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Virginia School Officials Say They Desperately Need State Funding For School Construction, Repairs

Delegate Israel O'Quinn (R-Bristol) speaking at a Coalition of Small and Rural Schools press conference Thursday.
Delegate Israel O'Quinn (R-Bristol) speaking at a Coalition of Small and Rural Schools press conference Thursday. (Roberto Roldan/VPM)

As lawmakers finalize the state budget, public school officials in Virginia are calling on Democrats to make good on their campaign promise of better education funding.

The Coalition of Small and Rural Schools held a press conference at the Capitol on Thursday, calling for more state funding for school construction and low-income students. So far this session, lawmakers in the General Assembly have voted down legislation to fully fund the state board of education recommendations that would’ve created a new equity fund for struggling students. 

Speaking at the press conference, Middlesex County Schools Superintendent Pete Gretz described the conditions of their schools.

“Schools built before World War II with failing roofs, crumbling foundations. Sixty-, seventy-, eighty-year-old ancient, galvanized pipe systems just waiting to seize up at any second like a clogged artery, shutting off the water supply to the school and leaving it with an even more expensive solution it can’t afford,” Gretz said. 

There is currently no state funding available to help school districts modernize their buildings or take out loans for new ones. 

Legislation proposed by Del. Israel D. O’Quinn (R-Bristol) would have created a new School Construction Fund, but died in the House. Sen. Jennifer McClellan (D-Richmond) has proposed a new state Commission on School Construction and Modernization that would study the issue. It passed the Senate unanimously and is now moving through the House.

Governor Ralph Northam is also putting an additional $140 million for low-income students in his proposed two-year budget.

More funding for high-poverty schools is something both urban and rural schools desperately need, said Matthew Stanley, advocacy director for Richmond Public Schools.

“It helps us provide other programs and wrap-around services in the division like a home visit program where we have teachers visiting students at their homes and learning what’s important to those families,” Stanley said.

This year, the General Assembly punted on a constitutional amendment proposed by Sen. Bill Stanley (R-Glade Hill) that would ask voters’ opinions on whether the state should issue bonds for school construction and modernization. The proposal may be considered next year and could provide up to $3 billion in assistance to local school districts in Virginia.