- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

RICHMOND (AP) — The Virginia Board of Education is considering a package of proposals aiming to improve school quality but requiring hundreds of millions of dollars in additional state spending.

The board held a work session Monday to review a preliminary draft of revisions to the Standards of Quality, which set out requirements and funding formulas for providing a basic education. The proposed package, if approved by the board and funded by the General Assembly, could increase the state’s share of education costs by as much as $542 million a year.

Currently, the state funds 55 percent of costs mandated by the Standards of Quality; localities pay the rest.

“This is long overdue and it needs to be done,” said Jean Bankos, president of the Virginia Education Association, the state’s largest teacher group. “I commend the board for taking this up. The tough part will be generating support [in the General Assembly] once the board generates the final package.”

The changes include funding one full-time assistant principal for every 400 students. Currently, the state funds a half-time assistant principal for every 600 to 899 pupils in elementary schools and a full-time position for 900 or more students.

Middle and high schools receive state funding for a full-time assistant principal for every 600 students. The proposed change would cost the state an estimated $40.2 million a year.

Another proposal would fund enough middle and high school teachers to lower the maximum pupil-teacher ratio to 21-to-1 from 25-to-1. The measure, which also would ensure that teachers have time for planning, would raise the state’s annual costs by an estimated $116.8 million.

In addition, the proposal would change the funding formulas for programs designed to help students who fail or are judged likely to fail the Standards of Learning (SOL) tests.

The state currently pays for nine “resource” teachers — such as reading and math specialists — per 1,000 students estimated to score in the lowest 25 percent on the Stanford 9 standardized tests. The proposal would provide an additional teacher for every 10 students in schools with the highest poverty levels and lowest pass rates on the SOL English and math tests, and would eliminate the Stanford 9s as a benchmark.

Schools with the lowest poverty rates and highest pass rates would receive state funding for a teacher for every 18 at-risk students, a provision that board President Mark Christie said will eliminate a quirk in the current formula.

“You don’t want to penalize those school divisions that do a good job,” Mr. Christie said. “You want to remove that perverse incentive that says if you get 100 percent pass rates, we’re going to take your remediation money away.”

Under the current formula, Virginia would pay $40.5 million in fiscal 2004 for this service. The proposed changes would raise the state’s contribution by $19.3 million.

The board will introduce the proposed changes at its May 28 meeting. A final vote will be taken at its June 25 meeting.

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