(The Center Square) – Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s plan to establish lab schools throughout the commonwealth took another step forward this week with the Board of Education approving formal guidelines for the program.
Lab schools would be public K-12 schools run and operated by higher education institutions, such as colleges and universities. One of the program’s goals is to establish schools in which they can connect students to college faculty, science labs and other resources they would not otherwise be able to access in a normal public school setting.
To date, more than 30 higher education institutions had expressed interest in establishing lab schools, but were awaiting state guidance before submitting lab school applications to the board.
Lawmakers approved $100 million for the governor’s plan. Per the guidelines, $5 million of those funds will be earmarked for planning grants to eligible entities, which higher education institutions can use to plan designs for lab schools and assist in drafting and submitting an application to the board. Initial planning grants are capped at $200,000 per applicant, but the board will consider awarding additional funds on a case-by-case basis.
Another $20 million will be used for start-up grants for approved schools to assist with one-time purchases for expenses necessary to launch a lab school, such as recruitment, technology and material purchases.
The remaining $75 million will be used for per-pupil funding for approved lab schools to support ongoing expenses for the operation and maintenance of the schools. If less than $25 million is spent on the initial planning and start-up grants, those remaining funds will also be spent on per-pupil funding for approved lab schools.
Per the guidelines, the money will be distributed in a way to promote regional and applicant diversity, which will be determined through weighted rubric scores and priority categories. If funds are inadequate, the board will establish a waiting list.
The guidelines set the rules for permissible expenditures, accountability measures for the funding, how applicants will be evaluated and prioritized and how to evaluate and approve the applications.
According to the guidelines, the BOE will approve lab schools that are meant to begin operation no later than the 2024-2025 school year with a preference for launches in the 2023-2024 school year. Another key consideration will be whether the higher education institution is collaborating with local school divisions, community-based organizations, employers, teachers and parents in a way that promotes quality, innovation and program sustainability.