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Mayor Levar Stoney on our School Funding Crisis

Mayor Levar M. Stoney contributed as a guest columnist for The Virginian-Pilot on October 21, 2018. He asks residents from across Virginia to join him in the March For More on December 8 from Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School to Capitol Square. The mayor’s column is reprinted below:

Richmond, VA – Virginia’s approach to education funding is failing its children. Old buildings, staffing cuts, stagnant salaries, outdated technology and dwindling school supplies are just a few of the issues plaguing the learning environments for students across the commonwealth. When we fail to take action to address the needs of our children, we compromise their futures, and ours.

As recently reported in The Pilot, Hampton Roads schools are struggling with similar issues to the ones we are facing in Richmond. Many of our school buildings are well beyond their lifespan and are literally crumbling. They are no longer the safe, healthy environments our students need to thrive. But these facilities are just one part of the education crisis facing us today – our entire K-12 education system is woefully underfunded.

While the impact is felt directly by the students, the root cause rests with the commonwealth of Virginia. For too long, the leaders of the Virginia General Assembly have failed to acknowledge the true cost of educating our children – ignoring the price of technology upgrades, transportation, debt service on new schools, broadband service, the need for additional school nurses, school psychologists, counselors and principals, and other essential components of a 21st century education.

Instead, they have established their own calculation of educating students, called the Standards of Quality, which fails to account for these costs. Even by the state’s own calculation of the SOQ, the State Board of Education estimates that the Virginia General Assembly is shortchanging public schools by nearly $600 million per year, putting even more pressure on local governments to fill the gaps.

In 2009, when the recession hit, state funding for education dropped significantly. However, we are nine years into a robust economic recovery, and the state funding level for K-12 education has not even returned to pre-recession levels. Since 2009, state funding for K-12 education funding is down 9 percent, while overall student population has grown by 5 percent. In Richmond, the numbers are even more discouraging; state funding is down 19 percent, while our student population has grown by 9 percent.

It’s the same story in Hampton Roads, where I attended Tabb High School in Yorktown and was the first in my family to attend college. The state funding for Norfolk, Hampton and Virginia Beach city public schools has fallen sharply per student, down anywhere from 13 percent to 18 percent since 2009. The inadequate funding that the commonwealth provides is not just taking a toll on urban school districts. In fact, these same challenges are faced by rural school districts and a growing number of suburban school districts, where there has been an increase in poverty and new Americans.

As the state does less, localities are doing more for education. Collectively, Virginia localities invested $4 billion above the required local share for SOQ programs in 2016-17 alone. While most localities are increasing their contributions to K-12 education, the commonwealth is not fulfilling its obligation under the Virginia Constitution to ensure that an educational system of high quality is established and maintained.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the state’s formula for funding economically disadvantaged students, a program called the “at-risk add-on.” Virginia ranks among the lowest in the country in providing additional funding for educating students from low-income families. I grew up as one of those students, on free and reduced lunch and unable to afford the deposits that would have allowed me to take my school books home. Failing to provide for the most vulnerable among us today is not just unacceptable, it is immoral.

Localities such as Richmond, Norfolk, Virginia Beach and the school districts across the commonwealth – from Lee County to Accomack, from Page to Halifax – must unite. We must call upon the members of the Virginia General Assembly this January to live up to their obligations by taking action to fully fund the $594 million gap in the Standards of Quality and then determine and fund the true costs of K-12 education that the SOQs do not cover.

More funding for better schools will lead to stronger students. It is an investment in our future we need to make now.

It is a promise to our children that we must keep.

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13 comments

SA Chaplin 11/18/2018 at 11:51 AM

How about this for a speech, Mr. Mayor:

“I would like to say a word or two to the parents of our school age children. Moms, dads: our schools are in need of your help. Would you please consider taking a greater interest in your child’s performance and behavior in school. We don’t need shiny new buildings or brand new desks and chairs. No, parents, we need YOU! If you will invest in your child’s education, support the teachers, help with homework —heck, feed your child a healthy breakfast —pack a nice lunch! Read to your child. Ask them, “what did you learn today?”

This is the investment we need for our schools. Together we can raise performance, enhance learning and help our children acquire the knowledge and wisdom that will allow them to achieve success in life.”

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MHB 11/19/2018 at 12:26 AM

Well said #1.

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Liz 11/19/2018 at 6:46 AM

@#1 – hear hear!!! Perfectly said and much needed to be said!! No amount of money will change things unless the parents and caregivers step in!

