It’s been a high-stakes time for K-12 funding in Virginia as state lawmakers have gotten together to decide how to spend the $4.3 billion from the American Rescue Plan. Thanks to the countless advocates who took the time to email and call lawmakers to lift up our collective priorities, we had some important wins for Virginia students and families. While we didn’t get a lot of what Virginia schools need, progress was made and we have a clear path forward for the next legislative session in January 2022.
Here are some of the highlights of K-12-related items included in and left out of the budget that passed the Virginia General Assembly on Monday, August 9th:
$700 million in new broadband investments will connect more families throughout the state to access high speed internet at home. This has become a major equity issue, and hundreds of thousands of Virginia families will gain internet access because of this investment.
$250 million for school ventilation systems will improve air quality in schools and mitigate the spread of COVID-19 (see link to story below). While this is an essential investment we called for as a coalition, we were disappointed that this investment was not equitably distributed based on each school division’s need and capacity. School divisions must match the state support with a 1 to 1 match, which will be a higher barrier for divisions that have less money and more needs. Furthermore, this investment falls far short of what our coalition called for in terms of state support for general school infrastructure improvements. The state has let schools in high-poverty divisions around the state fall into deep disrepair, and this federal funding was a substantial opportunity to put one-time funding to best use and make a downpayment. As a coalition, we will keep fighting for the state to find a long-term funding solution for our school infrastructure.
Lawmakers failed to invest in the Equity Fund. This is a long-standing priority of Fund Our Schools; we will continue fighting for the state to finally stand up and create this fund to provide additional ongoing support to school divisions based on their share of students living in poverty.
Very little progress was made on school-based wraparound services. We know that many students are struggling more than ever because the pandemic exacerbated underlying challenges families were already facing. Some new investments were made in the recent budget for mental health, utility and food assistance, and continued eviction protections, but failed to explicitly direct the resources to students and school settings.
There’s certainly more work ahead to provide all Virginia students what they need to succeed in school. The lack of transparency and opportunities for the public to weigh in during this special legislative session made advocacy all the more challenging, but wins like the broadband investment and progress on state support for HVAC units wouldn’t have happened without the support of advocates. Many went above and beyond to get in touch with lawmakers ahead of their close-door negotiations around the budget. We appreciate everyone who lifted their voices for this special legislative session and will share upcoming announcements of our fall events.