by Madison Hirneisen
Virginia lawmakers are being asked to amend their proposed spending plans to address an error with a state calculation tool, that will result in schools across the state receiving millions less in state aid than they initially expected.
The Virginia Department of Education confirmed this week a calculation tool estimating the amount of state funding each school division will receive had an error. The tool did not account for funding changes after the state cut the grocery sales tax on Jan. 1, according to Charles Pyle, director of communications for the Virginia Department of Education.
This error, which the department discovered last week, overstated the amount of state aid school districts could expect to receive by roughly $201 million, as first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The Virginia Department of Education expects to release an updated and corrected calculation tool next Thursday, Pyle told The Center Square.
“School divisions have used the estimates for local decision making, for local decisions about spending as we move through the current fiscal year,” Pyle said. “They’ve used these estimates in developing their local budgets for presentations to school boards for the upcoming fiscal year, so it’s certainly had an impact at the local level.”
“They based their budgeting on these flawed estimates,” Pyle later added.
The error has provoked concern from lawmakers, particularly as the House and Senate are set to unveil proposed amendments to the state budget Sunday afternoon. Wednesday, Gov. Glenn Youngkin sent a letter to the chairs of the Senate Finance and House Appropriations committees asking them to include the “necessary resources” in their proposed budget amendments to address the error.
“This situation is frustrating for us all and even more so that it came to light after I submitted my proposed budget,” Youngkin wrote in a letter obtained by The Center Square. “I am requesting that as you finalize your budget amendments this week that you include the necessary resources to address this error.”
Once the House and Senate introduce their proposed budget amendments, negotiators will meet to iron out modifications to the budget, which will now likely include conversations about how to best address the state calculation error related to school funding.
Gianni Snidle, a spokesperson for the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus, told The Center Square Thursday “Democrats are going to ensure we fix this error caused by the Youngkin administration and ensure our public schools are fully funded.”
Snidle said he expects lawmakers to debate Youngkin’s proposed $1 billion in tax cuts alongside school funding. Republican lawmakers have pointed to the state’s $3.6 billion budget surplus as an indication Virginians are overtaxed, while Democrats have said they don’t view it as a budget surplus since schools have been underfunded since the Great Recession.
As lawmakers meet to negotiate budget modifications, Snidle said he expects to “see a big battle between corporate tax cuts and fully funding our schools, teacher pay raises and cutting taxes for the wealthiest Virginians.”
“That’s where I think the real battle is and where these funds [for schools] are going to come from at the end of the day,” Snidle said.
Del. Barry Knight, chair of the House Appropriations Committee, testified on the floor Wednesday that the amended budget introduced by Youngkin may offset the calculation error. The governor’s amendments include an additional $204.6 million in sales tax for education in fiscal year 2023 and $175.3 million in fiscal year 2024, according to Knight.
Knight also noted “all monthly payments issued since the fiscal year began last July have been accurate,” adding “no overpayments occurred, nor has any school division expressed concern that they were receiving too little money.”
“No school division will have to reduce expenditures in the current fiscal year,” Knight said Wednesday. “Let me repeat, there will be no cuts this year.”
Pyle, told The Center Square the calculation error has “caused a lot of consternation and discomfort,” particularly among rural school divisions who more heavily rely on state aid. The shortfalls range based on size of the school district, amounting to nearly $18 million in Fairfax County to $2.6 million in Hanover County, as reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
Pyle said the department is “committed” to publishing a corrected tool next week for schools to utilize that will account for the hold harmless payments related to the suspension of the state’s grocery tax.
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Madison Hirneisen is a staff reporter covering Virginia and Maryland for The Center Square. Madison previously covered California for The Center Square out of Los Angeles, but recently relocated to the DC area. Her reporting has appeared in several community newspapers and The Washington Times.