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Kay 11/19/2018 at 7:05 AM

@1 SA Chaplin-
How dare you ask the parents of these little darlings to do anything? 🙂
You are spot on… Throwing more money at the Richmond School system will not produce any better results. Until the parents get involved in their children’s education, we’ll see more of the same.

What has MLK produced??

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Johnathan 11/19/2018 at 8:59 AM

@SA Chaplin

Thank you so for for capturing this so well. I have always described education as a three legged stool; students, teachers, and parents. If either one of them are not engaged the education will fail.

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Rick Tatnall 11/19/2018 at 9:20 AM

How about this for a speech, SA Chaplin

“While it is important to have quality facilities, teachers and educational tools, it is obvious to anyone paying attention that the resource many of our RPS students are missing most is regular parental, family and adult engagement in their education – this is especially true in our disadvantaged communities. In Richmond we have known for a while that significantly increasing parental/adult involvement in our children’s education is the ultimate solution to our educational crisis, but we haven’t acted as a community to make that happen.

Many Richmonders think the way to solve the problem is to point their fingers at the parents and say “you should be more involved, you should feed your child a healthy breakfast, you should…” – like it is just the flip of the switch. To start, don’t say “parents” because there are rarely 2 parents – RRHA residents are 97% Female Head of Household. The list of other life obstacles these single moms face is too long to list. What the sad and selfish finger-pointers should finally get through their heads is that all of these parents and guardians want to be engaged in their children’s education, but they can’t because they are living in a month-to-month, day-to-day existence in a violence plagued community offering little inspiration and support.

We know what the problem is – now we have to recognize it will take a village mentality to create a sustainable solution. Working in concert with the RPS 5 year Strategic Plan, the villagers of Richmond must come together and provide a support/resource network for all of the parents and guardians of current and future RPS students. In doing so, not only will we change the culture and direction of Richmond Public Schools, we will strengthen the fabric of our community in many other positive ways.

This is the investment we need for our schools. Together we can raise performance, enhance learning and help our children acquire the knowledge and wisdom that will allow them to achieve success in life.”

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Mark 11/19/2018 at 7:57 PM

Never no responsibility from the parent, eh Rick

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ilya y 11/20/2018 at 3:33 PM

What does helping with homework or making breakfast have to do with the state underfunding schools causing the buildings to fall apart or there not being enough money to hire the proper amount of staff?

Is your modest proposal that parents need to put up some drywall and come in once a week to fill in for a guidance councelor/nurse/principal?

Nice job of making it not your responsibility.

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Chris 11/21/2018 at 2:25 PM

Rick, we have already spent over 22 trillion on the so called “War on Poverty”, and with minimal results.

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bill 11/22/2018 at 10:42 AM

the school funding crisis is hampering the mayor’s development plans

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derk p 11/30/2018 at 7:29 PM

school funding crisis?? pretty sure i pay extra now when i go out to eat to pay for these people’s kids (i dont have any of my own, and if i did, they would not step foot in any RPS building – EVER) so what’s the problem? richmond has one of the highest rates of restaurants/bars per capita of any other place so i figured they’d be rolling in cash

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Josh Bearman 12/02/2018 at 10:02 PM

Derk, your feelings regarding RPS are as much to blame for the state of our schools as anything else. Every parent who feels as you do and either flees to the county or sends their kids to private schools is complicit in the degradation of RPS.

Since so many of the lower income parents are unable to be heavily involved due to, you know, working and survival, it is contingent upon those who DO have the means to become involved. Not to wash their hands of the whole operation and bash the schools based upon some ill-conceived notion of their quality or safety.

And, to be clear, no amount of parental involvement is going to fix a roof or abate black mold. And no meals tax will raise the funds sufficient for a capital project like building a new school. Not to mention providing salaries for teachers that lure the best of the best and, at the very least, match the median of the state. That money has to come from state funds and property taxes.

Thank you for so clearly crystallizing the cruel and poorly informed viewpoints of so many. You are a treasure to this city.

Josh Bearman
RPS Teacher

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derk p 12/12/2018 at 10:48 PM

You’re right, I am a treasure to this city. I pay my property taxes, I pay the extra restaurant taxes that were supposed to go to the school, and he11, I EVEN PLAY THE LOTTERY which is supposed to benefit education so I do my fair share as a RESPONSIBLE citizen and then hear stories saying it is not enough?? You tell me, WHAT ARE THEY DOING WITH THE MONEY. In my asinine opinion, it has nothing to do with “funding” and more to do with the culture of Richmond as a whole, which I am planning on leaving. No amount of money in the public school system will make the parents of these children actually care or even the children themselves when they can just turn on the radio and hear about selling drugs for a living or are too addicted to playing “fortnite” that “cripples school networks”

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