Governor Ralph Northam (D) has unveiled his budget for the remainder of his term with proposals to invest in K-12 education, address housing affordability and make tuition-free community college available to low- and middle-income students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields.
The budget includes one of the largest new investments in K-12 education ever proposed in Virginia, totaling $1.2 billion. The budget proposal would raise teacher salaries 3%, fund more school counselors and new staff supports for English language learners and make significant, new flexible funds available for local school divisions.
The budget provides $145.1 million for a 3% salary increase in the second year for instructional and support positions; $99.3 million to increase the number of school counselors and $27.6 million to increase instructional positions for English language learners.
“Students deserve quality public schools, no matter where they live,” Northam said in a statement. “This budget provides extra funding to help close the achievement gap in high-need schools, especially in urban and rural Virginia. Every child should have access to a world-class education, and this budget advances that commitment.”
According to a fall 2019 report on student demographics, 40% of Virginia’s public pre-K-12 students are economically disadvantaged, and 13% are learning English. In Prince William County, 41.7% of students are low-income, or qualify for free or reduced-price meals, while 25.8% are English language learners.
“This historic budget reaffirms our clear and ongoing commitment to educational equity our public education system,” said Virginia Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, a former teacher at Prince William County’s Beville Middle School.
“These bold changes will dramatically increase supports for educationally at-risk learners, help us recruit and retain the best teachers and help school divisions serve the unique needs of their students.”
Northam also announced a proposed $145 million to make tuition-free community college available to low- and middle-income students who pursue jobs in high-demand fields. The program will provide financial support to cover tuition, fees and books for eligible students at the commonwealth’s two-year public institutions.
“This is an investment in equity and our economy—by helping Virginians get the skills they need, we’re building a world-class workforce while ensuring all Virginians can support themselves, their families, and their communities,” Northam said.
The program is one of the first in the nation to provide wraparound financial assistance to help students at the lowest income levels with expenses such as food, transportation and childcare. According to a press release, the initiative will target key industries, from health care and information technology to skilled trades, public safety and early childhood education.
“This large investment will help tens of thousands of Virginians earn the skills needed to fully participate in our 21st century economy,” said Glenn Dubois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System. “With the redesign of our workforce programs, we are ready to make sure all Virginians can get the right skills for the jobs of today and tomorrow.”
The proposed budget also includes $92 million in new funding to address housing affordability, eviction rates and supportive housing throughout Virginia. The budget proposes a $63 million investment in the Virginia Housing Trust Fund, bringing the total amount to $84 million over three years.
In addition, the budget will invest $6.6 million to establish an “Eviction Prevention and Diversion” pilot program and $22.4 million over the biennium to ensure populations with special needs have access to safe, affordable housing.
“Access to safe, stable and affordable housing is critical to building strong communities, growing our economy, and improving educational and health outcomes,” Northam said.
The proposed state budget now heads to the Virginia General Assembly, which will begin its 2020 session on Wednesday, Jan. 8.
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