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- Data from the Virginia Department of Education show 1,040 of 2,005 school buildings - or 52% - were more than 50 years old in June 2021.
State Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, is leading a bipartisan effort this winter to raise money to repair and replace Virginia’s aging school buildings.
Studies have shown "more than half of Virginia’s school buildings are older than 50 years," she and Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, wrote in a Feb. 15 guest column published in The Roanoke Times.
We wondered whether the figure is correct, particularly in the wake of a Feb. 11 fire that gutted Richmond’s 111-year-old William Fox Elementary School. An advisor to McClellan pointed us to a June 2021 report the Virginia Department of Education gave to a legislative commission studying the conditions of the state’s school buildings.
"More than half of all school buildings are greater than 50 years old," the report said, using almost the same words as the guest column.
The report surveyed 2,005 school buildings across the state and found 1,017 of them - or 52% - were at least 50 years old as of June 2021. The median, or middle, age was 52.
Here are percentages of local schools at least 50 years old:
McClellan says the state and localities are falling behind on renovating and replacing old schools and, without change, the problem will worsen. She’s proposed a number of bills that would raise more money for modernization. The measures include:
Allowing all localities in Virginia to impose a 1% increase in their sales tax, subject to voter approval, for school construction or renovation. Only nine localities are now granted that option;
Letting local school systems set aside operating budget surpluses for school construction;
Lowering the interest rates on state loans to localities for school construction and upgrades; and
Expanding state aid for school building projects.
Her bills easily passed in the Democratic-led Senate with bipartisan support. But identical measures have been killed in the Appropriations Committee of the Republican-led House. It’s unclear whether there will be any movement in the House, where the majority has been focused on Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s agenda of cutting taxes.
We should finally note that problems with aging school buildings are not confined to Virginia. In June 2020, the U.S. Government and Accountability Office reported that about half of the nation’s public school districts need to replace multiple building systems or features. The average age of U.S. school buildings was 44 in 2013, according to the most recent survey by the National Center for Education Statistics.
McClellan writes, "More than half of Virginia’s school buildings are older than 50 years." State Department of Education records show 52% of Virginia schools had crossed the half-century mark in June 2021.
We rate McClellan’s claim True.
State Sens. Jennifer McClellan and Bill Stanley, "It's time for bipartisan action to fix Virginia's crumbling schools," The Roanoke Times, Feb. 15, 2022
VPM, "Investigation underway into three-alarm fire at Richmond’s William Fox Elementary," Feb. 12, 2022
Virginia Department of Education, "Needs and Conditions of Virginia School Buildings," June 2021
VDOE, Data on school buildings, table A, June 2021
Interview and email from Jared Leopold, communications advisor to McClellan, Feb. 15, 2022
U.S. Government and Accountability Office, "School Districts Frequently Identified Multiple Building Systems Needing Updates or Replacement," June 4, 2020
National Center for Education Statistics, "Condition of America’s Public School Facilities: 2012–13," March 2014
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