Virginia students endure “inhumane conditions” in buildings that are “borderline criminal"
By Keya Vakil
May 28, 2019

Virginia’s public schools are crumbling and in massive need of renovation and repair, according to a new Washington Post report.

From mice-infested classrooms to schools with faulty heating and leaky roofs, the Post story features one horror story after another about the state of disrepair plaguing Virginia’s public schools.

The issues don’t just plague one district or region, either, they stretch from southwestern Virginia to Richmond to northern Virginia.

In Richmond, Virginia’s capital city, 24,760 students endure what one teacher called “inhumane conditions” in buildings that Richmond Public Schools Superintendent Jason Kamras described as “borderline criminal.”

In Northern Virginia, 17 Alexandria Public School buildings have mold, asbestos and lead in them, prompting backlash from parents.

Meanwhile, students in rural Lee County have dealt with leaky roofs and the city of Bristol is using humidifiers and air scrubbers to manage air quality in some classrooms.

The Post report highlights the devastating consequences that substandard conditions can have, from negatively impacting students’ abilities to get an education to the risks it poses to students’ health and psychological well being.

The issues date back years and in 2018, the state Senate formed the School Facility Modernization Subcommittee to study outdated schools. The committee called for a statewide bond referendum to finance school construction, but the General Assembly nixed the idea and other measures to fund significant school repairs failed to pass as well.

Lawmakers did pass a budget that includes $35 million in new funding for school construction, but it was far less than the $80 million Gov. Ralph Northam requested.

On the local level, Richmond allocated $150 million for school construction thanks to a 1.5% increase in the meals tax, and Mayor Levar Stoney has proposed an $800 million plan to fully fund school construction over two decades. But even with his plan, it could still be decades before the city’s 44 public schools are all renovated or rebuilt.

Things look slightly less grim on the federal level, as Congress is now considering investing $100 billion to rebuild the nation’s public schools. The investment is desperately needed, as a 2014 federal study found that 53% of public schools needed repairs, renovations or updates. According to the Post, estimates for what this would cost range from $197 billion to $542 billion.

It’s not just the system’s building stock that is facing a reckoning in Virginia. Teachers are severely underpaid, class sizes have grown, and in the aftermath of the Great Recession, state aid per student has dropped by 8% when adjusted for inflation, according to the Commonwealth Institute for Fiscal Analysis, a left-leaning think tank in Richmond.

For students, teachers and advocates, the answer to the problem is simple: the General Assembly isn’t doing its job. As one teacher told the Post, “This is a state funding issue. Our legislators are telling us constantly, over and over again, that we don’t value public education because they’re not passing budgets that reflect that.”

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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