Glenn Youngkin from Virginia, United States via Wikimedia Commons

House Republicans are touting $3 billion of direct aid for education in the Fiscal Year 2023-2024 budget that Governor Glenn Youngkin is currently reviewing. Key education items include over $1 billion in grants and loans for school construction and modernization, and two five-percent raises for teachers and other state employees. It also includes $45 million for school resource officers.

House Appropriations Chair Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach) said education spending in the budget is higher than pre-recession levels, even accounting for current inflation levels.

“This is a fantastic budget for education, all realms of it: K-12, early childhood education is a component of it,” Knight told The Virginia Star.

“And then, if you want to even go further to colleges, it is one of the greatest budgets we’ve ever had for colleges here with the Pell grants and the TAG grants and the money we’re giving to historically black colleges,” he said, saying that’s meant to send a message to colleges to keep tuition increases to three percent or less.

Lab School Expansion

The budget includes $100 million in one-time funding for lab schools, a key target of Republicans, and Republicans are hoping to include language in the budget to expand the definition of lab schools.

During the 2021 campaign, now-Governor Glenn Youngkin and House Republicans ran on a combination of education messages, including expanding school choice through charter schools, a type of independently-operated, publicly-funded school.

In the 2022 General Assembly session, Senate Democrats stymied some more ambitious Republican efforts, including creating more charter schools. Democrats resist calls for school choice and charter schools amid concerns of effectively defunding district schools in favor of other privately-run options. Republicans pivoted to expanding lab schools, which already exist in Virginia as K-12 schools operated by public colleges and universities that have education programs to provide practical training for their students. Republicans want to expand that to include private colleges and universities, but also to allow corporations to operate lab schools.

Some lab school proposals enjoy significant bipartisan support, but Democrats are wary of efforts to expand lab schools, especially beyond colleges and universities. They’re concerned that Republicans will expand lab school provisions to approximate charter schools.

Bills to expand the definition of lab schools are in conference committee to try to work out a compromise between the Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate. One of the key pieces of the legislation that already passed the Senate but still needs to come out of committee includes a provision that would allow private colleges and universities to operate lab schools.

House Education Chair Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) told The Star, “After some of the language inside the budget, we don’t necessarily need that legislation to come out of conference committee. The reason why: the definition of lab schools is already in state code. Additionally, the lab school fund, the actual funding mechanism, is already in state code. So really, all it needed was the resources and the funds to be in there to help support its development.”

Davis hopes Youngkin amends the budget.

“I don’t know what he’s looking at. I think we’re going to see at least something that mirrors what already passed the Senate, which is that this lab school legislation can be used for private universities and colleges as well,” he said.

Davis said, “I’d like it to be for a private corporation so entities like Newport News Shipbuilding and our hospitals can partner with our schools to bring innovation to the classroom. So our children can walk out of high school with high-paying, hibh-tech jobs. That was blocked by the Senate Democrats. I have a feeling that we’re not going to be able to get that in a budget amendment, but that’s what next year is for.”

This article originally appeared in The Virginia Star. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of The Republican Standard. Republished with permission.