17 Mar State Slashes Education Funds

March 17, 2010

By: Kali Schumitz
Source: Fair Fax Times

Budget negotiators in the Virginia General Assembly reached a consensus between the House of Delegates and Senate versions of the state budget one day after the Legislature was originally set to adjourn. Both chambers approved the compromise Sunday.

Lawmakers had to plug an approximately $4 billion hole in the biennial budget and the House of Delegates rejected the idea of a tax increase early on.

The fiscal 2011 and 2012 spending program includes a $250 million reduction in K-12 education funding, a $40 million cut to state colleges and universities and $360 million in cuts to Medicaid and other social services. Legislators largely avoided proposed cuts to public safety, but they put a hiring freeze on judges.

Another $620 million in savings comes from reduced funding for employee pensions.

Fairfax County will get about $39.5 million more for education in fiscal 2011 than it would have under former Gov. Timothy M. Kaine’s (D) proposed budget, according to state documents. The Legislature restored funding for adjusting the local composite index, which meant the county qualified for an additional $61.8 million in state funds, but cut other types of education-related funding.

Th e budget loosens state limits on class sizes, allowing the average class size across the district to increase to 25 or 26 students, depending on the grade level.

About $95 million of the $330 million in fee-based revenue included in the Senate version of the biennial budget remain in the bill. Deed recordation fees will increase by $10 and some fees associated with state services, such as court fees and coal mine fees, will be going up, as well.

The House version of the budget had eliminated the fee increases Kaine proposed.

"The House conferees were … insistent that the budget not contain a level of fees that would be overly burdensome to our citizens," said Del. Lacey E. Putney (I-Dist. 19) in his statement on the conference report. "We demanded that any fees under consideration have a tight nexus to the program."

State employees will again not be eligible for a raise and they will lose one day’s pay in the current budget year. The negotiators were able to avoid additional furlough days in the subsequent years and promised employees a 3 percent bonus if state revenues exceed current projections.

Other funding reductions include reduced funding to localities for constitutional officers, such as the director of finance, and a $120 million reduction in overall aid to localities.

Economic development efforts will get increased funding, including tourism marketing, wine production and filmmaking grants.

The Virginia Commission for the Arts, which the House proposed eliminating entirely, survived the budget conference. It will see a 15 percent reduction in its funding instead.

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