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Funding tops county schools' legislative wish list

More school funding tops the list of legislative priorities for the Albemarle County School Board during the upcoming General Assembly session.

The Albemarle County School Board met with area lawmakers virtually Thursday to discuss the session. The board would like more state funding for schools to support students who fell behind during the pandemic to catch up, more mental health resources, other approaches to school discipline and teacher recruitment.

“I worry about all the longer term consequences, and we need to have the mental health professionals in place to deal with that,” board member Kate Acuff said.

According to the division’s legislative agenda, which was approved last week, funding provided in the current state budget will not meet the new school counselor ratios passed during the 2020 Session or enable school divisions to meet the requirement that 80% of counselor time be spent in delivering direct services to students.

Beyond funding, the division wants to see a long-term plan to raise teacher salaries, which regularly rank below the national average, and wants last school year’s enrollment be used to calculate state funding.

“We, like so many other divisions, have lost students to homeschooling and private schools,” board member Judy Le said. “Because we fully expect those students to come back to us when this is over, and for us to continue the growth that we had enjoyed prior to that, we need to be able to plan our funding numbers to reflect that.”

Albemarle County’s enrollment is down by about 900 students compared to last school year. This fiscal year, state funding accounted for 27% of the division’s operating budget.

State Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, and Dels. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, Chris Runion, R-Rockingham, and Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, attended the meeting.

The 2021 General Assembly will be a short session and starts Jan. 13. The lawmakers have a range of priorities for the session including boosting education funding, mental health and broadband.

Le asked the lawmakers about whether they had started to discuss how to support divisions dealing with students’ learning losses because of the pandemic disruptions.

Deeds said the state is going to have “a huge number of catch up jobs,” adding that he worried about students learning to read and those in special education.

As a member of the Senate Finance Committee, he expects to hold schools harmless for the enrollment decline and take a look at what’s needed to help students catch up.

“Unfortunately for some kids, the losses are going to be irretrievable,” he said. “ There’s gonna be so much catch up. I’m not sure that we’re gonna be able to do it all. But we have an obligation, it seems to me, to figure out how to make sure that we lose as few children as possible.

Bell said he hoped the state could first get a more accurate picture of the learning losses students have sustained during the last nine months.

“I think we can be aspirational and everybody’s working as hard as they can, but again, all the data says there’s a significant problem, and then that would be where I hope that the budget would direct its resources,” he said.

Hudson said that with many statewide offices on the ballot next year, she expects to hear big education plans.

“I’m glad that people are talking about major investments in schools and that will be front and center in campaign conversations,” she said. “I hope that we can also ensure that when we talk about those big numbers, we talk seriously about what it takes to put real money behind them, because I think there are some items on the campaign trail that we’re going to talk about that are just too small, in practice, to really deliver on those promises.”


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