State budget increases funding for education

Amber Shiflett and Blake Belden / Capital News Service - Posted on Apr 04, 2013 - 12:45 PM

During the final hours of Wednesday’s reconvened session, the General Assembly approved a state budget that boosts funding for Virginia’s public schools next year.

Legislators considered changes that Gov. Bob McDonnell wanted them to make to House Bill 1500, which lays out the state budget for the 2013-14 biennium. The assembly had passed the bill in February, but McDonnell recommended 52 amendments.

The House and Senate approved most of the governor’s recommendations, including three that provided $2.35 million in additional funds for education.

For example, the General Assembly adopted McDonnell’s recommendation to add $2 million to his Strategic Compensation Grant initiative, increasing that pool of money to $7.5 million for next year. The governor said the additional funding “will allow more school divisions to participate in this program, which rewards effective teaching.”

The initiative allows school districts to provide additional compensation to teachers who take jobs at more challenging schools and help students succeed academically.

Legislators also approved McDonnell’s request to boost funding for the Virginia Community College System by $100,000 next year. The additional money will help develop the Governor’s Academy for Student Apprenticeships and Trades. The academy will target high school students looking for full-time employment after graduation.

Besides helping high school students establish careers, the General Assembly also approved more funds for medical education.

As part of the state’s community development and revitalization efforts, the General Assembly approved McDonnell’s amendment for $250,000 to plan the construction of a medical college in Abingdon.

Del. Joe Johnson (D-Abingdon), said he supported the amendment because the proposed medical facility will bring economic growth to less prosperous areas of Virginia.

“Southwest Virginia is the poor part of the state, so to speak; there’s not a lot of opportunities down there,” Johnson said before the House voted on the amendment Wednesday. Johnson said the facility will generate more than $100 million and about 500 jobs.

The General Assembly rejected two of McDonnell’s education-related budget amendments.

One would have provided $450,000 next year for the Opportunity Educational Institution, a new state-level unit to oversee public schools that have received accreditation warnings for three consecutive years.

Legislators also rejected McDonnell’s recommendation to award $1 million to the Hampton Roads Proton Beam Therapy Institute at Hampton University. The university is a private institution that has historically served African Americans.

“We ought to give the money to public institutions, not private institutions,” said Del. Johnny Joannou (D-Portsmouth).