Governor Ralph Northam unveiled plans for one of the largest investments ever made in Virginia’s public school system, budgeting an additional $1.2 billion for K – 12 education from 2020 to 2022.

“Every child in Virginia should get a world class education, and it’s a top priority to make that possible for all, from the youngest learners to those who are college age,” the governor said during a budget preview event at Huguenot High School.

According to Northam, the only way to provide high-quality education is to invest in educators. He expressed pride in the fact that the last budget gave teachers the largest single-year pay raise in 15 years, but he added that pay for Virginia’s teachers still trails the national average. This budget takes another step to close that gap by including $145.1 million to provide an additional 3 percent pay increase for teachers and support staff in the second year.

Over the two-year budget period, the governor proposed $808.5 million for rebenchmarking and program updates. “This is critical to ensure that our schools, and school funding, keep pace with our students’ needs,” he told the Joint Money Committees.

Several items in the budget aim to directly address student welfare, such as $10.6 million devoted to breakfast and lunch programs for families that qualify for reduced meal pricing.

“Our children come to school with the burdens of everything else in their lives. When that includes conflict at home, or at school, it’s critical that our schools have trained staff that students in distress can turn to, so, $99.3 million was allotted to add school counselors at every grade level. Counselors can also help guide students toward the career paths that are right for them,” he added.

The governor revealed that he has a plan to address the declining revenues the education system gets from the Virginia Lottery.

Schools have relied on that funding source for decades, but with the rise in electronic games, lottery sales have dropped. “That takes away money from our schools, and that is not acceptable to me,” Northam said.

“We’ll impose a tax on these games of skill and earmark that revenue to boost funding for our public school students,” he added, noting that he is proposing to use revenue from gaming to create “a new flexible, per pupil pot of money distributed to school divisions based on enrollment so that they can use these funds in a manner that best supports their needs.”

The new revenue will free up current Virginia Lottery revenue so that it can be directed to school divisions with a high concentration of children living in poverty. In all, the budget makes a $140.4 million investment in at-risk students. “That 50 percent increase in that fund is more than we have ever been able to devote to our high-poverty school divisions,” said Northam.

For the full article, pick up the latest Northern Neck News 12/25/19

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