August 13, 2018
Capital Spending on Virginia’s K-12 Schools Way Down
Virginia’s school buildings seem worse for wear with examples mounting across the state from Southwest Virginia to Richmond to Norfolk of leaking roofs, broken faucets, mold, infestation, insufficient space, and faltering heating and cooling systems. A new report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities sheds light on why divisions all over the state are struggling to maintain safe, productive learning environments. Virginia now spends 33 percent less (between state and local governments) than in 2008 on school capital projects, such as building new schools, renovating existing facilities, and upgrading equipment.
The report draws on data from the Census Bureau to show that Virginia is among a long list of states where state and local governments have slashed capital spending. This report follows a review of K-12 spending from the state legislature’s research arm with similar findings in Virginia of decreased investment in facility renovation and construction. This review noted that some approaches “such as deferring projects and reducing staffing levels and compensation” may have long-term consequences, such as higher repair costs and missed savings that could have resulted from greater efficiency. The K-12 spending review also shows that some divisions have cut school construction funding by 40 percent.
While there is active debate on where the fault lies between the state and localities for this fall-off in capital investment, it’s certain the state bears some of the responsibility. Overall state per pupil funding dropped almost 9 percent from 2008 to 2016, adjusting for inflation, far outstripping an overall local decline of 3 percent. The state also eliminated support for the Virginia Public School Construction Grant Program that awarded grants to school divisions across the state to assist with their capital needs.
Yet thankfully, the Virginia Senate has established a school modernization subcommittee to examine the facility challenges facing schools across the state. This subcommittee creates an ideal opportunity for state leaders to look into the condition of Virginia’s school facilities and target resources to build up safe, clean, and welcoming environments for Virginia’s children.