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Fairfax: Lawsuit over school funding is 'last resort'

Fairfax County officials, still fuming over a proposed freeze of roughly $61 million in state education funding, said they are pursuing a legislative fix but called a potential lawsuit "a last resort."

Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee), speaking at a Tuesday meeting of the county's Economic Advisory Commission, said officials and lobbyists are working with their House and Senate counterparts in Richmond to find a way to reinstate the money, which is distributed in a complex formula so that poor school districts get more state funding and wealthy districts get less.

"If we don't get what we need out of a legislative fix, a lawsuit is a very last resort," McKay said.

At several points during the meeting, supervisors reiterated the phrase, "It's our money," highlighting the tone of much of the debate over the school funding formula. Officials have argued that money would go a long way to help Fairfax close an expected $315.6 million budget shortfall next year and that the freeze is an insult to Northern Virginia localities that have participated in the formula for years.

But Vice Chairman Penelope A. "Penny" Gross (D-Mason) emphasized the cost of litigation and the potential for a years-long battle for the money are significant factors in deciding whether to go the lawsuit route.

"A lawsuit is a considerable cost and I know the schools would like it if we didn't have to spend that money," Gross said, nodding to a smiling Fairfax Superintendent Jack D. Dale sitting nearby.

Former Virginia governor Timothy M. Kaine (D) proposed a one-year freeze of the LCI (local composite index) formula, in an effort to save $30 million statewide and ease the anticipated additional burden on about 90 school districts.

Virginia pays less than 25 percent of Fairfax's schools budget and closer to 80 percent for some other districts. Every two years, the formula is recalculated, using updated data on enrollment, income, retail sales and real estate values. This year, Northern Virginia districts stood to gain significantly more in state funding, largely because of declines in the housing market.

Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) has yet to take a firm stance on the freeze.

By Derek Kravitz  |  February 2, 2010; 3:04 PM ET
Categories:  Derek Kravitz , Fairfax County  
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It really isn't the supervisors money. The real issue is that there is a formula in place that recognizes not just local jurisdiction wealth but at-risk kids - how many title 1 schools are in Fairfax County? How many students in the county qualify for reduced cost or free meals? This money belongs to them.....

Posted by: mcmitaly | February 2, 2010 4:59 PM | Report abuse

The money should go to Fairfax County - the formula has been in place for something like 40 years and now, when it benefits Northern VA a little bit, we change it? Northern VA schools will see an increase in student enrollment by about 11,000 students; non-NoVA schools will see a decrease. There are 32 Title I elementary schools in FCPS. 19% of FCPS students receive free/reduced price lunch. This money IS for them - for us.

Posted by: KrisVA | February 2, 2010 7:13 PM | Report abuse

The formula has been a continuing source of political skirmishing through the decades. At one time, it wasn't even fully funded. Every locality received a target and then the legislature decided how close to the target it would actually fund.

Then localities in the southwest discovered that the poorer they were, the more money they received. Some counties refused to re-assess real estate values, which meant that while Fairfax's tax base was surging, other areas were apparently stagnant. Leaving the base the same meant the state formula ranked them lower for ability to pay and higher on the list to receive state help.

Posted by: blasmaic | February 3, 2010 9:21 AM | Report abuse

Yet another reason for Northern Virginia statehood. But then again, that's Virginia for you, Northern Virginia makes, the rest of the state takes. It would be nice to have the money to repair our roads instead of repaving roads in rural areas of the state that see as many cars in five years that one of ours sees in a day.

Maybe Fairfax should devalue everything this year so we get our money back.

Posted by: dj1123 | February 3, 2010 12:18 PM | Report abuse

Fairfax county has more than enough money for shcools. There is no correlation between money and quality of education. Fairfax schools are drowning in money. They need to learn to do more with less. Concern themselves more about teaching that taking home a paycheck. If they're in the school business to make money they're in the wrong business. Teachers in Fairfax county are the highest paid in the country. Its way past time we get spending in schools under control. We are out spending our budgets, going into debt and making it more difficult for people to live and do business in Fairfax county.

Posted by: Jaymand | February 3, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

Actually Jaymand, Fairfax teachers are NOT the highest paid in the country. They're not even the highest paid in the metro area in most categories (starting salary vs. top salary, BA, BA+15, MA, MA+15, etc). At least check your facts with a quick google search. And while you can debate whether or not FCPS is "drowning" in money, it's extremely unfair to claim that teachers only care about making money. Most teachers spend an inordinate amount of their own money on their students and classroom. Spend a week following a teacher's schedule and see what you say then.

Posted by: ls8316a | February 3, 2010 3:35 PM | Report abuse

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