Go. Govt. Youngkin hints at budget amendments on education, gas tax

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BRISTOL, Va. — For the first time in about half a century, this rural community on the Tennessee border has salvaged what it needed to build a new elementary school to replace three moldy, leaky campuses that are well past their original dates. ‘expiry.

That achievement alone could have prompted any governor some 324 miles from the capital to plunge a gleaming gold shovel into the land of southwestern Virginia. But it was the way local authorities funded the project – with a public-private partnership – that made Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) particularly eager to celebrate the groundbreaking on Monday morning, when he hinted that he would tinker with the state budget to push for “laboratory schools” and lower the gas tax.

“When we bring the private sector and the public sector together, great things happen,” said the former private equity executive. told a gathering of local dignitaries, state lawmakers and school children, who took home flasks of soil. “If we rely on the government to find all the solutions, my friends, we will not go where we want to go. And when we bring the private sector and the public sector together to innovate and create, incredible things can happen.

Youngkin used the appearance and a second stop in the region on Monday afternoon to emphasize his interest in public-private partnerships in K-12 education, particularly through the creation of laboratory schools, that would pair colleges and possibly private companies with public K-12 schools.

Youngkin convenes higher education officials to help push his plan for ‘lab school’ partnerships

He hinted he could advance that goal by amending the state budget bill heading his desk — which includes $100 million for lab schools, even though related legislation on laboratory schools seems destined to die in a conference committee.

As an aside in Bristol, Youngkin also indicated that he planned to find a way to cut the petrol tax despite the General Assembly’s reluctance to follow that effort into the budget.

“We have a chance to break out of neutrality,” Youngkin said, referring to efforts to improve education. “I’m telling you, the Commonwealth of Virginia has kicked into high gear and this car can drive. Unfortunately we have to pay $4.75 for gas. We are doing everything we can for that too. Let me tell you, I’m not done with the gas tax, folks. I’m not finished.”

Youngkin had urged the General Assembly to suspend a planned increase in the state gasoline tax and grant a five-month gasoline tax holiday, suspending it fully for three months and partially for two more. month. None of these plans were included in the finance bill passed by the General Assembly last week.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Barry D. Knight (R-Virginia Beach) urged the governor not to change the budget, which emerged after months of negotiations with his Democratic-controlled Senate counterpart, the Senator Janet D. Howell (D-Fairfax), Chair of her House Finance and Appropriations Committee.

Knight declined to comment.

A political newcomer, Youngkin ran for governor last year delving into K-12 culture wars over how schools address racial history and racial sensitivity. He also promised to promote “choice” in education, through charter schools or laboratory schools, which he presents as sources of innovation.

Democrats call both a potential threat to public schools and are especially wary of any plan to allow the private sector into public classrooms.

Lab schools are authorized under existing state law passed so long ago that some current lawmakers are graduates of them. But they can only be operated by public four-year colleges or universities offering teacher training programs. Perhaps because of these restrictions, the state currently has none.

Legislation introduced in the General Assembly this year sought to relax some of those requirements, allowing private or public colleges to participate whether or not they had teacher training programs.

Youngkin is stepping up her efforts as the outlook for lab schools in the state looks oddly mixed. Both lab school bills appear destined to die in a conference committee, with negotiators unable since March to overcome their differences. Yet the two-year budget bill the General Assembly passed last week included $100 million to create the schools — a provision that a handful of budget negotiators slipped into the plan much to the chagrin of some. democrats.

Youngkin hinted on Monday that with some tweaks to budget language, he could facilitate the proliferation of lab schools across the Commonwealth.

“Having the funds in House Bill 30 is really important and it means we can go to work,” he said. “And so I’m very excited about it. I think there are a few things we need to fix in terms of the scope of what we can do.

This was good news for Keith Perrigan, Superintendent of Bristol Public Schools. “We didn’t wake up saying, ‘Let’s go build a lab school,’ but if there’s $100 million, I think we’re there,” he told the governor. during his afternoon visit with K-12 and higher education officials to the Southwest Virginia Higher Education Center, a conference center and distance learning site for a number of colleges at Abingdon.

Senator Todd E. Pillion (R-Washington), who sponsored the Senate bill and attended the groundbreaking in Bristol, told the crowd that the $100 million for schools present “an exciting opportunity for new approaches.”

Of the. Glenn R. Davis Jr. (R-Virginia Beach), who did not participate but sponsored the House bill, said the budget wording might be enough to get the effort started. “We probably don’t need the legislation,” Davis said. But he admitted that relying on budget language is not the most sustainable approach, since the language will expire at the end of the two-year budget cycle.

State Sen. Jennifer L. McClellan (D-Richmond), one of the negotiators for lab school bills, thinks the $100 million earmarked for them would be better spent on school staff, like social workers , nurses and guards.

“My priority would have been to support schools that already exist rather than creating new ones,” she said.

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