Virginia Education Association Reacts to Approval of the First Laboratory School with State Grant Funding
July 31, 2023
July 31, 2023
Dr. James J. Fedderman, President of the Virginia Education Association, released the following statement in response to the announcement of the first laboratory school grant in Virginia:
“All students in Virginia deserve to be funded and supported like those at CodeRVA, but that is not the reality. While Governor Youngkin’s pet program lavishes more than $6 million in additional funding to an already well-funded school, nearby Overby-Sheppard Elementary school, part of Richmond Public Schools, receives a fraction of this student funding and has the 7th-highest poverty rate of all public schools in Virginia.
Virginia is one of the richest states in the country, yet we spend less per student in state funding than states with fewer resources, such as Alabama and West Virginia. Showering one school with huge amounts of state and local funding might look nice and distract some of the public, but parents of kids in other public schools want and deserve adequate funding for their students, too. Let’s work to fund all our public schools like we fund our lone lab school.”
Governor Youngkin spent much of his campaign for office promising to dramatically expand charter schools throughout Virginia. When it became clear his charter legislation would fail in the General Assembly, he switched gears and began pushing for the expansion of laboratory schools, a topic he had not previously mentioned. In final budget negotiations in 2022, House Republicans were able to win $100 million in one-time grant funding to start up lab schools over the next two years. In a seeming trade-off for other budget items, the Senate decreased its funding for high-poverty schools by $100 million.
More than a year later, Virginia Commonwealth University was awarded the full per pupil grant amount for its application in collaboration with CodeRVA, an existing computer science-focused innovative regional high school that is already fully-functional, fully-funded, and fully-staffed and would have continued to exist and serve students regardless of this grant funding. While this $6 million infusion of lab school funding will no doubt supplement existing services and experiences of the students who attend, this “new” lab school will now receive more per student state and local funding than virtually any public school in the state, since local school divisions already pay tuition for their students to attend CodeRVA. On top of that, the school receives large donations from the biggest corporations in the state of Virginia, including Dominion Energy, Altria, and Carmax.
Furthermore, local divisions are responsible for covering transportation and sports costs, and attending to the regulatory needs of students with disabilities. Just the state and local spending alone would put Code RVA among the top states in the country, like New York and New Jersey, for average public K-12 student spending, but with the additional resources from corporate donors and local divisions covering other essential costs, students lucky enough to get into this public school will be among the best-funded anywhere.
While it will be wonderful for these select students to attend such an incredibly well-funded public school this year, it is not hard to imagine the programs, staff, and supports that might have been possible if the $100 million dedicated to lab schools had instead been used to provide additional supplemental funding to our highest poverty schools throughout the state, touching hundreds of thousands of students.