Possible Shift in School Funding?

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By Stefanie Jackson – Schools in rural, low-income areas are often at a disadvantage when seeking additional state funding, but there may be another way to get it, Northampton school board members have discovered.

“We are always complaining, and rightfully so, about the local composite index,” school board member Nancy Proto said Aug. 8.

The composite index is a number calculated using a specific formula, which determines how much state funding a locality gets for public education. A locality with a higher composite index is expected to pay a higher percentage of the cost of its public education and receives less state funding.

But the formula puts a land-rich, cash-poor county like Northampton at a disadvantage. The composite index is higher in Northampton than it is in localities such as Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Newport News, and neighboring county Accomack.

The Virginia General Assembly has shown little interest in writing legislation that would change the formula used to calculate the composite index and give greater advantage to schools in less populated, rural, low-income areas.

But Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane has indicated there may be value in focusing less on the composite index and more on the Virginia Department of Education’s Standards of Quality.

VDOE updates the Standards of Quality annually – expectations for public schools about the number of students in each class and the number of staff members at each school, among other considerations.

For example, the Standards of Quality state that a middle school should have one principal, plus one assistant principal for every 600 students.

State funding applies only to public school positions that align with the Standards of Quality.

But many educators agree that economically disadvantaged students need extra help.

Lane believes the Standards of Quality should lower the ratio of students to staff at schools in high-poverty areas.

Schools will qualify for more state funding if the additional positions they fill are required by the state standards.

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