My daughter’s school and four other Richmond public schools were threatened with closure this month to save $3 million.
But I keep thinking about the larger view.
Richmond’s annual budget battle is the predictable result of misplaced priorities at the state and national levels.
We’ve come to accept the unacceptable. Our city, a city with a 40% child poverty rate, receives far too little help from the state and federal governments. We’re told that’s just “the way it is.” But it doesn’t have to be.
Tax Day is the perfect time to stop and reflect about our priorities, including the troubling fact that more than half of the federal discretionary budget (54%) goes to war and defense. By contrast just 6% goes to education. Far too many of our tax dollars go to war and the DOD, and comparatively few go to education and other investments in a sane future.
More school funding comes from the state…but that support has fallen. “State direct aid to Richmond City public schools was $1,291 per pupil lower in 2016 than it was in 2009,” according to The Commonwealth Institute, a drop of more than 17 percent. “If the General Assembly had decided to give Richmond the same per pupil, inflation-adjusted aid in 2017 that it gave in 2009, Richmond Public Schools would have an additional $25.2 million.”
Compounding the overall drop in state funding is the fact that the formula Virginia uses to allocate education funds to its localities shamefully disadvantages Richmond. The “composite index of local ability to pay” or “LCI,” isn’t based on the poverty level of a school district, or the actual need of the students who attend public schools in a given locality. Instead….the formula is heavily based on the value of property in that locality. No matter that RPS ranks 2nd in the state in percentage of students in poverty. Because we have Windsor Farms, high rise buildings, and other high value real estate in the city (and other factors), the LCI considers Richmond relatively well “able to pay” for its own education costs. Strangely, according to the LCI, Henrico County is less “able to pay” than the city so qualifies for proportionately more LCI school funding than Richmond does.
Richmond children without question need and deserve more resources. I’ll continue to join in advocating for every penny. But it’s not sufficient to aim fire at the local leaders of our economically strapped city…without at the same time recognizing the larger decline in support and misappropriation of resources from higher levels of government.
A larger change is overdue.