The Virginia Board of Education on Friday prescribed new Standards of Quality for the commonwealth’s public schools.

The Standards of Quality describe the foundational instructional programs and support services all schools must provide, and it drives approximately 85% of state funding for local school divisions.

The proposed new standards are aligned with the Board of Education’s goals of promoting educational equity, supporting educator recruitment and retention and helping students and schools achieve the board’s graduation and accreditation requirements.

“Rather than recommending amendments to the current standards, the Board of Education is again carrying out its constitutional responsibility to determine and prescribe Standards of Quality for the commonwealth’s public schools,” Daniel Gecker, Board of Education president said. “These new standards are the product of a two-year review of the needs of our public schools and the evidence-based best practices necessary to ensure equitable opportunities and outcomes for all of our students and supports for our teachers, principals and other educators.”

The prescribed Standards of Quality — which are subject to revision by the General Assembly — consolidate several existing state programs that support struggling schools and students in poverty into a single, expanded funding stream — known informally as the equity fund — within the SOQ.

Equity fund distributions would be based on the percentage of students eligible for free meals and would provide an additional $131.9 million in state funding for schools serving significant numbers of children in poverty. 

Distributions from the fund would support school division efforts to recruit and retain experienced and effective teachers and other professional staff in high-poverty schools and provide additional intervention and remediation services for students.

In addition, the new standards include the following to support equitable services and improved outcomes for all students:  

• Moving the state’s K-3 class size reduction program from the annual Appropriation Act into the SOQ

• Increasing state funding for reading specialists and moving support for reading specialists from the annual Appropriation Act into the SOQ

• Establishing a new teacher leader program and expanding the commonwealth’s existing teacher mentor program to provide additional compensation and time within the instructional day for teachers designated as leaders and mentors

• Amending staffing requirements for English learner teachers to base distribution of positions on the English proficiency level of students in each school division

• Setting specific staffing ratios in the SOQ for school nurses, social workers and school psychologists

• Providing state funding for state-level and regional work-based learning coordinators to establish partnerships between school divisions and local businesses and employers

• Creating a statewide principal mentorship program to strengthen school leadership and support teacher retention and student achievement

• Providing state support for one full-time school counselor for every 250 students

• Requiring a full-time principal in every elementary school

• Requiring a full-time assistant principal for every 400 students

“The Standards of Quality prescribed today comprise the foundational instructional and support positions and services required to provide a quality education for all children,” Gecker said. “In addition, the new standards recognize the importance of putting the right teachers in the right classrooms in every school in the commonwealth while providing support for new teachers and opportunities for experienced teachers to advance professionally while remaining in the classroom.”

The board also is recommending that the General Assembly eliminate the cap on state funding for support positions that was placed in the Appropriation Act in 2009 during the height of the last economic recession.

The cap limits state funding for support positions to one support position for every 4.27 instructional positions.

The Constitution of Virginia requires the Board of Education to prescribe Standards of Quality for the public schools of Virginia, subject to revision only by the General Assembly.

The newly prescribed Standards of Quality — and legislation necessary to enact the new standards — will be communicated to Governor Ralph Northam and the 2020 General Assembly, along with budget estimates required to support the new requirements and staffing ratios.