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Virginia’s error leads local schools to overestimate aid

The Virginia Department of Education acknowledged Jan. 31 that an error in a mathematical formula it provides to local K-12 school divisions led some schools to expect more state funding than they are set to receive.

Charles Pyle, a department spokesperson, said in an interview that the mistake was contained in an Excel spreadsheet the department makes available to local divisions. It led to funding calculations that were “overly generous,” he said, a difference of $201 million between expectation and reality statewide over two fiscal years.

“Unfortunately, because of this issue with the calculation tool, school divisions that didn’t catch this would have been operating under estimates that overstated how much state aid they were going to receive,” he said.

He noted that the mistake had no impact on actual funding and said divisions are receiving all of the aid authorized under the state budget. Advocates for public schools said the problem raised serious concerns and were pushing for additional funding to match their expectations.

Democrats in the General Assembly blasted the department for the mistake, which was first reported by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.

The “incompetence” of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration “is on full display today,” Sen. Scott Surovell said in a statement.

Democrats who control the state Senate said they expected to find a way to make school districts whole.

“Senate Democrats will work to fix Governor Youngkin’s error and ensure that every Virginia child will receive a world class education – no matter where they live, their background, or their ability,” Sen. Mamie Locke said in a statement.

Republican House Appropriations Chair Barry Knight also expressed displeasure at the disclosure.

“I didn’t know anything about it at all until this afternoon,” Knight told the newspaper Jan. 30. “I’m not very happy.”

Pyle said the department notified the staff of the House and Senate money committees Jan. 25 and let local school divisions know Jan. 27.

He said the error in the spreadsheet tool stemmed from a failure to reflect last year’s decision to hold localities harmless from the elimination of the state’s portion of the sales tax on groceries and personal care items.

Pyle didn’t respond to a request for comment about Democrats’ criticism.

Scott Brabrand, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said in an email Tuesday that superintendents “across the commonwealth are very concerned about this funding error.”

“We are urgently asking State Superintendent (Jillian) Balow and the State Board of Education to work with the General Assembly and the Governor to correct this error’s impact on our students and schools. Proactive solutions must be found,” he said.

Keith Perrigan, the superintendent of Bristol Virginia Public Schools and president of the Coalition of Small and Rural Schools of Virginia, was in Richmond on Jan. 31 for an advocacy day. In a phone interview, he said he’s hopeful school divisions will have clarity soon.

“Every legislator that we spoke with today assured us that a solution was being sought,” he said.

-SARAH RANKIN, Associated Press

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