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McDonnell: No decisions yet on school funding factor

Rosalind Helderman

Gov. Bob McDonnell has not decided whether he will support a freeze in the adjustment to the local composite index, a change left behind by Gov. Tim Kaine in his final two-year budget that would prove costly to Northern Virginia's school systems.

That's the word from McDonnell's office this afternoon, after an article circulated around the General Assembly Building this week in which his office is cited as saying he would uphold the budget cut.

But McDonnell spokeswoman Stacey Johnson said in a statement that the idea remains under consideration and no decisions have been made.

"We are evaluating all of the components of the current budget and will be working with House and Senate budget conferees to gather their input on existing spending reductions as well as potential new cost savings strategies. No final decisions have been made regarding the composite index freeze by the legislators or the Governor's finance team," she said.

Members of the Northern Virginia delegation, local officials, business leaders and others are preparing a major push to convince McDonnell to undo the freeze to the formula, which is used to determine how much of the costs of providing a basic education are shouldered by the state and how much is paid by local governments.

As we've explained before, the division between the state and local governments varies from place to place, using a formula that takes into account localities' wealth. Many Northern Virginians have long believed that the formula was unfair and resulted in the wealthy Washington suburbs shouldering far more of the costs of their local schools than districts do in other parts of the state.

But now the economy has declined and Northern Virginia has lost a bit of its wealth. That will be reflected in the composite index, whenever it is recalculated. The result will be that the state picks up a bit more of the costs of education in places such as Loudoun, Prince William and Fairfax, and local governments in other places a bit less.

Delaying the recalculation will put off that change, meaning local governments in Northern Virginia will pay more.

How much more? $61 million in Fairfax, $34.4 million in Loudoun, $22.6 million in Prince William. Other Northern Virginia jurisdictions lose out as well. Already, Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Mark Herring (D-Loudoun) have delivered speeches on the issue.

Before leaving office, Kaine said he made the change to save some money in the state budget. It also would delay a cut in education spending in 97 of the state's least-wealthy counties.

We caught up with U.S. Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) on the composite index issue this afternoon. The former chairman of the Fairfax Board of Supervisors sided with current elected officials and called on McDonnell -- who during the campaign spoke of trying to bring more state money back to Northern Virginia -- to undo the freeze.

"We've been playing by those rules for many, many decades. I think it's unfair to change the rules of the game in the middle of the game," Connolly said.

"I think it presents an immediate challenge to [McDonnell] on that pledge," he added.

By Rosalind Helderman  |  January 26, 2010; 6:38 PM ET
Categories:  General Assembly 2010 , House of Delegates , Rosalind Helderman , State Senate  
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Comments

It sounds like the governor's office may be changing its tune. Here's what Stacey Johnson told Capital News Service reporter Veronica Garabelli last Friday. (This was the basis for the CNS article to which you linked.)

-- Jeff South, CNS director, Virginia Commonwealth University
--------------
From: Johnson, Stacey (GOV)
Date: Fri, Jan 22, 2010 at 1:55 PM
Subject: RE: Comment on LCI freeze
To: Veronica Garabelli

Veronica,
The Governor plans to keep the current freeze.  We will put out more specific direction to agency heads next week.
Thanks,
Stacey

Posted by: Jeff_South | January 27, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Thanks, Roz, for bringing this very important issue to light. Northern Virginia's parents, teachers, administrators, and taxpayers have a right to stand up for their community's families and children. I urge northern Virginians to take a stand!

Posted by: emailjuliakim | January 27, 2010 2:22 PM | Report abuse

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