RICHMOND, Va. — State lawmakers proposed a solution Tuesday to a school funding crisis in the coalfields and other rural areas faced with declining school enrollment.
School districts with fewer than 10,000 students that have lost 10 percent or more of their student population within the past 10 years would receive a funding supplement to offset state funding declines because of shrinking enrollment.
Del. Nick Rush, R-Christiansburg, introduced the "10-10-10" formula from the floor of the House of Delegates after representatives from coalfields schools met with House and Senate leaders in January to discuss a solution to their enrollment and funding problems.
“Statewide, education seems to be going relatively well,” Rush said. “For years now, the schools in our rural areas have been struggling, primarily due to economic downturns and enrollment losses.”
As jobs have disappeared in the coalfields, students have, too. With a school funding formula largely based on average daily student enrollment, the 3 percent drop coalfields schools weathered in a six-month period last year had school officials scrambling to cut costs by consolidating schools, staving off building repairs and choosing not to replace retiring teachers and staff.
The 15 percent funding supplement would apply to 39, mostly rural, school districts and add up to $8.9 million in state funding for those schools. Localities like Wise (4.7 percent population loss since 2010, according to new Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service population estimates out this week), Buchanan (6.7 percent) and Dickenson (5.7 percent) counties as well as Martinsville (2 percent) and Danville (2.5 percent) would be among the districts in Southwest, Southside that would qualify, but the supplement also would apply to schools int he Shenandoah Valley, Northern Neck and others.
Rush called the appropriations a "cost to maintain" supplement that would help schools maintain their buildings and resources, though the school districts would be able to use the additional funds as they see fit.
“Whether you have 17 kids on a bus or 22 kids on a bus, you still have to drive the bus," he said. "Whether you have 300 kids in your high school or 265, you still have to turn the lights on."
The amount allocated to each school district would vary because it would be 15 percent of the average daily membership amount for that district multiplied by the number of students lost in the past decade.
Montgomery County and Christiansburg, which make up the large part of Rush’s district, are not included on the list, but Rush also represents part of Pulaski, whose schools would qualify for the supplement. Rush serves on the powerful House Appropriations Committee and introduced the budget proposal because he helped craft the temporary solution for the funding problem many rural Virginia schools face.
As part of the funding solution, the state also would shift additional Virginia Lottery money back to schools, by raising the amount of lottery funding from 29 percent to 40 percent.
The recommendations will be included in the proposed budget members of the House will present Sunday.