By Paul Goldman
RICHMOND, Va. – The civil spirit showed by those serving voluntarily on Mayor Jones’ Poverty Commission is to be admired.
The report they released last week is well-written, full of good ideas and other stuff.
In this report, they importantly point out the crucial connection between education and poverty.
But given their focus on this point, they made a most curious mistake in their report which stands out to someone like myself who writes on education and politics.
As the saying goes in the South: I didn’t just fall out of a turnip truck.
The figure the Poverty Commission cited as the city’s 2012-2013 budget funding commitment to the Richmond Public Schools – $153.2 million – GROSSLY INFLATES THE ACTUAL CONTRIBUTION.
We are talking tens of millions of dollars.
Until recently, the Richmond City budget practice had been to include in the city budget a separate line item for the STATE EDUCATION MONEY GIVEN TO THE CITY OF RICHMOND AS PART OF ITS SHARE OF THE STATE SALES TAX.
This made perfect sense.
This Mayor and City Council only serve as a conduit of this money to the RPS. Its use is mandated by state law.
Thus, a separate line item is important for transparency.
However, in 2012-13, indeed in the last few years, the percentage of the city budget used to fund the RPS has been dropping, indeed the percentage in the last budget is probably the lowest such percentage since the days of segregation!
Now, to be fair, due to enrollment declines and other forces, there are reasons for less money to be needed in some areas.
But likewise, due the technology and still different forces present today, but not back then, there are reasons for more money to be required in some areas to get the education needed in the 21st century.
Thus, the more or less money issue as a percentage of the budget requires more than a one dimensional view.
So as I have written, it isn’t strictly a matter of making it cheaper: the goal has to be making it better.
Unfortunately, the Mayor and City Council have been focusing on cheaper and want to spend less. Yet as the Poverty Commission points out, keeping the educational product the same yet cheaper will only increase poverty in Richmond, which in the end costs the city more!
This is a complicated debate for sure.
But I do know how politicians think: They know reducing the city’s true funding commitment to the RPS budget as percentage of the city budget to the lowest since the days of segregation doesn’t look good politically.
So what did they do in the last budget?
The 2012-13 city budget totals TOGETHER the funds provided by the city directly, and the state money from the sales tax city, into ONE NUMBER.
This is how they got the $153.2.
This lets our elected officials “take credit” for the state money.
If you really want a true measure of the city’s funding commitment – and I am not saying just throw money at any problem only reporting the facts – then you need to DEDUCT THE STATE MONEY to determine the true city contribution.
When you do that, the segregation era percentages come into play!
How did the Commission miss this fact given how carefully it dissected other statistics in the report?
There are only three options.
- They bent to political pressure.
- They got played by a clever PR trick in the city budget.
- They made a curious but innocent mistake.
I report: You Decide.
Paul Goldman is in no way affiliated with WTVR. His comments are his own, and do not reflect the views of WTVR or any related entity. Neither WTVR nor any of its employees or agents participated in any way with the preparation of Mr. Goldman’s comments.