Richard Salmon, an authority on public school finance and a longtime professor at Virginia Tech, provides a detailed account of the history and current status of financing Virginia's public school system. The system, a vast and complex arrangement, is the most significant cost to local governments and one of the largest costs to state government. Meeting K-12 education needs has become even more difficult as the state and nation continue to struggle with the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression.
According to Salmon, school funding is modestly stronger today than in its neglectful and often-troubled past, but the state ranks among the lowest in the country in "fiscal effort" for education based on personal income of its citizens. Virginia is a relatively high-income state yet there are severe funding disparities among school divisions with the least affluent localities suffering the most.
In today's harsh economic climate, school divisions have looked carefully for the most efficient ways to operate and they will feel an even tighter pinch when the current infusion of federal stimulus funding is withdrawn. "The easy budget reductions have already been made by both state and local governments." The only solution eventually may be to consider a tax increase if public education is to be maintained even at its current most basic level.
In Salmon's opinion, "A substantial part of the current crisis is due to the fiscal decisions made by previous administrations, General Assemblies and many local governing bodies. It is unfortunate that long-term tax policy often has been based on highly energized national, state and local economices that inevitably forces reexamination of policy during the most difficult times."
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