The General Assembly continues to find ways not to solve the problem of building schools in Virginia


You must deliver it to the 140 dignitaries of Richmond. When faced with massive problems that require determined, disciplined, and dedicated solutions, they often do far less than necessary.

And then they congratulate themselves – in election and campaign literature – by proclaiming “everything is fine! and that they fixed things. It’s downright nauseating.

Here’s the latest show of recklessness: When it comes to school construction and major renovations, General Assembly lawmakers know they have huge challenges, even if they don’t confront them directly . Localities paid the price building schools since at least the 1930s, and the state takes care of the roads. No one is suggesting changing this system in Virginia.

Meanwhile, the total replacement cost is about $25 billion for the state’s more than 1,000 public school buildings that are at least 50 years old. They get older every year as school divisions and local authorities try to figure out how to tear down and rebuild.

So cities and counties should start fundraising, right?

Except Virginia, a Dillon Rule state, doesn’t give municipalities much flexibility to do whatever they want. The localities must first come and beg at the Assembly.

Senators and delegates respond with half measures. The Republicans are mainly the culprits here, after the The Democratic-controlled Senate passes easily a sales tax plan to help build schools. The GOP-controlled House rejected that idea. (Democrats, of course, have had two years in office to find a solution to school building needs but did not.)

Lawmakers have offered at least two alternatives, none of which is nearly sufficient. The Senate plan proposes $500 million in one-time grants to school divisions. The Chamber is proposing nearly $542 million in a loan repayment program. This all relates to budget negotiations between the two chambers as the Assembly nears adjournment.

In other words, $500 million is only 2% of the $25 billion the state needs. It does little to solve the problem. If cities and counties end up with the loan program, they must identify a funding stream to pay down the debt.

A tour of the construction of the new Highland Springs High School in Henrico, estimated to cost approximately $80 million. (Henrico County Public Schools)

“The General Assembly has yet to consider the magnitude of this problem,” Del told me. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, this week. She sponsored a fundraising bill that died.

Lawmakers are strapped at a time when, at the behest of Governor Glenn Youngkin, many of them want distribute large budget surpluses in the form of tax cuts.

Some of the money should go to Virginians. But neither should we neglect the pressing priorities of the Commonwealth. There is money available to cut the billions needed to build schools and major repairs, including heating and cooling systems.

Lawmakers could provide localities with better tools to solve the problem themselves. Attempts to create the previously mentioned statewide mechanism for communities to add a penny to sales tax rates failed this year.

The sales tax strategy is a smart way for localities to raise funds. Nine localities already have the possibility to do so through legislation from previous years. They must also obtain the approval of local voters through a referendum. Several localities have adopted such initiatives, including Danville and Halifax County.

For some reason, what’s good for new is prohibited for the rest of the state. It is a perplexity.

The sales tax is regressive and hurts the poorest residents. It’s a downside. Yet it is a way to strengthen the construction of schools. Groups such as the Virginia Association of Counties, the Virginia Municipal League and the Virginia Education Association had backed versions of the latest sales tax bill this year.

Here’s what really makes my dander rise:

State officials are aware of the magnitude of the problem. Legislators passed a bill in 2020 establishing the School Construction and Modernization Commission, composed of citizens and parliamentarians. The commission will provide reports every year until 2026.

You don’t create a body like this hopefully.

Commission members released a report in June on the enormity of the problem in Virginia, including delayed maintenance, the need for technology upgrades and school overcrowding in some locations. All legislators can read their reports.

How did the Assembly respond? With lamentably insufficient proposals.

The new governor and his Republican cronies have made a big deal of the idea that parents should be “allowed free access to information about primary learning materials” used in schools, and they have rights “in education , education and care of their children.” I quote two of Youngkin’s executive orders.

This focus on education helped Youngkin win in November and allowed Republicans to capture the State House. But when Republicans had the chance to give parents more control over such an important issue as building schools, they said, “Never mind.

So much for parental rights and self-determination.

The proposed remedies circulating in the Assembly do not address the true extent of the problem. So don’t believe the false advertising that will be coming your way later this year.

They are not worth the paper – or the Internet links – on which they are printed.


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