Stop blocking local communities from using sales tax for school construction!

Communities should be able to decide via referendum if they want to institute a sales tax to fund school construction.

When the heat doesn’t work, the ceiling drips, or there’s not any nearby outlets to charge the school laptops, children can’t focus on learning and thriving. And without adequate revenue, we cannot provide adequate school funding. Currently Virginia law bans communities across our state from choosing whether to raise the revenue needed to support their neighborhood schools. It’s time to change this and allow localities to institute an additional local sales tax via referendum if they feel it’s needed to support school construction and modernization to help their students thrive.

The state funding for school construction passed in 2022 is a welcome change and a downpayment on decades of underinvestment in school facilities, yet construction projects will still require local upfront funding or payments on debt. And as the Virginia Department of Education noted in 2021, school divisions with older school buildings on average tend to have higher levels of fiscal stress, which means they’re less able to pay for upgrades out of their existing revenue sources.

We need to authorize all counties and cities to ask their voters, through referendum, if they want to have an additional local sales and use tax at a rate not to exceed 1 percent, with the revenue used only for capital projects for the construction or renovation of schools. Currently, only Charlotte, Gloucester, Halifax, Henry, Mecklenburg, Northampton, Patrick, and Pittsylvania Counties and the City of Danville are authorized to ask their voters if they want to have a tax. This is also a recommendation of the Commission on School Construction and Modernization.