Editorial: The General Assembly wants to fix your school — in 100 years | Editorial

On the face of it, despite a number of legislative setbacks, it appears the two-year budget under consideration in the 2022 session of the Virginia General Assembly may actually pick up the long-languishing school building crisis. and direct her toward a productive goal, instead of kicking the road like an empty soda can.

By the way, that soda can is all dented from years of treatment exactly – and that’s how we got to where we are now, with about 1,000 of Virginia’s 2,000 school buildings aged from 50 years or more, and a growing need for repair, renovation and replacement of these school buildings that exceed 25 billion dollars.

Competing versions of the budget differ in how they would approach building and upgrading schools. The Senate version includes $500 million in one-time grants, while the House version contains a loan repayment program of about $542 million to help school districts repay their loans.

Either way, it’s progress, right? Something would be at least better than nothing.

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Except that, taking into account the real costs of construction in the world, the two versions cover at most the price of about five high schools, while a lot of new schools are still needed.

And the House version fails to address the heart of the problem – the fact that so many Virginia schools have fallen into disrepair because financially-struggling local governments cannot afford to take out loans of the size needed to fund a school construction project. A refund program will not solve this.

Midway through this legislative session, at the time of the ritual known as the crossover, when the two chambers exchange bills, the Virginia Senate had passed five pieces of legislation based on solutions recommended by the School Building and Modernization Commission. formed in 2020 by General Assemblage to study the problem.

Buoyed by emphatic bipartisan support and championed by Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond (who came third in the 2021 Democratic primary for governor), and R-Franklin County Sen. Bill Stanley (whose credentials as a Conservative are unassailable), these bills would have made far more progress toward solving the crumbling schools crisis than is currently on the table.

However, the House versions of these bills never made it out of committee, meaning the Senate versions arrived with their fate sealed. Some of the executions took place on Friday.

“If their versions of the House have already been killed, there’s no indication in my experience that the House is going to pass a Senate bill,” said MP David Reid, D-Loudoun, who was elected for the first time in 2017.

Reid does not serve on the School Building Committee. He attempted to find his own solution independent of the commission’s recommendations, introducing budget amendments for funding school construction that were modeled on Virginia’s process for allocating funds for road and bridge repairs.

The two parts of the acronym SMART SCALE stand for “Transport Resource Allocation and Management System” and the factors assessed in prioritizing a project: “Safety, Congestion Reduction, Accessibility, Land Use, Economic Development and Environment”. Adopted in 2014, the SMART SCALE process sets objective criteria for deciding which transportation needs should be funded sooner.Alas, his proposals were not included in the parliamentary version of the budget. “I was really hoping that we were going to take a very thoughtful approach and be willing to look at a different way of doing things to solve what has now been identified as a $25 billion problem,” Reid said. His plan, if fully implemented, was designed to raise $12 billion, nearly half of current needs.

Reid pointed out that even under the Senate budget plan, “if we do it $500 million a year, that means it will take 50 years. If you have a school in your community that is already about to be only 50 years old, by the time you replace it, it will be 100 years old.

Right now, the state has an unprecedented, perhaps never-to-be-repeated, opportunity to address the crisis of crumbling schools in a way that provides long-term solutions, and that opportunity is once again being squandered. .

As Reid says, “We’re going to run somewhere in the neighborhood of $13.4 [billion] to $13.8 billion in surpluses over the next three years, and if we really want to take school building and renovation seriously, we have to look at being able to allocate some of that money to remedy, because the localities that need it the most do not have the money to be able to qualify for loans or to be able to finance it locally. If they did, they would already.

A big source of the problem comes down to the myopic and calcified thinking on the part of lawmakers who insist that funding school construction is solely the responsibility of local governments and refuse to budge on this, despite overwhelming evidence that the problem is too big for local governments to solve.

“There has to be a paradigm shift,” Reid said. “If these communities had the money to fund a $25 million to $36 million elementary school, they would already be doing it, but they don’t have the money. Therefore, if we are serious about providing Commonwealth children with a safe, healthy and welcoming learning environment,” then the state government must step in. “We will have to get involved”

What will it take for Virginia’s representatives in Richmond to recognize this obvious truth?

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