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Exploring Innovative Education Policy Proposals in Virginia

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

The VCU Wilder School’s Office of Research and Outreach
October 28, 2022

In January 2022, we wrote in the PA Times about how public opinion in Virginia was divided on education policy. Findings from our Winter 2021 – 2022 Wilder School Commonwealth Poll indicated that many Virginians (79 percent) were concerned that students in K-12 schools were falling behind due to remote learning during the height of the pandemic, and 70 percent felt that parents, teachers and school boards should work together to develop public school curricula. Public opinion on the funding of charter schools was even more divided, with only 52 percent supporting an increase in the number of public schools in Virginia (34 percent were opposed, and the remainder were unsure).

Poll Methodology

We continued to explore public opinion of education policy in Virginia in our July 2022 Commonwealth Poll, this time with a focus on funding for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) as well as funding for innovation lab schools. This poll was conducted via telephone interviews with a representative sample of 813 adults, ages 18 or older, living in Virginia from June 29 to July 9, 2022. Statistical results were weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies, and the margin of error for the complete set of weighted data was ±5.81 percentage points.

Support for HBCUs

Providing increased support for HBCUs in Virginia was a key component of former-Governor Ralph Northam’s education policy plan. In December 2021, Northam proposed an additional $277 in funding to support operating costs and construction for HBCUs in the commonwealth. He also proposed a new “HBCU Opportunity Fund” that would provide scholarships for students attending HBCUs. “HBCUs have long been underfunded, and we have worked tirelessly over the past four years to fix that,” he said in a press release. “We are closing the funding gap and making college more accessible to all Virginians.”

Current Governor Glenn Youngkin continued this support, and included additional funding for HBCUs in his 2022 state budget. However, this budget was more controversial as some of the funding was to be diverted from a fund previously used to support DACA students. While some praised efforts to provide increased support to HBCUs, others criticized the idea of taking funds from one underrepresented group to support another and felt that, instead, both could be supported due to a budget surplus.

Across the commonwealth public opinion favored efforts to support HBCUs, with almost 8 in 10 Virginians (79 percent) saying that they were in favor of increased support. Despite high support among all political parties, Democrats were much more likely to support these efforts with 94 percent supporting compared to 69 percent of Republicans. Eighty percent of Independents also supported the efforts. