Virginia colleges can get up to $25 million to start up lab school

(The Center Square) – Private and public colleges and universities in Virginia can receive up to $25 million to establish a plan and cover the initial startup costs of creating lab schools, under a state budget provision.

The General Assembly approved Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s lab school program, which allows colleges and universities to run publicly funded K-12 schools. The schools, which will be legally defined as public schools, will develop and test different education models, study how students are affected and implement successful teaching models in the classroom.

Colleges and universities can apply to establish a lab school through the Board of Education but, unlike charter schools, they will not need approval from the local school board. They will be funded through the College Partnership Laboratory Schools Fund.

According to the budget language, entities that wish to establish a lab school can receive up to $5 million worth of planning grants, which would help plan for the creation of the lab schools. An entity can also receive up to $20 million worth of grants to assist with the initial startup costs. All funding is approved through the Board of Education.

The fund received $100 million from the budget, and money not needed for the initial startup costs will go to lab schools on a per-pupil basis, according to the budget. If there are any funds remaining by June 30, 2024, all of that money will go back to the state’s general fund.

Before the board can disburse funds, it will need to establish guidelines for the distribution and awarding of the funds and submit the guidelines to the chairs of the House Appropriations and Senate Finance and Appropriation committees. The board’s deadline to submit the guidelines is Dec. 1.

Earlier this year, Youngkin signed a partnership with 30 colleges and universities in the commonwealth, which jointly stated their support for his effort to create lab schools.

“Education is the gateway to opportunity,” Youngkin said in a statement at the time. “An educated Virginian has a limitless future. And we are about creating future opportunities for every young Virginian. Reestablishing expectations of excellence, funding in the largest education budget, investing in teachers, special education and localities to invest in facilities.”

The governor initially set a goal for creating 20 lab schools, but the $100 million in funding for the program fell short of his initial $150 million request. He later said the funding would be startup capital for his plan, and he intends to fight for more funding next year.

Republicans and Democrats both supported a lab school program, but differed on specifics. The Democratic leadership fought to keep private entities from participating in the program, but ultimately failed. However, Democrats succeeded in ensuring lab school funding would not negatively impact funding for traditional public schools.