Nichols derides growing funding gap between urban, rural school systems

Mecklenburg County Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols appeared before the county board of supervisors Monday seeking support for rural school systems in the wake of recent changes to provide more funding for larger, urban systems.
Since the recession, explained Nichols, state legislators have changed the system that determines state funding and the local match required by localities. Under the new system, said Nichols, rural schools across the state have seen state funding fall while federal and local funding have increased.
Using the much larger, urban Loudon County public school system as an example, Nichols provided figures showing that between 2009 and 2017, state direct aid per student has risen in Loudon County by 10.9 percent while in that same period, funding per student in Mecklenburg County had dropped by 19.6 percent.
Statistics also show that enrollment has grown rapidly in Loudon County and that only 4 percent of all school age children lived in poverty.
In Mecklenburg, enrollment has decreased and that trend is projected to continue. Also, 30 percent of all school-age children in Mecklenburg live in poverty.
Nichols told the supervisors that his staff and the county school board have and will continue to work on a workable budget, but with the state giving significantly more support to urban than rural schools, it has been difficult. With plans to improve the Mecklenburg system, said Nichols, the problems will only get worse, impacting introduction of new and needed programs, the ability to pay salaries to attract the best teachers and more.
Mecklenburg, said Nichols, is not the only locality facing this issue. All across Southern Virginia, school divisions and districts have been watching the growing problem and have now banded together to take the issue to the state legislature.
Nichols presented a resolution to the supervisors which urges the General Assembly to consider other longterm solutions to provide equitable funding to school divisions across the state.
Nichols told the supervisors that other counties in the southern tier of the state including Cumberland, Amelia, Buckingham, etc., have signed on to the resolution.
The Mecklenburg County School Board is supporting the resolution, and Nichols said he would like for the supervisors to add their voice to the request.
County Administrator Wayne Carter told the supervisors that two years ago, Mecklenburg had a higher index rating and was, in fact, higher than anyone in Region 8. However, he explained, changes have been made in the way those rates, which are used to determine how much state and local funding are required of public school divisions, are calculated.
“Twelve years ago, there were at least 30 items that went into the composite index, and they were weighed,” Carter said. He admitted that the formula was complex and difficult to understand.
When the recession hit, said Carter, the state went with a simpler system based on real estate value. Lake property, he added, skews the results against Mecklenburg.
Nichols agreed that some localities were hurt more by the change than others.
“We took the second highest hit in the region,” he said.
Looking at the figures, Board of Supervisors Chair Glenn Barbour noted the 30 percent swing between Mecklenburg and Loudon counties.
“I’m all for this resolution,” said Barbour.
After additional discussion, the supervisors elected to table the resolution in order to have County Attorney Russell Slayton prepare a draft to be ready for the January meeting.