As Lawmakers Turn to Budget, Rural Schools Demand More

Feb 14, 2020

 

Students at St. Charles Elementary in Lee County Virginia go to school in a building constructed in the 1930's.
Credit Mallory Noe-Payne / RADIOIQ

 

Lawmakers have about a month left in Richmond and the biggest item on the legislative to-do list is now finalizing the state budget. A bipartisan coalition is pushing to make sure public schools in rural Virginia get their fair share.


   

Since the recession the burden of paying for public education has slowly shifted from the state to localities. And they can’t keep up.

Leaders from a number of counties, including Madison, Cumberland and Brunswick, all say that’s hitting Virginia’s rural communities hardest. 

Peter Gretz, superintendent of Middlesex County Public Schools, says they can’t afford to replace failing roofs and crumbling foundations. 

“Sixty, seventy, eighty year old ancient galvanized pipe systems just waiting to seize up at any second like a clogged artery, shutting off a water supply to a school and leaving a school with an even more expensive solution that it can’t afford,” Gretz said during a recent press conference. 

And while that’s a problem in urban areas as well, rural parts of the state are also losing population. When enrollment declines, so does state funding. Delegate Chris Hurst says that isn’t necessarily the way it should be.

“If you lose five students in one school division in one year, it doesn’t mean you need fewer teachers. Doesn’t mean you need fewer classrooms,” Hurst said. “But it does mean you’re getting less money from the Commonwealth.”

A group of Republican and Democratic lawmakers say it’s time for the state to step up and help: with money. How much, and how it’s spread around, are the more difficult details that still have to be worked out.

 This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.