Virginia’s revenue picture is certainly brighter than it was this time last year, though Governor McAuliffe informed the joint money committee members yesterday that his biennial budget proposal was based on “a conservative revenue forecast in the face of continued economic uncertainty.” He also noted that Virginia ended 2015 at a $549.6 million revenue surplus, “the largest in the Commonwealth’s history.” With that in mind, we are more determined than ever to make sure lawmakers use as much of that surplus as possible to make smart investments in strategies, supports, and programs aimed at improving the well-being of Virginia’s children.
Here’s our breakdown of how the budget proposal looks for kids in each of our core policy areas; we’ve included some links to more detailed information in each section, and check out our State Legislative Advocacy page for more:
Early Childhood Care & Education
Voices and our partners in the Early Childhood Policy Network believe that Virginia’s approach to early childhood education should be comprehensive, starting at birth and continuing through school. We are pleased to see that the Governor’s budget proposal follows this same approach by investing in the expansion of home visiting and early intervention, improving the safety of child care and providing opportunities for public-private preschool partnerships (details here). We were also pleased to see Congress take action to support early childhood education (details here).
Children’s Mental Health
The Governor’s proposed budget includes an additional $138,192 over the biennium to increase needed pediatrician services at the Commonwealth Center for Children and Adolescents (CCCA), the only public inpatient psychiatric hospital for children in Virginia. Other funding for children’s community-based mental health services remains level.
While were are pleased that children’s mental health crisis services and child psychiatry services were preserved at current levels, we know that additional funding is necessary to reach more children in need of these services. With bi-partisan support for these highly effective services, Voices along with its partners in the Campaign for Children’s Mental Health will continue to advocate for additional funding to support the expansion of community-based crisis response services and child psychiatry.
Thankfully, Governor McAuliffe is continuing to advocate for expanding health coverage to the 400,000 currently uninsured Virginians who need this access to care. Included in his budget proposal is a plan to draw down federal funding to expand health coverage to low-income Virginians using funds collected from Virginia’s hospitals to cover the Commonwealth’s state share of this option. While this topic has generated considerable controversy over the last couple of years, we hope the General Assembly can continue discussions with the administration to make sure we close the coverage gap and open access to health care for all Virginians.
We are thrilled to see that Governor McAuliffe included money once again in his budget to fund “Fostering Futures”—an option under the federal Fostering Connections Act to broaden foster care transition services and adoption assistance for older youth up to age 21. Fostering Futures will provide critical foundational supports to make sure that age 18 is a bridge to adulthood for these youth and not a cliff. Most importantly, this effort will include housing and lessen the chance that youth will have to forgo pursuing their education because of financial struggles.
Also included in the proposed budget is an expected 2% increase in foster care and adoption assistance payments, which is triggered automatically during the year following a state employee pay increase.
The Governor’s proposed budget includes an additional $1 million over the biennium for implementing Positive Behavioral Intervention and Supports (PBIS) in schools, with an emphasis on schools with high rates of disciplinary offenses. PBIS, along with other strengths-based school reforms, has shown to improve school climate and reduce suspensions and expulsions.
We are also pleased to see a biennial budget bill from the Governor that recognizes that the status quo within Virginia’s justice system is unacceptable. We support new language in the budget that provides for a reinvestment in a strong continuum of family- and community-based services as alternatives to incarceration. These types of evidence-based therapeutic responses are supported by the most current research, and are shown to reduce recidivism. Virginia’s current three-year reconviction rate for youth leaving our juvenile prisons stands at nearly 75%—we can and must do better; the reinvestment portion of the plan outlined in the Governor’s budget sets us on that path.
Next Steps & Budget Hearings (Jan. 7th)
When the General Assembly convenes on Wednesday, January 13th, they will begin to consider thousands of bills, including Gov. McAuliffe’s budget proposal, and work on reconciling their priorities. We need your help to make sure children’s issues are a part of that conversation! Join us at one of the four regional budget hearings scheduled around the state (Richmond, Fredericksburg, Chesapeake, and Wytheville) on Jan. 7th, and offer your support for Voices’ policy agenda.
To speak to foster care issues, contact Senior Policy Attorney Amy Woolard (Amy@vakids.org); early childhood issues, contact Senior Policy Analyst Emily Griffey (Emily@vakids.org), and health care and children’s mental health, contact Policy Analyst Ashley Everette (Ashley@vakids.org).
For a refresher on the legislative & budget process, review our Advocacy Guide. We look forward to working with you as a voice for children during the 2016 General Assembly session!Read More Blog Posts