Virginia Lab school funding remains topic of budget negotiations

(The Center Square) – One of Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s school choice proposals, the creation of university-partnered laboratory schools, will remain part of the budget negotiations, which were suspended until a future special session.

Lab schools would be K-12 schools run by a college or university. They would focus on developing and testing different education models and studying how they affect the learning of children. The lab schools would implement successful techniques. In late January, Youngkin established a partnership with more than 30 colleges and universities that agreed with the governor’s plan.

House and Senate lawmakers passed their own versions of a lab school bill and entered into a conference committee to hash out the differences.

“The governor continues to work with the legislators on the lab school expansion bills,” Youngkin spokesperson Macaulay Porter told The Center Square. “While budget deliberations continue, the governor looks forward to reviewing the final legislation.”

The House version of the bill would allow all higher education institutions to submit applications to the Board of Education to establish a lab school. The legislation defines these lab schools as public schools, which means the state would divert funding away from the currently established public schools to fund the lab schools. Because the public education funding system considers the number of children enrolled in a public school, some existing schools would lose state funds.

Under the Senate version, only public and non-profit higher education institutions would be able to apply with the board to establish a lab school. The legislation would also ensure that existing public schools would not lose any money. To prevent the loss of money, the funding formula would include lab school students in the calculation for the funding of the existing public schools.

Chris Braunlich, president of the free-market Thomas Jefferson Institute, told The Center Square that lawmakers should work to reach a deal on lab schools to provide parents and students with more options.

“Right now, parents and students have only one choice for their public education: whatever exists in their local traditional school system,” Braunlich said. “College partnership lab schools will potentially open up to thousands of Virginia students an innovative public education, but that innovative education may require innovative funding and the General Assembly should make certain it’s available. Without it, Virginia’s parents and students will never know a choice beyond a traditional school building.”

Youngkin set the goal of creating 20 lab schools in the commonwealth. Currently, there are no lab schools.