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School solutions in Southwest Va.

School solutions in Southwest Va.

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The Coalfields of Southwest Virginia have experienced a tremendous transition as coal mines have closed and workers have been displaced. Over the last several YEARS, the Coalfields have experienced a gradual decline in population and school enrollment while seeing an increase in the percentage of residents who are unemployed and/or qualify for public assistance. Over the last few MONTHS, there has been a drastic decline in population and school enrollment. This trend is also occurring in areas of the Commonwealth that are not directly impacted by Coal.

In regards to Southwest Virginia, Coalfield localities have seen a drop in population of over 40,000 residents since 1990. This drop in enrollment has resulted in a decline in K-12 enrollment of over 5,000 students since 2009 and a decline of almost 700 students since the March 31, 2016 ADM numbers were released. If the most recent decline in enrollment continues, the Coalfields stand to lose over $10,000,000 in State revenue by June of 2017 - in the span of just one year.

Additionally since 2009, many school divisions in Virginia have seen a significant decrease in their State per pupil direct aid when adjusted for inflation, while affluent divisions have seen an increase in the same category. According to The Commonwealth Institute, cuts made to State funding during the recession have had a lasting negative impact on rural school divisions that have high percentages of students living in poverty. For example, Coalfield school divisions have lost 15.9% in per pupil State funding even though their Local Composite Indices (LCI) have gone down (LCI is the mechanism used by the State to determine a localities ability to pay for education). At the same time, many rural localities make tremendous sacrifices just to meet Required Local Effort. Combined with the fact that 25% of families in SWVA live below the Federal Poverty Line and 59% of students there receive Free or Reduced Priced Lunch, it is easy to see that there is an educational crisis in rural divisions in SWVA. This trend is mirrored in other parts of the State as well.

The only recourse that school divisions currently have to account for such tremendous losses in State revenue is to request additional funding from their local appropriating body. However, since so many families in rural areas live in poverty, it is almost impossible to expect that raising taxes would be a lucrative endeavor for City Councils and Boards of Supervisors. Even if this were a viable option in SWVA, Coalfield localities only have the ability to raise $1,200,000 by increasing property taxes by one penny (.01). In sum, local poverty and tax revenues prevent many rural localities from funding schools at the same level as affluent localities.

As a result of these trends, Coalfield localities and stakeholders have started working collaboratively to enhance their voice in legislative and other matters. Many folks in the Coalfields Region believe that K-12 public education is critical to the vitality of the region as a whole and that economic development and revitalization cannot occur without a thriving system of public education.

Rather than accepting that decreased funding from the Commonwealth is the new normal, Coalfield localities, schools, and stakeholders have made the following recommendations to Legislators that could provide immediate assistance to help our schools and other schools across the Commonwealth with similar concerns:

Urge the Virginia General Assembly to provide a Cost of Competing Adjustment (CoCA) for struggling school divisions for salaries and operations similar to the CoCA for 18 School Divisions in Northern Virginia as permitted by recommendation of JLARC Report Document 82;

Urge the Virginia General Assembly to reissue the Enrollment Loss Budget Line item for Virginia’s schools as issued most recently in 2010;

Urge the Virginia General Assembly to approve the 2% Compensation Supplement that was originally part of the 2017 State Budget.

Furthermore, these stakeholders have also recommended that the following solutions be considered to assist struggling School Divisions in the future:

Adjust Standards of Quality to accommodate for increased accountability and localized disparity;

Reduce unfunded mandates (e.g.  Epi-Pens, CPR/AED Training, Personal Finance);

Provide similar funding for school employee health insurance premiums as state employee health insurance premiums;

Reestablish the School Construction Line Item;

Postpone the employer VRS increase scheduled for 2017-18;

Use current data for LCI calculation.

There is a realization that each of these recommendations is only a temporary solution if there are not significant changes in local economies. Localities across the Commonwealth have to implement individual plans to improve the quality of life in their regions. Communities also have to be more creative than ever to attract decent paying jobs to their regions. Additionally, K-12 education has to take a more active role in Workforce Development and Economic Development. However, this cannot and will not happen overnight. The current recommendations for assistance are simply meant to be a bridge until economies in EVERY part of the Commonwealth improve.

We encourage school leaders, teachers, parents, community leaders, and citizens who live in areas challenged by poverty to ask their State Delegates and Senators to support these recommendations. Contact information for your local representatives can be found at by clicking the Members and Session tab.

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