Virginia is unique among states in prohibiting our governor from serving consecutive terms. We are also unique in that the outgoing governor presents a two-year budget blueprint for the new governor to follow. Gov.-elect Northam will get to put his stamp on the budget if he decides to make any changes, but most of the budget decisions will be left to the delegates and senators on the House Appropriations and Senate Finance committees.
Gov. McAuliffe’s budget does provide the initial starting point for these decisions. Here are some highlights included in his introduced budget:
Health & Mental Health
Although Congress has passed only a short-term extension for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), Gov. McAuliffe’s budget assumes that Congress will act to extend the program. This assumption includes additional funds to continue to cover children under a reduced match rate. It does not include funding to cover children this year if Congress fails to act before Virginia runs out of funding at the end of February. Asking our congressional reps to extend CHIP is essential. If you have not called your representatives, use our talking points.
The governor’s budget also includes significant resources to continue improvements to the public mental health system. Last year, the General Assembly started work on the STEP-VA program by funding same-day access to mental services at 18 community services boards (CSBs). This year, the governor included $5.9 M to continue the same-day access to screening and services at the remaining 22 CSBs.
The governor’s budget includes additional funding for adoption assistance and foster care as well as technology updates for child welfare workers to fall in line with federal requirements.
The budget did not include additional support for kinship caregivers or adoptions, which will continue to be a priority for Voices.
Early Childhood and Education Equity
The proposed budget was formed prior to the release of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) report and includes modest investments in early childhood education. Some notable line items include:
Investment in high-quality early education is one way to close the achievement gap; however, many reports demonstrate that high-poverty school divisions receive fewer resources to serve students facing additional challenges. Limited resources also have contributed to teacher shortages and high turnover. The governor proposes a modest increase to the At-Risk Add-On formula of $7 M per year. Although this is a positive step for Virginia, similar line items in other state budgets add approximately twice as much per low-income student. At-Risk Add-On funds would allow school divisions to access additional counselors, social workers, after-school opportunities, and other supports proven to help economically disadvantaged students achieve.
The General Assembly members will offer amendments to the budget for consideration by the House and Senate. These budget amendments will be available for review the second week of session. In those amendments, we are looking for policy changes and budget items to fund trauma-informed approaches, kinship care, and trauma reduction in settings where children are transported to inpatient mental health treatment. Look for more blog updates next week.
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