RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Schools across Virginia will get less money than they planned after a miscalculation from the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE), and lawmakers say the problem can’t be fixed immediately.
Charles Pyle, a spokesperson for VDOE, said the problem stems from a mistake with an online calculation tool that incorrectly overstated the amount of state aid going to local school divisions by roughly $201 million. Pyle said the formula used for estimations didn’t reflect a change related to a recent grocery tax cut.
“It was an error in a formula,” Pyle said in an interview on Tuesday. “Unfortunately, we didn’t catch it until last week. When we did, we notified the staff of both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. We alerted school divisions, and next week, we will have corrected calculation tools.”
Pyle said he misspoke when he told the Richmond Times Dispatch that the error was identified in December. He said VDOE confirmed the problem on Jan. 23, 2023, and informed money committees in the General Assembly two days later.
But House Appropriations Committee Chair Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) and Senate Finance Committee Chair Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) said they first heard about the problem this week.
“I didn’t hear about this until I read about it in the paper,” Howell said in an interview on Tuesday morning. “Clearly, we’re going to make it right. We can’t short local school divisions, but it is pretty incompetent that the administration had that happen.”
In a statement, Governor Glenn Youngkin’s spokesperson Macaulay Porter said the administration is working with stakeholders to address the VDOE estimation tool error.
“The Governor is confident that we will address localities’ concerns,” Porter said.
But Howell said any potential relief likely won’t come quickly because the updated budget won’t take effect until July 1, 2023.
“It is going to cause quite a bit of problems for some local school divisions and I think we really need to know how this mistake was made,” Howell said.
Asked about the next steps on Tuesday, Chairman Knight said schools won’t necessarily get the additional money from the state that they budgeted for.
“I’m not saying they’ll get it. I’m saying it will certainly be an item that we’ll discuss,” Knight said.
The uncertainty is putting local leaders, who have already crafted budget plans using higher state aid estimates, in a difficult position. Bristol City Schools Superintendent Keith Perrigan said it will have the biggest impact on small and rural schools.
“It is a huge budget obstacle to overcome,” Perrigan said. “If we don’t have a fix, we’re going to have to go back to the drawing board to determine how we’re going to make those cuts for next year’s budget. But hopefully, there is a solution and we can get to it quickly.”
Pyle said school divisions that didn’t previously identify the discrepancy will, on average, see a budget gap of roughly $1.5 million over two fiscal years. The exact amount will vary based on a number of factors.
“We’re certainly very sorry that this happened,” Pyle said.
In a press conference on Tuesday, House Democrats took aim at Governor Youngkin. They said his administration’s focus on “culture wars” in education contributed to the error.
“This administration from day one when it comes to public education has been a human error,” said Del. Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond).