On January 28, by a vote of 5-3, the House Finance Committee’s Subcommittee #3 laid three school construction local financing bills on the table, effectively ending their journey towards passage. HB 531 (Hudson) would have permitted any county or city to impose an additional local sales and use tax of up to 1 percent, if initiated by a resolution of the local governing body and approved by voters at a local referendum. As previously reported, the revenues of such of the local tax would be used solely for capital projects for the construction or renovation of schools. Any tax imposed shall expire when the costs for capital projects are to be repaid and shall not be more than 20 years after the date of the resolution passed. Currently, this authority is limited to the qualifying localities of Charlotte, Gloucester, Halifax, Henry, Mecklenburg, Northampton, Patrick, and Pittsylvania Counties and the City of Danville. Also defeated in committee was HB 545 (Hudson), which would have granted this authority to the City of Charlottesville, as well as HB 63 (Edmunds), which would have done the same for Prince Edward County. You can view how subcommittee members voted on all three bills here. An identical bill to HB 531, HB 1099 (LaRock), was struck at the request of the patron.
VACo supported the three bills, and VACo President Meg Bohmke testified to the subcommittee in favor of their passage as well as expounding on the need to address the issues of aging school infrastructure across the Commonwealth, both as a matter of local government responsibility as well as children’s health. She was joined in her support by the President of the Virginia Municipal League, and representatives from Virginia First Cities, the Virginia School Boards Association, the Virginia Education Association, and other representatives from various localities and the K-12 education community. Many others posted written support online. These bills were bipartisan unanimous recommendations from the Commission on School Construction and Modernization. VACo thanks Delegate Hudson and Delegate Edmunds for their leadership.
As previously reported, more than half of Virginia schools are 50 years old or older and the cost to replace these buildings is estimated at $24.8 billion. This problem will continue to deteriorate and negatively impact the students and teachers of the Commonwealth unless the General Assembly takes action to address it or empowers local governments with the financing tools they need to take additional action themselves. Similar bills that have passed the Senate with bipartisan support await crossover to the House where it is possible, but not yet guaranteed that they will meet a similar fate. VACo will continue to advocate for solutions on this issue for as long as it takes to see it done.
Other bills of interest related to school infrastructure continue their journeys through the General Assembly. On January 26, the House Education Committee’s Early Childhood/Innovation Subcommittee met and considered several bills that were also recommendations of the Commission on School Construction and Modernization. HB 252 (Simonds) would require the Department of Education (VDOE), in consultation with the Department of General Services, to develop or adopt and maintain a data collection tool to assist each school board to determine the relative age of each public school building in the local school division and the amount of maintenance reserve funds that are necessary to restore each such building. The bill would also require local school boards relevant data to VDOE. VACo spoke in support of the bill, which was recommended to be reported to House Appropriations by the subcommittee unanimously 8-0 and is identical to SB 238 (McPike). Data is needed on the issue of aging school infrastructure in order to advocate for policy solutions. Prior to the Commission on School Construction and Modernization, the last time the Commonwealth did a comprehensive analysis of school infrastructure was in 2013.
Additionally, the subcommittee also unanimously recommended HB 253 (Simonds) to be reported and referred to House Appropriations by an 8-0 vote. This bill, which is identical to SB 471 (McClellan), makes several changes to the Literary Fund recommended by the Commission and a report from VDOE and the Department of Treasury. The Literary Fund provides low-interest loans for school construction, grants under the interest rate subsidy program, debt service for technology funding, and support for the state’s share of teacher retirement required by the Standards of Quality. VACo spoke in support of this bill that would increase to $25 million the maximum Literary Fund loan amount, and permits the Board of Education to increase such maximum to up to $35 million for loans on any school construction or renovation project that facilitates the consolidation of schools. The bill would also require the Board of Education to fix the interest rate on all loans made from the Literary Fund at not less than 1 percent per year, not more than 3 percent per year, and at increments of one half of 1 percent per year between such minimum and maximum rates, payable annually, and to utilize a sliding scale based on the local school division’s composite index of local ability to pay to determine the interest rate on each such loan.
The subcommittee took by for the day HB 251 (Simonds) and HB 608 (Bourne). As previously reported, these bills in their original form are problematic and involve local school boards retaining unexpended locally appropriated funds. VACo is hopeful that the patrons will work to amend the bills to more favorable language by the time they are heard in subcommittee again.
VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett