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Fairfax County Public Schools seeks sizable funding increase for proposed budget

The Fairfax County Public Schools administrative center in Merrifield (file photo)

Fairfax County Public Schools is stepping up its requests for funding this year from both local and state leaders.

The school system is seeking an additional $254 million from Fairfax County for fiscal year 2025 — about 10.5% more than last year — to help fund a projected $301.8 million, or 8.6%, budget increase, FCPS Superintendent Dr. Michelle Reid reported in a presentation to the school board on Thursday (Feb. 8).

According to Reid, the increase is necessary for FCPS to meet the needs of all its students and adequately compensate its staff, even though student enrollment remains below pre-pandemic levels and no new initiatives are included in the proposed $3.8 billion budget.

With the county government bracing for a tight budget year itself, Reid stressed that the local request could be reduced if Virginia contributes more than the $42.2 million increase currently expected based on Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s proposed funding plan for the state.

“What I’m presenting…is what I believe we need to resource and sustain the excellent work that our staff are doing today and compensate our staff into the future to keep us competitive, with the hope that as our General Assembly deliberates…they’ll see the necessity of actually allocating a greater amount of state funding, which will help us out in terms of our county transfer,” Reid told the school board.

The disparity between the local and state funding for public education has long frustrated both county and FCPS leaders, who argue that the formula used to calculate funding needs for each school division is outdated and shortchanges Fairfax County — one of the wealthiest counties in the Commonwealth, but also its biggest and most populous.

Those grievances got validated last year when the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission released an anticipated study that found Virginia spends about $1,900 less per student than the national average, falling below nearby states like Maryland, West Virginia and Kentucky.

If the Commonwealth matched the 50-state average, it would allocate $345 million to FCPS, according to Reid.

“So, just funding us at the average would be more than what we’re actually asking for in additional funds,” she said.

Multiple school board members acknowledged that the size of the funding request may give some community members pause, especially with only a modest growth in enrollment projected for FY 2025, which starts on July 1.

Fairfax County Public Schools student enrollment is rising but remains below fiscal year 2020 levels (via FCPS)

According to the proposed budget, FCPS expects to have 181,701 students next school year. Enrollment has ticked up over the past few years, reaching an estimated 180,398 students this year, but before the COVID-19 pandemic shuttered classrooms in March 2020, the school system had over 188,000 students.

Even though there are fewer students, the cost of serving those students has grown, Reid said. In addition to adjusting for inflation and rising costs of living, FCPS is seeing more students who need more intensive support, including those in special education, non-English speakers and low-income students.

For example, an FY 2025, FCPS projects that nearly 37% of all students will be eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, compared to 30.7% in the 2019-2020 school year, according to the budget.

Fairfax County Public Schools has more special education, English as a Second Language and free/reduced lunch students than it did in FY 2020 (via FCPS)

“The needs are constantly changing,” said Rachna Sizemore-Heizer, who represents Braddock District on the school board. “Therefore, the amount of money we need to service those needs are constantly changing, and on top of that, we’re putting more and more on what we expect public schools to do. It’s educating, it’s mental health supports, it’s supporting families.”

What’s in the proposed budget

After the school board designated teacher recruitment and compensation as a top priorities, Reid has proposed allocating $170.7 million to a 6% salary increase for all employees. Another $55.3 million would cover the cost of a 2% compensation supplement adopted by the state, effective Jan. 1, and $24.1 million would go to retirement and health insurance costs.

FCPS is also considering creating a deferred retirement option program similar to the one available to county government workers.

However, the proposal only includes enough funding — $46.6 million — to maintain current class sizes, which range from an average of 21 students per teacher for elementary schools to 25 students per teacher for high schools.

Initiatives funded by the budget include:

  • An expansion of inclusive preschool programs for kids under 5 ($2.1 million)
  • Energy and environmental goals, including future grants for electric school buses ($1.9 million)
  • “Extra duty” stipends for music and theater staff, mostly at the high school level ($1.1 million)
  • The addition of boys’ volleyball and girls’ wrestling programs at all 25 high schools ($800,000)
  • The third year of an ongoing human resources and payroll technology update ($700,000)
  • Five additional athletic trainers, continuing a multi-year plan to provide two positions at every high school ($600,000)

All of those initiatives are either already underway or have been planned for several years, according to Reid.

“We’re not launching new work. We were very clear this year,” the superintendent said. “We want to fund the work we’ve planned and set out to do over the last several years and maintain the phases of the plans we’ve already begun.”

The school board will get a more detailed presentation and discussion on the budget at a work session this afternoon (Tuesday). Public hearings scheduled for tonight and, if needed, Feb. 20 will be held at 6 p.m. in the auditorium at Luther Jackson Middle School (3020 Gallows Road).

The FY 2025 advertised budget will then be approved by the school board on Thursday, Feb. 22.

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