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Alexandria Mayor urges Richmond to reconsider approach to school funding

Graduates at Alexandria City High School’s graduation at George Mason University’s EagleBank Arena, June 3, 2023 (staff photo by James Cullum)

One month after a study found that the Virginia state government is underfunding schools, Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson called on state leaders in Richmond to reconsider their approach.

The core issue identified by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission is that the Local Composite Index (LCI) incorporates local real property, gross income and taxable retail sales to determine how much a locality can fund their school system.

But that calculation for staffing positions doesn’t account for things like regional labor costs, school division size, or students with higher needs, all of which can be higher in Northern Virginia than other localities.

Wilson said in a newsletter that, based on this formula, many Northern Virginia communities are expected to cover 80% of the cost of their schools. Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) receive $63.6 million from the state every year, which amounts to a little less than 20% of the operating costs of the schools, while some localities have 83% of the school budget covered by the state.

Virginia school districts as a whole receive 14% less from the state than the national average compared to what those schools are actually spending, or around $1,900 less per student, according to the Washington Post.

“In Alexandria, we have consistently voiced concerns in Richmond about the LCI as an inappropriate tool given that it puts too much emphasis on the purported wealth of a community and too little emphasis on the costs of services required by the student body,” Wilson wrote. “In the case of Alexandria, with a student body with high levels of poverty, English language learners and special education, the costs of educating our students is not represented by the pockets of wealth in some areas of our City.”

The study found that the current formula does not accurately reflect the local education costs. Wilson said he hopes the General Assembly and Gov. Glenn Youngkin will take steps to address this in the next legislative session.

“Bottom line is that their formula essentially treats Alexandria and Falls Church the same, the school system with one of the highest levels of poverty in the state and the school system with the lowest level of poverty in the state” Wilson told ALXnow. “I don’t think that’s fair to our students or our taxpayers.”

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