K-12 public schools in Virginia enroll over 1.2 million students, with 33% in poverty, 7% learning English, 41% minorities, and annual expenditures of over $13 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
The Virginia Supreme Court has found education to be a fundamental right under the state constitution but has, nevertheless, concluded that the constitution does not require equal funding or equal programs among and within Virginia’s school divisions, that is, school districts.
In Scott v. Commonwealth, plaintiffs sought a declaratory judgment that the current system of funding public elementary and secondary schools violated the Virginia Constitution by denying some children "an educational opportunity substantially equal to that of children who attend[ed] public school in wealthier divisions." 443 S.E.2d 138 (1994). The Virginia Supreme Court declared education a fundamental right under the state constitution, but also held that the state constitution does not require equality in funding or programs.
Since this was an equal opportunity, not an "adequate" opportunity, case plaintiffs did not contend that inadequate funding denied children the chance to meet state quality standards and the court did not analyze the adequacy of Virginia's school funding system.
"That free government rests, as does all progress, upon the broadest possible diffusion of knowledge, and that the Commonwealth should avail itself of those talents which nature has sown so liberally among its people by assuring the opportunity for their fullest development by an effective system of education throughout the Commonwealth." Va. Const. art. I, § 15.
"The General Assembly shall provide for a system of free public elementary and secondary schools for all children of school age throughout the Commonwealth, and shall seek to ensure that an educational program of high quality is established and continually maintained." Va. Const. art. VIII, § 1.
"Standards of quality for the several school divisions shall be determined and prescribed from time to time by the Board of Education, subject to revision only by the General Assembly. The General Assembly shall determine the manner in which funds are to be provided for the cost of maintaining an educational program meeting the prescribed standards of quality, and shall provide for the apportionment of the cost of such program between the Commonwealth and the local units of government comprising such school divisions. Each unit of local government shall provide its portion of such cost by local taxes or from other available funds." Va. Const. art. VIII, § 2.
In Scott v. Commonwealth, the Virginia Supreme Court wrote:
"Section 1 speaks in both mandatory and advisory language. The first clause is mandatory and imposes upon the General Assembly a constitutional duty to create and maintain a system of schools throughout the Commonwealth. The language in the second clause is merely aspirational, stating a goal that the General Assembly is admonished and encouraged to attain.
Section 2 addresses the two essential elements of quality education: standards and funding. By the terms of § 2, the General Assembly is empowered to make the final decision about both standards of quality and funding.
Clearly, nowhere in Article VIII, §§ 1 and 2 is there any requirement for "substantial equality" in spending or programs among or within the school divisions in the Commonwealth. Instead, the provisions of Article VIII plainly mandate that each school division provide an educational program meeting standards of quality as determined and prescribed by the General Assembly." 443 S.E.2d 138, 141 - 142 (Va.1994).
The court further concluded:
"Section 15 of Article I also is clear and unambiguous. The second paragraph of § 15 recognizes that "free government rests ... upon the broadest possible diffusion of knowledge." It also admonishes that the Commonwealth "should avail itself" of its peoples' talents "by assuring the opportunity for [the peoples'] fullest development by an effective system of education throughout the Commonwealth."… While § 15 of Article I clearly emphasizes the importance of education generally, its language also is aspirational and not mandatory. Section 15 does not impose a mandate upon the General Assembly with respect to a system of free public schools. Unquestionably, the language in § 15 cannot be read to impose a requirement of uniformity in spending and programs among and within the Commonwealth's school divisions." Id. at 142.
"In sum," the court concluded that "education is a fundamental right under the Constitution." However, the court held that "nowhere does the Constitution require equal, or substantially equal, funding or programs among and within the Commonwealth's school divisions." Id.
The Virginia Preschool Initiative serves 4-year-olds who are considered at-risk based on locally developed criteria. The program is rated an 8 out of 10 on the established quality indicators and only serves 14% of 4-year-olds.
The legislation for the program acknowledges that quality pre-K programs ensure academic and future success and reduce violent and criminal activity.
School districts may contract with private providers. Schools and community organizations are required to coordinate resources and adopt a collaborative approach to providing pre-K services. They may also serve children by purchasing slots in existing childcare settings. The pre-K statute clearly provides that program quality standards may be differentiated according to agency or provider.
All at-risk 4-year-olds who are not served by Head Start are eligible for the program. Each district has the discretion to set criteria for at-risk. Some of the risk factors taken into account are poverty, homelessness, parents with limited education, family instability, health or developmental problems, or English as a second language.
Districts may choose whether to provide full- or half-day programs. The program must be offered at least during the school year calendar.
Grants are distributed to school districts based on a per child formula. Localities that choose to have half-day programs receive funds on a prorated basis. There is also a local match based on a composite index of local ability-to-pay, capped at half the per-pupil amount. Localities are encouraged to utilize other funding sources, including childcare subsidies.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Virginia served only 14% of 4-year-olds in its state preschool program in 2008-2009.
Virginia reached 8 out of the 10 benchmarks.
The 8 benchmarks reached were:
- Early Learning Standards
- Teacher must have Bachelor’s degree
- Teacher in-service (15 hours)
- Class size limits of 20 students
- Class ratio of 1:10 or better
- Screening/referral and support services
- Requirement to provide at least one meal a day
- Monitoring/Site visit program
The 2 benchmarks not met were:
- Requirement that teachers have specialized training in pre-K education
- Assistant teacher must have a Child Development Associate credential, or equivalent
School district superintendents must certify that local preschool programs are following the requisite state learning standards.
Virginia Administrative Code