Virginia’s error leads local schools to overestimate aid

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The Virginia Department of Education on Tuesday acknowledged that an error in a math formula it provides to local K-12 school departments caused some schools to expect more government funding than they did should receive.

Charles Pyle, a spokesman for the department, said in an interview that the bug was contained in an Excel spreadsheet that the department is making available to local departments. It resulted in funding calculations that were “overly generous,” he said, a $201 million difference between expectation and reality across the state over two fiscal years.

“Unfortunately, because of this problem with the calculation tool, school departments that did not recognize this would have been operating under estimates that would have overstated the amount of government aid they would receive,” he said.

Noting that the error had no impact on actual funding, he said departments receive all aid approved under the state budget. Public school advocates said the issue is raising serious concerns and are urging additional funding to meet their expectations.

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Democrats in the General Assembly blasted the department over the error, 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 Senate, said they expect to find a way to complete school districts.

“Senate Democrats will work to correct Gov. Youngkin’s mistake and ensure that every child in Virginia receives a world-class education — regardless of where they live, their background or their ability,” Sen. Mamie Locke said in a statement.

House Speaker Barry Knight also expressed dissatisfaction with the disclosure.

“I didn’t know anything about it until this afternoon,” Knight told the newspaper on Monday. “I’m not very happy.”

Pyle said the department notified staff on the House and Senate Treasury Committees on Wednesday and notified local school departments on Friday.

He said the error in the spreadsheet tool stems from the fact that last year’s decision to indemnify places from eliminating the state’s share of the sales tax on groceries and personal care items was not taken into account.

Pyle did not respond to a request for comment on the Democrats’ criticism.

Scott Brabrand, chief executive of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said in an email Tuesday that superintendents “across the Commonwealth are deeply concerned about this funding failure.”

“We urge State Superintendent (Jillian) Balow and the State Board of Education to work with the General Assembly and the Governor to correct the impact of this error on our students and schools. Proactive solutions need to 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 Tuesday for an advocacy day. In a phone interview, he said he hopes school departments will have clarity soon.

“Every legislator we spoke to today has reassured us that a solution is being sought,” he said.

Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

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