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W.Va. didn’t fund schooling. Now it may possibly’t make a funds

There’s a particular irony within the West Virginia Legislature calling for a nationwide constitutional conference over fiscal accountability when the state can’t even go a full funds this session as a result of it faces a doable $465 million clawback of federal COVID funds.

Over the past a number of years, West Virginia, like many different states, has been drawing tens of millions of {dollars} from the Elementary and Secondary Faculty Emergency Aid (ESSER) fund. The necessary caveat on these {dollars} was that spending on schooling needed to stay proportional to what it was earlier than the pandemic, compared to spending modifications in different areas (e.g., well being care or transportation). Spending on sectors like well being care soared through the pandemic; spending on schooling, compared, didn’t.

West Virginia allocates funds for schooling based mostly on scholar enrollment. These numbers have been declining, which implies funding for schooling hasn’t precisely been growing — therefore the potential clawback.

Apparently, this isn’t a brand new situation. The governor’s workplace utilized for a waiver in 2022, citing “declining enrollment” however a rise in per-pupil spending together with guarantees of future trainer pay raises and extra constructing upkeep funds as causes the federal authorities shouldn’t take again its cash. That waiver was granted in 2023, however federal authorities famous that West Virginia had under-invested in schooling by about $23 million.

As an alternative of correcting its errors, West Virginia continued via Fiscal Yr 2023 doing the identical issues and has requested one more waiver, citing the identical causes as earlier than. Besides this time, it’s not a matter of $23 million in ESSER funds — it’s $465 million.

The invoice hasn’t but come due, and there’s nonetheless a risk the federal authorities may grant one other waiver. However the entire state of affairs has left the state in monetary limbo.

Brian Abraham, chief of workers for the Justice administration, mentioned on Talkline that the one methods to direct funding into schooling is thru pay raises and the Faculty Constructing Authority. He provided this up as an excuse for why West Virginia hasn’t put sufficient cash into schooling — as if the state isn’t hemorrhaging academics and its colleges aren’t largely outdated bordering on dilapidated.

Trainer pay raises has been a longstanding situation, particularly for border counties which can be shedding good educators to raised paying positions throughout state traces. That might have coated a great portion of the “proportional” spending required to maintain ESSER funds. The state may have additionally invested extra in persevering with schooling for current academics or provided to cowl certifications or trainings for academics involved in particular schooling (a specialty that’s briefly provide).

The state may have additionally given more cash to the SBA with particular funds earmarked for counties or districts that don’t have the tax base to help their colleges. In Mon County, we’re spoiled — we have now a broad and beneficiant tax base that helps each bodily and mental growth in our colleges. However some counties simply don’t pull in sufficient income to cowl large-scale tasks, like changing or updating a 100-year-old constructing or setting up recreation services.

The state may have spent extra on schooling. Clearly, the cash was there. It selected to not — lawmakers appear to at all times select to not — and now the state faces shedding $465 million and has no alternative however to go a short lived skeleton funds till the difficulty is resolved. That doesn’t precisely sound like “fiscal accountability” to us.