RD779 - 2021 Annual Report on the Condition and Needs of Public Schools in Virginia – December 1, 2021

Executive Summary:

The Virginia Board of Education reaffirms the priorities and goals outlined in its comprehensive plan, adopted November 2017. The priorities outlined in the comprehensive plan are to:

• Provide high-quality, effective learning environments for all students;

• Advance policies that increase the number of candidates entering the teaching profession and encourage and support the recruitment, development, and retention of well-prepared and skilled teachers and school leaders;

• Ensure successful implementation of the Profile of a Virginia Graduate and the accountability system for school quality as embodied in the revisions to the Standards of Accreditation.

As outlined in this report, the past 18 months have been extraordinary for public education in Virginia due to the COVID-19 pandemic and its ongoing effects, which have placed huge demands on our schools, students, and parents. Prior to the pandemic, Virginia’s public schools consistently ranked among the best in the nation and overall had positive results for K-12 student achievement. These positive accolades for Virginia’s public schools affirmed the hard work of educators, students and families. However, the pandemic has presented numerous challenges for public education, many of them exacerbating previously existing concerns. New challenges include offering remote and/or hybrid education as needed; the lack of qualified personnel to teach remotely; declines in enrollment; increased pressure on parents as they faced the reality of educating their children at home; and heightened tensions related to each of these realities between and among some parents and educators and education leaders. Exacerbated challenges include teacher shortages and continued achievement and opportunity gaps especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds. The challenges and uncertainty facing local school divisions likely will continue long after the pandemic ends.

The Board presents the following conclusions of Virginia’s public education system:

• Data shows that the extended school closures due to the pandemic have caused unfinished learning across the state, including the Commonwealth’s youngest learners.

• Local school divisions rely on stable funding streams in order to make long-term plans. A drop in student enrollment does not necessarily equate to a short-term drop in expenses. Because public education funds are largely allocated on a per-pupil basis, the reduction in funding based upon current formulas does not reflect the economic realities faced by local school divisions. The General Assembly should continue to hold local school divisions harmless for enrollment losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

• Enrollment in publicly supported early childhood care and education programs has been deeply impacted by the pandemic. Drops in enrollment led to staffing challenges and will likely impact school readiness in future years.

• Virginia’s teacher shortage predated the pandemic but is likely to be severely exacerbated by it for years to come. Trends in teacher retention during the pandemic are still largely anecdotal but preliminary indications are that teacher shortages have intensified. Local school divisions are also experiencing challenges in other staffing areas such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers. Early childhood programs are plagued with similar challenges. The disparity between child care wages and cost of living results in significant turnover of staff in early childhood classrooms and creates disruptions in learning that are impossible to ignore.

• Since the school closures began, young people’s levels of concern about the present and future have increased, and overall health and wellbeing have suffered.(*1) The pandemic has highlighted the importance of mental health and the need to focus on social emotional learning.

• Despite the incredible efforts of local school divisions, the pandemic has underscored deep inequities as it relates to the digital divide due to lack of resources, connectivity, and teacher training to educate in virtual and hybrid settings.

• Despite progress by the legislature, Virginia schools continue to be underfunded. According to the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission’s report Virginia Compared to the Other States: 2021 Edition, Virginia ranks 27th of 50 for state and local per-pupil funding for Pre K-12 education, and 40th of 50 for state per-pupil funding. State direct aid per-pupil has decreased 5.4%, adjusted for inflation.(*2) If the Board’s Standards of Quality prescriptions were funded, divisions on average would receive over $600 more per student.(*3)

Pursuant to its authority under Article VIII, Section 2 of the Constitution of Virginia, the Board prescribed Standards of Quality for Virginia’s school divisions on October 21, 2021. The prescribed SOQ seek to ensure that every child will be taught by an effective educator, highlighting the importance of teachers and building leadership in the education of our children. They provide for supports for less experienced teachers, underscore the importance of literacy by increasing the number of reading specialists in grades K-5, recognize the importance of building leadership by requiring a full-time principal in every school and a full-time assistant principal for every 400 students; and recognize our changing demographics by increasing the number of teachers for English Learners.

Among the prescriptions outlined later in this document is the Enhanced At-Risk Add-On Fund, which the Board identifies as a critical priority. This prescription addresses disparities in our state funding model for at-risk students and directs funds to serving those student populations that most benefit from additional, targeted support.
(*1) Margolius, M., Doyle Lynch, A., Pufall Jones, E. & Hynes, M. (2020). The State of Young People during COVID-19: Findings from a nationally representative survey of high school youth. Americas Promise Alliance. file:///C:/Users/neq66846/Downloads/YouthDuringCOVID_FINAL%20%281%29.pdf
(*2) Mendes, Kathy & Stewart, Chad. “K-12 Funding Trends At-a-Glance: Data for Statewide and All 132 School Divisions." The Commonwealth Institute, 2021. https://thecommonwealthinstitute.org/wpcontent/uploads/2021/06/Statewide-K-12-Virginia-Public-Schools.pdf
(*3) Ibid.