to attend JLARC's presentation.
The release of JLARC's study, which was commissioned by the 2000 General Assembly, comes at a bad time for the state.
"We don't have that kind of money. Where are we going to get that kind of money?" asked Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican and a school teacher who is a member of JLARC.
Last week, legislative budget analysts predicted the state faces a $1.2 billion gap in this year's budget, and legislators will likely have to freeze the pay of state workers and dip into the rainy day fund to avoid a deficit.
The shortfall also led Gov. James S. Gilmore III to delay the final phaseout of the car tax, originally scheduled for 2002.
The state's hard times date to a year ago when the economy and once-soaring revenues began to cool. The situation worsened last year as tax collections leveled off and came in below projections. The September 11 terrorist attacks plunged the state into an outright recession.
Mr. Jones called the timing of JLARC's presentation "abysmal."
"If this had come out four years ago, we could have addressed this in a timely manner," he said.


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