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Nancy Madsen
By Nancy Madsen January 21, 2013

Toscano says state spending per student is down from 2008

House Minority Leader David Toscano called on the state government to increase funding for public schools during his Democratic response to Gov. Bob McDonnell’s State of the Commonwealth address.

"We spend less per student today than we did in 2008," Toscano, D-Charlottesville, said in his Jan. 9 speech.

We wondered if Toscano is right.

Carmen Bingham, Toscano’s chief of staff, told us the claim was based on a Senate Finance Committee report from November that contained a graph breaking down the state’s general fund spending on schools over 10 years. The general fund is largely supported by sales and income tax dollars and mostly used to pay for education, public safety and health programs.

Many Democrats in recent years have opposed Republican efforts to expand a small portion of the general fund used for transportation, saying that would strip money from public schools.

The graph shows that in fiscal 2008, which ended June 30 of that year, Virginia spent $4,451 per
student. During this fiscal year, the state will spend $4,286 per student from the general fund. The $165 per pupil decrease is about 3.7 percent. Adjusted for inflation, the drop is about 11.4 percent.

The drop corresponds with Virginia’s fall into the national recession midway through fiscal 2008. Revenues from the sales tax and income tax plunged and have been slow to recover. The general fund fell from $17 billion in 2008 to $14.8 billion in 2010. It has climbed back and this year is expected to hit $17.1 billion. Some of the losses in revenue were temporarily patched with stimulus money from the federal government.

The general funds going to education have followed a similar arc, although they have not returned to their level of five years ago. In 2008, $5.3 billion went to education. That dropped to $4.7 billion in 2011 and this year is budgeted at $5.2 billion.

Meanwhile, the number of students in Virginia public schools has grown by 30,000 -- from 1.19 million in 2008 to 1.22 million this school year.

The education cuts were made in state budgets that were backed by majorities of Democrats and Republicans. The cuts largely came in the way of reduced funding for support positions -- such as guidance counselors, nurses, secretaries -- and by easing some education standards that the state had taken responsibility for funding, according to the Senate Finance Committee report.  

We should note that the graph Toscano sent us does not give a complete picture of state funding for public education. It omits about $630 million each year of non-general state funds that are spent on schools each year, about three-quarters of which come from lottery profits.

We wondered whether per-student spending is still lower than the 2008 level when the total amount of state aid for schools is considered. The answer is yes.

In the 2008 school year, the state put a total $5.96 billion into education and spent an average of $5,003 per student. This school year, Virginia has budgeted $5.83 billion for schools, or an average of $4,774 per student.

All told, state funding has dropped by $229 per student since -- or 4.6 percent -- since 2008. Adjusted for inflation, the decrease is about 12.2 percent..

We should note that the state pays an total about 44 percent of public education costs. Local governments pay about 49 percent, the remaining  7 percent comes from the federal government.

Our ruling

By any measure, the state is spending less per public school student this year than it did in 2008. We rate Toscano’s statement True.

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Our Sources

David Toscano, "Toscano Responds to the State of the Commonwealth Address," Jan. 9, 2013.

Email from Carmen Bingham, chief of staff for Toscano, Jan. 16, 2013.

PolitiFact Virginia, "Tim Kaine says he cut $5 billion in spending as governor," Oct. 24, 2012.

Legislative Information System, 2013 budget, accessed Jan. 16, 2013.

LIS, 2012 budget, accessed Jan. 16, 2013.

LIS, 2011 budget, accessed Jan. 16, 2013.

LIS, 2010 budget, accessed Jan. 16, 2013.

LIS, 2009 budget, accessed Jan. 16, 2013.

LIS, 2008 budget, accessed Jan. 16, 2013.

Virginia Department of Education, superintendent’s annual reports: 2007-08, accessed Jan. 16, 2013.

DOE, superintendent’s annual reports: 2010-11, accessed Jan. 16, 2013.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, Inflation Calculator, accessed Jan. 20, 2013.

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Toscano says state spending per student is down from 2008

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