Thoughts About Loudoun County's Full-Funding of its Schools and What it Means for Prince William County

The Washington Post reports today that "for the first time in more than a decade, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is poised to fully fund the operating budget proposed by the county school board." This is an excellent development and a victory for school staff, students, and parents in Loudoun County, where quite the bold budget was presented to further lower class sizes and expand full-day kindergarten earlier this year.

However, comparing Prince William County to Loudoun County is not exactly is a comparison of apples to apples. Here are a couple of the differences and points to consider as this year's budget season slowly wraps up.

Loudoun County Does Not Have a Revenue Sharing Agreement:
Prince William County Public Schools has a revenue sharing agreement with the Board of County Supervisors which stipulates that 57.23% of general fund revenues go to the school system. Note, that this is not 57.23% of all revenues (the percentage of all revenues received is a bit lower). As such, it should be made clear that the BOCS is never in a position to "fully-fund" public schools, but rather provide a certain percentage of revenues.

At best, having this revenue sharing agreement should provide guidance of predicted revenues and prevent the necessity to haggle over a budget every year. However, the refusal of the BOCS to fund its own 5-Year Plans over the past few years has negated some of the benefits of the revenue sharing agreement. Hopefully that will change this year when the tax rate is adopted.

It is questionable what benefit that doing away with the revenue sharing agreement would have. Schools could receive more of a percentage of county funds, but it would be at the cost of police, libraries, and other county services. Schools could also receive less of a percentage. Though, the percentages would be subject to the amount of revenues.

Yet, the vast majority of other school systems in Virginia do not have revenue sharing agreements like the one in Prince William County. The lack of a revenue sharing agreement could put the School Board and PWCS administration in a better, offensive, position to present budgets that are bolder and based around needs rather than expected revenues -- and this could put the BOCS in a defensive position to fund the school system.

Loudoun County Already Funds Schools Better than Prince William County:
Loudoun County's Board of Supervisors may not have had "fully funded" budgets for its schools, but its school system has been funded better than Prince William County's. Loudoun County has had a higher per-pupil expenditure for a number of years due to higher local funding for public schools, which has equated to lower class sizes than those in Prince William County. The tax burden (income vs. property tax) is higher in Loudoun County. There is also more tax-positive economic development, which diversifies the tax base, taking the burden of funding schools away from just residents.

Diversifying the tax base and increasing revenues are important considerations as plans for funding class size reductions in Prince William County are developed.

The Take-Away?
The Prince William Board of County Supervisors needs to work with the School Board to develop a long-term, sustainable, plan to provide revenues to reduce class sizes. Loudoun County's way may or may not be the best one for Prince William County, but it is clear that there is a commitment to properly funding public schools in Loudoun County. Loudoun's Board of Supervisors gets a whole-hearted "kudos" for that.

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