Governor Ralph Northam will include a $2.4 billion increase for education in his budget proposal to the General Assembly next week, with a 5 percent salary increase for teachers in each of the next two fiscal years.
“Paying teachers is the right thing to do, and a wise investment,” Northam said in a Monday press release. “Virginia has invested in teachers in a big way over these past four years, and now it’s time to do much more. Our country has asked teachers to carry a heavy load, especially during the pandemic. They have delivered, and they deserve to be rewarded.”
The announcement came on the first day of Northam’s “Thank You, Virginia” tour. His budget will be one of the final acts of his term. Alongside the education budget increase, he touted other education funding accomplishments from his term, including his signature Get Skilled, Get a Job, Give Back program for free community college tuition for people seeking training in high-demand fields.
Delegate Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) is taking a new role as the powerful House Appropriations Committee Chairman, where he will take the lead on the House of Delegates’ budget initiatives.
“He’s going to feed out little tidbits like most outgoing governors do, because he’s pretty much a lame-duck governor now. So he’s going to submit his budget and then, December the 16th, and then he’s going to leave office January 14th, and Youngkin is going to take over on the 15th. So this is going to be the outgoing governor’s wish list,” Knight told The Virginia Star.
He said, “And then we’re going to take it, and we’re going to vet it between the House, which is Republican controlled now, and the Senate, which is Democratically controlled. And of course we will pass it out, the new governor will put in some budget amendments, and then between the House and the Senate, we’ll have to negotiate and see what we can do and what we can’t do.”
Youngkin’s Education Spending Platform
Governor-elect Glenn Youngkin campaigned on major education spending in his budgets.
“I will preside over the largest education budget in the history of Virginia. We will raise teacher pay. We will invest in schools. And then we will turn around and demand that they perform,” Youngkin said at a September rally.
Some of that includes teacher pay raises, but it also includes the expansion of school choice and the creation of charter schools. On top of that, Youngkin has called for tax cuts, and encouraged Northam to include those in his budget proposal.
“We can fund a tax reduction and investment. My Day One Game Plan calls for a significant tax relief to help ease the burdens where Virginia has become too expensive. The rising cost of living is driving Virginians away,” he said Friday at the Virginia Economic Summit, according to a Youngkin spokesperson.
Knight said that some of Northam’s budget proposal will likely remain intact.
“It’s got some weight. It will be a template, if you will. And we’ll take that template. We’ve already got a previous template from all the previous budgets. But we’ll absolutely look and see what he has. Everybody has good ideas. He may even have a good idea or two in there, we don’t know. We may say yes, that’s a good idea, we’ll do it, but maybe at a different level. Or maybe that’s an initiative that has run its course and we want to go in a different direction,” Knight said
He said that the amount of funding for education proposals will probably change.
“Governor-elect Youngkin may want to have a little bit more money in there for teacher’s raises. He may want to have a little less money in there, because it’s all about competing interests. Because we have an awful lot of budget drivers: we’ve got K-12, we’ve got to fund that. We’ve got to fund Medicaid. We’ve got to fund of course education, some of that is teacher salaries. We’ve got to fund law enforcement salaries that are state supported, which are state police, deputy sheriffs, and corrections officers. Then we do some money where we contribute some money to the localities, which is called 599 money, we’re going to have to do some of that. But there’s an awful lot of needs out here,” Knight said.
Power Dynamics Between House, Senate, and Executive
“We’ll have to look at this thing in totality and see, because his direction will certainly be a little bit different from the incoming governor and what he wants, because the outgoing governor had the House, the Senate, and himself. So they were going in a little bit of a different direction than there’s going to be now with a Republican governor, a Republican House, and still the same Senate,” Knight said.
The General Assembly has ultimate power over executive spending proposals, and even legislators who are the same party as the governor often push for changes to the governor’s initial proposal. Knight will have to work with Senate Finance and Appropriations Chair Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) to pass a budget that both chambers agree to. In the past, Knight and Howell have worked together as conferees to help the House and the Senate compromise over different versions of legislation.
“Senator Howell and I are friends, we’ve worked together for years. We like each other,” Knight said.
“We’ve always, always been able to come to a compromise, she and I have,” he said. “So I have no doubt we’ll be able to come to a compromise. It’s always about a good-faith negotiation, and there’s always sometimes a little bit of a give and take in it. I have no doubt that she and I will help come to a good compromise and a good budget sometime in the middle of March.”
– – –
Eric Burk is a reporter at The Virginia Star and The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Ralph Northam” by Virginia Governor’s Office. Photo “Barry Knight” by Barry Knight. Background Photo “Classroom” by Wokandapix.