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Youngkin slashes Democrats’ education budget, vetoes bipartisan school funding bill

Photo courtesy via VPM News
Photo courtesy via VPM News

Governor Glenn Youngkin released budget amendments and issued vetoes just hours before Monday night’s deadline. Some of Youngkin's strikes hit education spending and funding plans crafted by Democrats.

This story was reported and written by Radio IQ

House Education Committee chair Sam Rasoul patroned an  effort to allow localities to add a new sales tax to fund schools. The bill got an almost veto-proof, bipartisan majority, and a similar version was sponsored by former GOP Majority Leader Terry Kilgore. But Governor Glenn Youngkin vetoed the bill Monday, saying it could “result in a nearly $1.5 billion dollar tax increase on Virginians.”

“Many localities were really looking forward to having this other tool to build schools, especially with crumbling infrastructure,” Rasoul said. Nine other Virginia localities currently have the power to levy such a tax, with most taking advantage of that opportunity.

In  earlier reporting, Pittsylvania County Schools’ Superintendent Mark Jones told Radio IQ their implementation of the tax last summer has already generated over $2 million.

Democrats said they were still reviewing the details of Youngkin’s  budget amendments Tuesday. But Manassas Senator Danica Roem noted her effort to increase reimbursement rates for school meals was among those reduced by the governor.

The senator had pushed for universal free school breakfast, a program she said had bipartisan support in states like Pennsylvania. But the price tag proved too high, and the budget request was whittled down from $.28 reimbursement per meal in the conference budget to $.25 in Youngkin’s amendment.

“I’m glad we are doing something. At the same time, I don’t think we need to go and pick apart feeding kids,” Roem said of the cuts in the face of an over $80 billion budget.

Cities and counties will also be parsing out Youngkin’s education spending this week. Among them is Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, who warned education funding increases were needed especially in the wake of the pandemic.

“The Commonwealth of Virginia has shortchanged education for far too long. So, any cuts to education will be harmful,” Stoney told Radio IQ.

And while Youngkin defended his education spending cuts, suggesting his amendments “build on the bipartisan commitment to funding a high-quality education, setting a new two-year record for K-12 education funding,” outside observers were less impressed.

Laura Goren is with The Commonwealth Institute, a progressive-leaning, economic watchdog that has pushed for more taxes on the rich to pay for public services.

Youngkin claimed he added nearly $196 million for at-risk students, but TCI said he was using his initial budget, submitted in December without legislative input. Goren said it amounts to a $162 million reduction in support from the bipartisan conference budget submitted last month.

Goren also took issue with a reported cut of $47 million in English learning programs for ESL students.

“It would disproportionately impact students in my district,” Senator Roem said, noting her district has the largest population of El Salvadorian people in the Commonwealth.

Youngkin did agree to raises for teachers over the next two years, but how funds for wage increases will draw from other education spending will be a point of debate when the legislature returns to Richmond next week.