Delegate Mark Keam - Virginia's 35th House District

Examiner Reports on Delegate Keam's Budget Amendment 

Public education gets boost as General Assembly adjourns


Following years of draconian cuts to Virginia's budget, Northern Virginia public schools and colleges stand to get a boost under the new two-year, $80 billion funding package unanimously approved by legislators as they gaveled closed the 2011 regular session of the General Assembly Sunday.All Northern Virginia school districts will see a net increase in state aid for K-12 education as compared to the budget proposals made by Gov. Bob McDonnell, with amounts ranging from the hundreds of thousands for Arlington and Alexandria to $4.1 million for Fairfax County, $2.3 million for Loudoun County, $4.1 million for Prince William County.

"Things worked out fine, we all came together," said Sen. Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, D-Fairfax. "K-12 did okay -- you know, I'm satisfied."

In addition to $87 million in one-time supplemental support for school districts' operating costs, the state will pick up $66,000 more of the tab for Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County -- an amendment proposed by Northern Virginia Del. Mark Keam, D-Vienna.

George Mason University in Fairfax County will also get a boost as part of $100 million in general fund money for higher education -- a top priority during the session for McDonnell, who wants colleges and universities to award 100,000 new degrees over the next 15 years.

GMU received a total of about $9 million in general fund monies, including $3 million to recruit faculty in forensic science and other science, technology, engineering and math-related (STEM) fields and $2.8 million to promote access to degrees in those fields.

"We've got to get more young people in Virginia that can go to Virginia colleges," McDonnell told reporters after adjournment. "We've got to get more of them trained in science and technology and engineering and math so that we can compete better with Asian countries that are just beating us in this area."

Indeed, Virginia high schoolers looking to enroll in competitive state schools could be in luck; the budget includes $2.6 million in general fund money for 351 more in-state undergraduate slots at the University of Virginia, Virginia Tech, James Madison University, and the University of William and Mary.

"I think that was one of the seminal achievements of the session...the march toward 100,000 new degrees," McDonnell said.

Other budget highlights

-- The General Assembly signed off on a version of Gov. Bob McDonnell's plan to infuse nearly $4 billion into Virginia's ailing transportation infrastructure over the next three years, largely using borrowed money. Legislators reduced the amount of general fund money put toward transportation from the $150 million the governor wanted to $33 million.

-- The budget adds about $80 million in additional funding for Health and Human Resources, which includes funding for Medicaid waivers and partial restorations in reimbursement rates for Medicaid providers

--In addition to that money, it also provides $30 million for a Department of Behavioral Health and Human Services trust fund to address findings from a recent Department of Justice report that sharply criticized the state's system for treating people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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