Incentive programs face ax

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 14, 2003

Staff and wire reports

School superintendents from around Virginia on Monday urged legislators to preserve funding for programs that fall outside the state’s basic aid formula for public education.

Among the initiatives supported by public school &uot;incentive programs&uot; are class size reduction, early reading intervention, algebra preparedness and Standards of Learning remediation. The programs account for about 11 percent of all state spending on education.

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Suffolk Public Schools Executive Director of Finance, Michael Brinkley, explained on Monday that some of the programs the division seeks to retain include K-3 class size reduction programs, at-risk 4-year-old program, early reading intervention, and SOL Algebra readiness and technology. Cutting these areas &uot;would have a serious impact because all these programs have been beneficial,&uot; he stressed.

Hanover County School Superintendent Stewart Roberson said some legislators are discussing funneling incentive grant money into the state’s Standards of Quality accounts, also known as basic aid. That would be a mistake, he said.

&uot;Each of these programs has value, and we believe they will continue to make a difference in the support of young people who deserve the best Virginia can offer them,&uot; Roberson said at a news conference attended by almost all the state’s 133 public school superintendents.

Del. Phillip A. Hamilton, R-Newport News, said shifting incentive funds into the SOQ formula would give school districts more flexibility to spend the money on programs they believe work the best.

&uot;This is the first time I’ve heard opposition from the superintendents to putting more money into the SOQs,&uot; Hamilton said in an interview.

Roberson, president of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said legislators should look for ways to boost SOQ funding while leaving incentive programs intact. A November 2001 report by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission said the state is underfunding SOQs by $1 billion in this biennium.

Del. James H. Dillard II, R-Fairfax and chairman of the House Education Committee, said &uot;it’s time to get a little mad&uot; that the state is failing to pay for its share of meeting minimum education standards. Dillard has proposed legislation to increase the state sales tax by 1 cent on the dollar to raise money for public schools.

Roberson said the superintendents association is not endorsing any revenue bills. He said the organization prefers to explain the needs of public schools and let elected officials decide how those needs are met.