School Modernization Legislation Overview

March 5, 2020

Many localities continue to face significant challenges raising local funding necessary to undertake school construction and renovation projects. Numerous factors impact the educational achievement of K-12 students, including the state of the facilities in which they are taught. Concern over the physical condition of schools in Virginia is not a recent development and several bills were introduced this session seeking to address an ongoing problem felt by communities across the Commonwealth. VACo supports additional state resources and additional funding options for localities for capital and school construction projects.

During the 2019 General Assembly session, enacted legislation granted authority to Halifax County to impose an additional local sales and use tax of 1 percent, the revenues of which would be obligated solely for capital projects for the construction or renovation of schools in the County. The tax would only apply if initiated by a resolution from the Board of Supervisors and approved by a subsequent voter referendum. The Board initiated the referendum, which Halifax County voters subsequently passed last November.

Several bills considered in the current General Assembly session have passed both the House and Senate and would grant the same authority conferred upon Halifax County to several additional localities. VACo supports legislation maintaining and enhancing local authority and autonomy including matters pertaining to revenue measures. HB 200 (Wright)/ SB 943 (Ruff) would give the additional 1 percent revenue raising authority to Mecklenburg County. HB 486 (Marshall) would grant the same authority to Henry County, Northampton County, Patrick County, Pittsylvania County, and the City of Danville. HB 1631 (Edmunds) would grant this authority to Charlotte County as well. Lastly, SB 224 (Norment) would grant this authority to Gloucester County. These bills passed each chamber by wide margins and now head to Governor Northam for further action.

SB 888 (McClellan) establishes the Commission on School Construction and Modernization for the purpose of providing guidance and resources to local school divisions related to school construction and modernization and making funding recommendations to the General Assembly and the Governor. Total membership of the proposed Commission is still under debate by the House and Senate, but it would consist of legislators from both bodies, relevant executive branch agencies, and non-legislative citizen members. The bill passed both the House and Senate, but because of the disagreements over membership numbers, it is likely headed towards conference committee.

The Senate’s version of the 2020-2022 budget contains an amendment to provide $27.5 million in each year from the Lottery Proceeds Fund to provide grants for nonrecurring costs associated with school construction and modernization, including debt service payments on school projects completed during last 10 years.

Failed Bills
SB 4 (Stanley) would have created the Public School Assistance Fund and Program. The purpose of this program is to provide grants to school boards to be used solely for the purpose of repairing or replacing the roofs of public elementary and secondary school buildings. Priority would have been given to goals based on need and local ability to pay. Deteriorating and unmaintained school roofs can lead to additional problems such as water damage and mold. The bill was passed by the Senate and reported from the House Education Committee before being left in House Appropriations Committee without a vote being taken.

SB 5 (Stanley) would have required the Board of Education to prescribe by regulation uniform minimum standards for the erection of new school buildings and the modernization of existing school buildings. The bill would have required additional reporting and planning requirements for localities for an indeterminate local fiscal impact but met a similar fate to SB 4 by being left in House Appropriations Committee without a vote being taken.

HB 1274 (O’Quinn) / SB 1087 (Pillion) would have established the School Construction Fund and Program as a special non-reverting state fund to provide grants to local school boards leveraging additional resources to finance the design and construction of new school buildings or the modernization of existing ones. The House Appropriations Committee’s Elementary and Secondary Education Subcommittee recommended laying HB 1274 on the table. SB 1087 passed the Senate unanimously but met a similar fate as it was left in House Appropriations Committee without a vote being taken.

HB 86 (Kilgore) would have permitted localities with local composite index’s of less than 0.2000 and designated as fiscally distressed by the Appalachian Regional Commission or determined to have above-average fiscal stress or higher by the Virginia Commission on Local Government to expend up to 25 percent of the required local effort for basic aid for debt service on school building capital renovation or construction projects.

Though the fate of these bills varied, and some are likely headed towards enactment, the issue of school construction and modernization will likely continue to be considered by the General Assembly in future sessions. This is especially likely as the Virginia Board of Education considers additional review of the issue and localities continue to carry the primary responsibility for the construction and maintenance of school facilities without additional state support.

VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett

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