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Senate to take up bill requiring Virginia schools to spend unused relief funds

(Image: Shutter shock)
(Image: Shutter shock)

 

Legislation backed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin that would require Virginia school divisions to spend any federal pandemic funds they haven’t yet used or forfeit them is headed to the Senate for consideration.

An October report from the Virginia Department of Education shows Fairfax County Public Schools have the most unspent relief funds, representing more than $170 million. Norfolk schools have the next highest amount at $136 million, followed by Henrico at $116 million, Richmond City at $111 million and Newport News at $93 million.

How big a percentage of the divisions’ operating budgets those unspent funds represent varies. Fairfax, for example, has a current operating budget of $3.3 billion, while the Norfolk schools budget is $376 million.

The legislation, which passed the House on a 52-48 vote, followed comments by Youngkin this October urging school divisions to spend their remaining funds to address achievement gaps and proficiency declines among Virginia students.

“Virginia students are in a crisis,” said Del. Karen Greenhalgh, R-Virginia Beach, the patron of the bill. “We have the ability to be able to take steps to undo that damage.”

In October, a national report showed declines in reading and math proficiency between 2019 and 2022 for Virginia’s fourth, eighth and 12th grade students, as well as continuous drops in fourth graders’ proficiency since 2017. Virginia also saw declines in proficiency scores on state standardized tests.

Under House Bill 2269, school divisions would be required to spend their remaining funds by July 1 or forfeit them later this summer. Divisions with funds exceeding 20% of their total award would be required to return them by July 15 to the Virginia Department of Education, which would then redistribute them to other school divisions to assist with learning loss efforts.

But opponents say the legislation interferes in decisions made by school divisions and may conflict with federal guidance on relief spending.

This story was reported and written by The Virginia Mercury. Read more.

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