School Finance in Virginia – Not What You Expect


by James C. Sherlock

We have often discussed public school policy, and it deserves attention. So to provide some context, I prepared a spreadsheet to help us all understand the school. finance in Virginia. I used the 2019-20 school year.

After completing the task, I find that I still do not fully understand it. But it is interesting and certainly raises questions.

First some background facts.

Mississippi is the poorest state in the Union.

Thirty-four of Virginia’s school districts are administered by jurisdictions with a median household income lower than that of Mississippi in 2019.

But good news.

Forty of Virginia’s school districts paid paid teachers more than the median local household income; seventeen of them paid at least 10% more.

The city of Salem paid its teachers 150% of the median household income.

If Loudoun had done what Salem did with teachers’ salaries, the average teacher in Loudoun would have earned over $ 210,000 a year.

But I digress.

The composite index of ability to pay and state contributions to education

It is immediately clear that the state’s ability to pay formula has, in some cases, nothing to do with median household income or, apparently, even the property tax base.

For example, Surry County, with a median household income of less than $ 58,000 (state average greater than $ 76,000), is assigned the maximum composite index of ability to pay (composite index) in due to taxes paid by the nuclear power plant in that jurisdiction.

State contributions to education generally follow the evolution of the composite index. But there are glaring exceptions.

The Case of Public Funding for Education in Sussex and Tazewell Counties

County of Sussex, with a .3492 ability to pay, received $ 8,191 per state student, and provided nearly $ 8,000 per student locally.

That, added to its federal contribution, brought Sussex County’s total per student financial support to over $ 17,500 per student, making it the top ten jurisdictions in the state by this measure, ranking just ahead of the Fairfax County.

Among the jurisdictions that rank it in the top ten in terms of total financial support per student, Sussex County with its index of 0.35 is the only one with an ability to pay ranked below 0.65.

The state clearly did not expect Sussex to be able to pay $ 8,000 per student out of its own local tax funds. The median household income in Sussex County was $ 49,487, well below the state average of over $ 76,000.

Yet Tazewell County, with a composite index of 0.2575, received only $ 6,572 per state student. The state index, if applied, would have provided Tazewell with significantly more money than Sussex. Tazewell added nearly $ 2,400 per student to local funds, and with its federal contribution has just over $ 10,000 per student to finance its schools compared to Sussex ‘ $ 17,500.

The median household income in Tazewell was $ 42,099.

Maybe someone can explain how the publicly funded train left the tracks in this comparison, but I can’t.


There are over 130 school districts in Virginia. Each of them is listed.

Remember, this is the funding public education, not education policy or the outcomes of that education. It’s a long list of different threads.

There are six segments in the worksheet. All data is from 2019-2020.

The first two segments are:

  • Census Bureau income and poverty figures by jurisdiction;
  • Virginia composite index of local ability to pay on which state contributions to schools were to be based. I’m sure there is some fine print, but that’s the title;

The others provide data from VDOE which includes

  • School financial support data divided into local, state, and federal dollars paid per student by jurisdiction, then summed to define total financial support per student;
  • Percentage of school division spending spent on education;
  • Student and teacher data that includes totals and ratios, and average teacher salaries;
  • average teacher salary as a percentage of median household income in each jurisdiction.

Generally speaking, dark red cells are the worst (high or low) and dark green cells the best (high or low) depending on the subject of each column.

The size is interesting

An exception to this rule is in the Students all classes column. I used cell staining to give an idea of ​​the size of the districts.

Each of the school division student numbers highlighted in yellow in this column reflects that the entire school division in 2019-2020 had fewer students than Lake Braddock High School in Fairfax County.

Middle class teachers

The other is a column in which I placed a formula that calculates the average salary of a teacher as a percentage of the median household income in that jurisdiction.

I just thought it was an interesting number.

At the end of the line

So look at any school district that interests you. If there is a lot of green, that’s fine. Lots of red and yellow, maybe not.

Don’t ask me to explain it.

This is state and federal data.


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