Gov. Northam proposes $268 million investment in schools, pay raise for teachers

RICHMOND, Va. -- Virginia Governor Ralph Northam plans to introduce budget amendments that would lead to $268 million in new investments in K-12 public education. The amendment package includes pay raises for teachers and money to help school districts pay for building construction.

Ahead of his speech to the Joint Money Committees next week, Northam said conforming Virginia's income tax code to federal changes and collection of out-of-state online sales tax following the U.S. Supreme Court's "Wayfair decision" would pay for the new investments.

Northam said he is "confident" the General Assembly will pass legislation on both fronts during their 2019 session, which begins in January.

"I believe we have a once in a lifetime opportunity to make investments in Virginians, sure up our reserves, and meet our existing obligations," Northam said.

The amendment package includes $88 million to boost teacher raises to five percent, a $70 million boost in general aid for local school districts statewide, and a one-time $80 million deposit into Virginia's Literary Fund, which officials said helps provide local school districts with low-cost loans to pay for school construction.

Governor Ralph Northam

A spokesperson for Northam told The Virginia-Pilot the remaining $30 million would go to "a variety of smaller K-12 appropriations.

The teacher pay raises would take effect on July 1, 2019. The Virginia Education Association (VEA) said Virginia ranks 34th in the country in average teacher pay and 42nd in per-pupil state spending on education.

“Every child in the Commonwealth should have access to a world-class education; that can’t happen if Virginia is unable to compete with other states on attracting and retaining the best teaching talent,” Northam said.  “Raising teacher pay is one step to securing the quality of our K-12 education system for years to come.”

"When Virginia invests in public schools, it is investing in Virginia's future," said Jim Livingston, President of the VEA.  "The additional funding Governor Northam proposed today is good for students, good for public schools, and good for the teachers and other professionals working hard to ensure we have a top-quality public education system."

Northam's package of education budget amendments are only proposals at this point.

The Governor will have to convince Republican leadership, who control the two major budget committees in the General Assembly, that the numbers work.  Northam address the Joint Money Committees on December 18.

Del. Chris Jones (R-Suffolk) released a statement Tuesday afternoon in response to Northam’s proposal.

“We appreciate the Governor's proposal and will consider it when drafting our budget amendments. K-12 education has been a priority of House Republicans and we are glad to see the Governor building on the raises and over $1 billion in new funding for K-12 education provided in our budget last year. However, we have to remember this is just one piece of the broader package that we will consider as we put together our proposals.”

Northam's announcement comes three days after teachers, parents, students and city and school leaders marched in Richmond calling on the state to provide more funding to K-12 schools.  An October report by the independent fiscal analysis non-profit The Commonwealth Institute found that Virginia's per-student spending is down nine percent compared to 2009, when adjusting for inflation.

"I’m glad to see Governor Northam is listening to the concerns of students, families, and localities across Virginia demanding more state funding for education,” said Mayor Levar Stoney, who helped organize the march. “This is a significant step toward getting our students and teachers the support they need and deserve, but we still have more work to do. We need to make our voices heard in January to protect these investments and continue fighting for our students. More money means better schools and stronger students.”

Northam said Virginia is on a "positive financial footing" and has seen better than expected revenue collections.

The Governor's Office said their budget proposals will also include investments in the state reserve fund. Northam said his goal is to have eight percent of Virginia's total budget in reserves by the end of his administration.

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