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Warren Fiske
By Warren Fiske January 12, 2015

Teachers' group says Va.'s school funding 16% below inflation since 2009

The Virginia Education Association has its knives out for legislation before the General Assembly that might allow some of the state’s lottery proceeds to be spent on veterans.

The state constitution requires that all lottery profits -- now about $540 million a year -- be piped to public schools. Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would allow an unspecified portion to be spent on job training and education for veterans. The measure would have to be passed two years in a row by legislators and then approved by voters before it would become law.

The VEA, which represents about 50,000 teachers and public education professionals, says schools can’t afford to lose any funding. In a Jan. 2 blog post, the organization said state support for public schools still hasn’t recovered from cuts during the Great Recession. "School funding per pupil is down 16 percent compared to 2009, after adjusting for inflation," the VEA wrote.

We’re not taking sides on Lingamfelter’s resolution. But we did wonder whether the VEA’s claim about about the 16 percent drop in state support for schools, when adjusted for inflation, is correct.

Robley Jones, the VEA’s director of government relations and research, told us the figure came from a study released in August by the Commonwealth Institute, a liberal think tank.

The institute updated its findings in November and now predicts that public education spending, when adjusted for inflation, will drop by 17 percent between the 2008-09 school year and the 2015-16 year. The calculation is largely based on data of past spending and inflation rates. The finding also assumes that the General Assembly will not adjust its education budget for this school year and that inflation rates will not markedly change through mid 2016.

We did our own rough calculations, seeking to avoid assumptions about future budget levels and inflation. That meant focusing on data available from 2008 through 2014. We relied on a 10-year spread sheet on public school spending supplied by the Virginia Department of Education and an inflation calculator furnished online by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Here’s what we found:

  • The state paid an average of $5,245 per student during the school year that ended in June 2009. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $5,773 in 2014 dollars.
  • The amount Virginia paid per student during the school year that ended in June 2014 was $4,832.
  • In raw dollars, state funding per student dropped by $413 -- roughly 7.9 percent -- over the five-year period.
  • In inflation-adjusted dollars, state funding per student fell by $941 --  roughly 16.3 percent  -- over the span.

Schools may recoup a small portion of its losses this budget year, which began July 1, 2014. The state is budgeted to pay an average of $4,983 per student -- a 3 percent increase over the previous school year. The national inflation rate during the final half of 2014 was nearly flat.

We should finally note that the state is one of three funding sources for public education. On average in 2013, school systems received about 51 percent of their money from their locality, 41 percent from the state and 8 percent from the federal government. The state contributes higher shares to poorer localities and lower shares to wealthier ones.

Data taking into account all three money sources shows an average total of $11,316 was spent per Virginia student in the 2008-09 school year and that fell to $11,257 in 2012-13, the latest year available. When adjusted for inflation, that’s an 8.6 percent drop.

The VEA’s comment, however, was clearly focused on state funding levels and that’s what we’ll judge it on.

Our ruling

The VEA says the state’s "funding per pupil is down 16 percent compared to 2009, after adjusting for inflation."

Data we gathered shows that Virginia’s funding per student, when adjusted for inflation, dropped by roughly 16.3 percent between the 2008-09 school and the 2013-14 year.

We rate the VEA’s statement True.

Our Sources

Virginia Education Association, "Let’s do right by veterans and students," Jan. 2, 2015.

Emails and interview with Robley Jones, director of government relations and research for the Virginia Education Association, Jan. 6, 2015.

Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission, "Special Report: State Spending on Standards of Quality (SOQ) Costs, 2010 Update," December 2010.

State Budget, Appendix A," Aid for Public Education," 2014-2015.

State Budget, Appendix B, "Aid for Public Education", 2015-2016.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, "Consumer Price Index Detailed Report Tables," 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014.

Bureau of Labor Statistics, CPI Inflation Calculator, assessed Jan. 8, 2015..

Virginia Lottery, "Virginia Lottery revenue distribution," 1989-2014.

Legislative Information Service, HJ536, Dec. 29, 2014.

Virginia Education Association, "Who we are," assessed Jan. 8, 2015.

Interview with Michael Cassidy, president of The Commonwealth Institute, Jan. 7, 2015.

Interview with Mitchell Cole, research assistant at The Commonwealth Institute, Jan. 7, 2015

Interviews and emails with Charles Pyle, spokesman for the Virginia Department of Education, Jan. 6-8, 2015.

Virginia Department of Education, "Summary of the Amended 2008-2010 Biennial Budget," March 5, 2010.

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Teachers' group says Va.'s school funding 16% below inflation since 2009

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