…for more of your tax dollars. And it won’t solve a damn thing.
Just in case readers want to do a deep dive on the JLARC report on public education, here are the relevant documents:
JLARC finally released their study on education funding (SJ 294) this week. A few things out of the starting block:
- The focus was entirely on the condition of public education. The bureaucrats simply have no conception of including all Virginians.
- The words “charter schools” do not appear in the 163-page report even once — that’s 1,266 students.
- The words “private schools” do not appear in the 163-page report even once — that’s over 143,000 students.
- The words “home schools” do not appear in the 163-page report even once — that’s nearly 60,000 students.
- The words “parochial schools” do not appear in the 163-page report even once — consisting of nearly 27,000 students.
- Virginia’s public education system benefits from $20 billion dollars of public investment each year, with a shrinking student population saddled by more administrators and bureaucrats than ever before —all sitting on top of teachers, parents, and students.
Within the JLARC presentation, the immediate emphasis and entire argument is couched in one simple demand. More money.
Case in point?
Sounds like a reasonable claim that should be backed up with factual argumentation, right? Except when one looks to the JLARC study itself? Both of these claims are presumably made by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) without pointing towards any specific study. The claim is simply inserted uncritically and demands to be accepted uncritically.
Throwing Money At The Problem (Again)
Of course, this is the same NBER whose historically left-leaning prognostications on when the economy goes into recession — particularly in 1992 for Bill Clinton’s election campaign and most recently for Joe Biden in 2022 — are known enough in Republican circles as to be treated with the proverbial grain of salt.
Based on this criterion — more money — and this criterion alone, JLARC moves forward with an assessment of how it can squeeze more money out of Virginia taxpayers.
At the very least, JLARC had the integrity to recognize that funding is but one of many factors long ignored by public education — holding students accountable, holding teachers accountable, support services, poverty rates, parental involvement — long ignored by public education. Whether this can be fixed with more money is immaterial to JLARC’s analysis.
They simply need more money.
Here’s my favorite slide:
TRANSLATION: We have no idea if more money is going to fix anything at all — if there really is a problem — but any funding “substantially above or below” (?!) benchmarks suggests that we need more money to fix problems which may or may not be fixable with more money.
The average difference between what Virginia is spending and what is “needed” to achieve the goal of more money is a magic 15%.
That’s $3 billion in additional funds year to year to be spent on. . .
Remember — JLARC has no idea whether more money would fix the problem, just that public education “needs” more money. By comparing ourselves to Maryland and West Virginia, the averages say that whelp — by golly we just don’t spend as much. North Carolina, Kentucky and Tennessee spend less — but we have MODELLING! (TM) which sprinkles magic fairy dust on any objections and tells us to just spend the damn money already.
I really hate the idea of averages. Put 60 people on a bus and what is their average net worth? Probably somewhere in the $50,000 range. Now put Bill Gates on that bus and what is everyone’s average net worth? That’s right — $1 billion. Does that mean you have a bus full of billionaires? Not at all — it is just that an outlier is skewing your average is all.
Public Education: Failing to Teach; Refusing to Learn
Of course, here’s the one argument most folks embedded in public education don’t want to hear, namely that JLARC is shining a glaring and harsh light on a fundamental yet difficult truth: using a 19th century funding mechanism to feed a 20th century school system and expecting a 21st century product is misguided, ill-considered, and in desperate need of reform.
Virginia’s Standards of Quality (SOQs) and the Local Composite Index (LCI) used by local governments as a baseline for school funding are complicated strictures which inevitably pit 134 local governments against 134 local school boards every year, each of them bitterly resolving Richmond’s obligation to a free and quality public education system.
To make matters worse, many local school systems in rural Virginia are shrinking dramatically as school systems in Northern Virginia and Hampton Roads — and even the Richmond area — are growing exponentially. The salary requirements in Fairfax certainly are not on par with those in Floyd. The conditions in Spotsylvania are certainly not those in Norfolk. Fiddling with the SOQs sounds great to Nero, but the rest of us see a school system on fire.
Throwing more money at public education — which is the JLARC recommendation in crayon — doesn’t resolve any of the very real and serious problems in Virginia’s public education system. Worse still for advocates for more money is that by its own confession, the JLARC recommendations know that the problems facing public education are far greater and more complex than funding issues — and the JLARC report doesn’t even begin to touch those questions precisely because that is not its objective.
The objective is more money.
Getting Causation Backwards
Here’s a question we ought to ask. Perhaps the reason why these problems persist is because we are artificially propping up a failing public education system? One can argue that mental health problems lead to unemployment, but does it ever occur to a soul to ask whether unemployment leads to mental health problems?
The JLARC report points towards several problems — holding students accountable, holding teachers accountable, support services, poverty rates, parental involvement — which can be resolved with more money.
Perhaps more money is creating the conditions which subsidize the problems? Nearly 11% of Virginia’s students are in private, parochial, charter and homeschooling environments largely due to these precise problems.
Perhaps accountability doesn’t begin in the checkbook of working-class Virginians.
The hard truth is that public education in Virginia is failing generations of children, and those who care don’t know and those who know do not care — so long as they are paid handsomely to strive for mediocrity and sell it back to parents as the best they could do.
Surely $20 billions of taxpayer-financed attention demonstrates the seriousness all Virginians share in investing in the future. Why then should Virginians tolerate the shell game of lies, damned lies, and statistics in an attempt to shovel more money into a system that is not only failing to teach but refusing to learn?
Coda: Working Systems, Not People
Now after all that vitriol and argumentation, a final parting word.
This will shock Democrats, but Republicans would be thrilled to throw money at an education system worthy of the name.
- $100,000 a year for teachers?
- Standardized pay scales across the Commonwealth?
- Student vouchers? This is the elephant in the room…
- Ending tenure?
- Focus on teaching rather than endless testing?
- Ripping out CRT and DEI?
- Making parent-teacher conferences about the student rather than the teacher?
- Adjusting the LCI as the maximum rather than the minimum and placing the onus of funding public education upon Richmond?
- Updating the SOQs?
- Vastly reducing the number of highly paid administrators presiding over public education?
- Rebuilding public schools in communities impacted by segregation and Massive Resistance in places such as Richmond, Norfolk and Petersburg?
- Expanding the Governor School program?
- Introducing something like the Missouri A+ Scholarship for graduating high school seniors to get their two-year degree or STEM-H certification in Virginia’s community college system?
SIGN. ME. UP.
As of yet, center-right thinkers and the precisely half of Virginians to our right are locked out and told under no uncertain terms to subsidize mediocrity for its own sake. “Throw more money at this,” they demand, “and we will get it right this time.”
Except the bureaucrats and apparatchiks never do.
Because we have the problem backwards.
Consider just for a moment that we just might be subsidizing a system which is enabling bad behavior and dolling up poor results as success, only for those same students to be unleashed upon a world underprepared and ill-armed to prosper. We all know this is true at some level. Why are we so afraid to say so publicly?
The problem is deeper than money. Which is why we had better start saying so and push past those paid handsomely to say otherwise — and quickly.
Shaun Kenney is the editor of The Republican Standard, former chairman of the Board of Supervisors for Fluvanna County, and a former executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia.