For the past 12 years, school divisions across Virginia have been handicapped by legislation that was passed during the recession to help curb state spending.
A support cap was put into place in 2009 that limited the funding that would go to school divisions for positions such as instructional assistants, mental health specialists and other support positions.
The support cap was implemented by then-Gov. Tim Kaine as a budget amendment to offset revenue shortfall and reduce the state’s share of funding public education.
This budget amendment translated into a reduction in basic aid to school divisions due to limiting the number of support positions that are calculated as part of prevailing costs or actual expenditures.
The cap has never been removed, and has cost local school divisions millions over the years.
“It makes it more difficult to hire support staff, and it also increases the burden on localities,” said Rockingham County Superintendent Oskar Scheikl.
As school divisions have grown, it has become necessary to hire support staff positions. But the state won’t shell out a dime for these necessary positions, forcing school divisions to turn to their local government to foot the bill.
It’s impossible to say how much money the support cap has cost local governments over the past 13 years, Scheikl said, but it’s in the millions.
The following positions are considered “support” by the state:
• Assistant Superintendent
• Technology Professional
• Instructional Professional
• Technology Technical/Clerical
• Instructional Technical/Clerical
• Operation and Maintenance
• Attendance and Health Administrative
• Operation/Maintenance Technical/Clerical
• Attendance and Health Technical/Clerical
• Support Technology
• Administration Administrative
• School-based Clerical
• Administration Technical/Clerical
There has been strong pushback over the years, with school divisions including it in their legislative programs, but there is no expectation the support cap is going to be repealed anytime soon, Scheikl said.
“[Legislators] argue that the money has to come from somewhere,” Scheikl said, implying that funding would have to be cut from other areas to be made available to schools. However, the state’s total budget has increased by 84% since the support cap was implemented, and the budget for education in Virginia has only increased 7%.
Another problem with the support cap is the way that it has disproportionately affected different school divisions, said Harrisonburg City Public Schools Superintendent Michael Richards.
For example, HCPS has seen a 45% increase in student enrollment since 2009 and a loss of 7% funding from the state.
School divisions that did not see the same amount of growth were hurt less by the support cap because they did not need to hire as many support staff positions.
In addition, HCPS is one of the most diverse in the state and with that comes the need for a large number of foreign language aides and assistants, all of which are not funded by the state.
“The [localities] try to make up for it,” Richards said, but they have other departments and positions to fund, as well. “The net effect on us has been really severe.”