Proposed Budget Contains Funding for School Construction, Mental Health, Gun Violence Prevention
RICHMOND, VA – On Sunday, budget conferees released a proposed budget that includes funding for Sen. Jennifer McClellan’s (D-Richmond) bills and amendments on school construction, school support personnel, child mental health services and gun violence prevention and intervention. The legislature is scheduled to vote on the budget on Wednesday.
Budget provisions based on McClellan’s bills and amendments include:
- School Construction: The budget invests $1.2 billion in school construction grants and loans, one of the largest investments in modern Virginia history. This includes $450 million for the School Construction Fund to distribute grants to localities for school construction and modernization needs. It also includes $400 million for the School Construction Grants Program and $400 million to the state Literary Fund, which distributes loans to schools. McClellan serves as chair of the bipartisan Commission on School Construction and Modernization, and chief patroned bipartisan legislation (SB 473) to create the School Construction Fund and Program. Delegate Israel O’Quinn (R-Washington) patroned a House version. The budget also adopts changes to the Literary Fund recommended by the Commission and codified in Sen. McClellan’s SB 471.
- Increasing School Support Staffing: The budget invests $270 million into increasing support to localities to hire more school administrators and support staff. This partially lifts the 13-year-old cap on state funding for school support staff; McClellan proposed a budget amendment to lift the cap this year and for each of the past five years. The budget raises the cap by one-third, providing funding for school support positions – such as school social workers, school psychologists and school nurses – across the Commonwealth. The increased funding will mean that the state provides funding for an additional 3.25 school support positions per 1,000 students, increasing from the current 17.75-per-1,000 funding ratio to 21-per-1,000 in fiscal year 2024.
- Principal in Every Elementary School: The budget funds a compromise version of McClellan’s SB 490 that requires every elementary school in Virginia to have a full-time principal, regardless of the school’s size. This is based on recommendations in the Virginia Board of Education Standards of Quality.
- School-Based Mental Health: The budget invests $2.5 million in a School-Based Mental Health Integration Pilot program, based on a budget amendment sponsored by McClellan. The program provides grants to school divisions to work with community-based providers to provide students with mental health services beyond the scope of school-based personnel. The Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services will be in charge of administering the pilot program and providing technical support to school divisions. The budget also creates a School-Based Mental Health Task Force of local school administrators, school and community-based mental health professionals, teachers, students, parents and representatives from relevant state agencies. The task force, based on another amendment from Sen. McClellan, will make recommendations to expand school-based mental health services and connect mental health clinical interventions to school settings.
- Gun Violence Prevention: The budget will provide $6.5 million per year to support gun violence prevention programs through the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS): $2.5 million to support a new Operation Ceasefire grant program, and $4 million per year for grants to community-based organizations through the Virginia Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention Fund. Sen. McClellan and Del. Marcia Price (D-Newport News) carried similar legislation (SB 487 / HB 825) to create a Center for Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention and Fund at DCJS.
“This budget includes significant investment in K-12 education, mental health and preventing gun violence in Virginia,” Sen. McClellan said. “Working across the aisle with Sen. Bill Stanley and Delegate Israel O’Quinn, we have made a major investment in repairing Virginia’s crumbling school infrastructure. This investment provides a strong start, but we have many years of work ahead to modernize Virginia’s aging schools.
“I’m also proud to have worked with school leaders to ensure that every elementary school has a full-time principal, and to provide more staff to support student mental health. However, I am disappointed that the budget only provides $2.5 of the $10 million requested for a school mental health pilot project. We must do more to address the youth mental health crisis in Virginia, and I will continue to fight for increased funding in years to come.
“This budget also takes a significant first step by providing funding to address the epidemic of gun violence that has impacted so many families in Virginia and around the nation.”
The budget also includes funding for additional McClellan-sponsored amendments:
- Fresh Food Access: The budget will provide $1 million per year to the Virginia Fresh Match Nutrition Incentive program, which enhance the buying power for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) participants to purchase Virginia-grown fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and community stores. Sen. McClellan authored the budget amendment to provide these funds. McClellan passed a Senate bill into law in 2020, which created the Virginia Food Access Investment Program and Fund, providing incentives for more retailers to participate in the Fresh Match program.
- Anti-Poverty Programs: The budget includes $1.5 million per year to support Community Action Agencies, a 19% increase over the 2022 appropriation. Virginia has 27 Community Action Agencies, which offer a range of anti-poverty programs and work collaboratively with businesses and other agencies to build a network of support for Virginia’s most vulnerable populations. This funding comes from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. McClellan authored an amendment for increased funding.
- Affordable Housing: The budget requires the Department of Housing and Community Development to create a workgroup to develop model guidelines for a program to provide long-term rental assistance to low-income, very low-income, and extremely low-income renters to enable them to afford housing costing 30% of their income. The workgroup will include tenants, tenant advocates, homeless services providers, housing developers, housing providers and landlords. McClellan authored an amendment to create the workgroup and provide rental assistance funding through the Virginia Housing Stability Fund.
- Richmond Biotechnology Research Jobs: The budget provides $15 million to the Virginia Biotechnology Research Partnership Authority to support the scale-up of a Virginia pharmaceutical research, development, and manufacturing cluster in Greater Richmond and Central Virginia. This includes funding for a life sciences lab building located at the Virginia Biotech Park in the City of Richmond. Sen. McClellan authored an amendment in support of this funding to create jobs in the Richmond area.
- Historical African-American Cemeteries: The budget includes an additional $100,000 per year for care and preservation of historical African-American graves and cemeteries. McClellan authored an amendment to provide the additional funding. She also passed a new law (SB 477) this year, along with companion legislation (HB 140) from Del. Delores McQuinn (D-Richmond), to expand eligibility for historical African-American cemetery funding for cemeteries and graves from 1900 to 1948.
- Tribal Nations Outreach: The budget includes more than $200,000 per year to support an outreach initiative to provide assistance to Virginia Tribes to identify and protect their cultural properties. This funding will help pay for a full-time preservation professional at the Department of Historic Resources to work with Tribes to protect their cultural properties. McClellan authored the amendment for this funding.
- African and African-American Culture: The budget includes $100,000 to support African and African-American cultural education and enrichment programs by the Richmond-based Elegba Folklore Society. McClellan authored the amendment for this funding.
- Aging Services Needs: The budget includes $250,000 for the Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services to conduct an assessment of the cost of meeting older Virginians’ needs for in-home services and home modifications provided by area agencies. The information must be reported to the Joint Commission on Health Care by December 1. McClellan authored the amendment for this funding.
- Vision Services at Schools: The budget includes language requiring Medicaid and Family Access to Medical Insurance Security (FAMIS) contracts with managed care organizations to provide mobile vision services to students at Virginia schools. Eye exams and glasses provided at “bricks and mortar” optometry practices are currently covered by Medicaid and FAMIS, but they were not covered through mobile vision providers. This change takes effect on September 1, and was based on an amendment authored by Sen. McClellan.
- Support for Students with Incarcerated Parents: The budget provides $250,000 per year to expand the Milk and Cookies (MAC) Children’s Program to new localities and to make it available online. The program provides school-based support for children of parents who are incarcerated. McClellan authored an amendment for the funding.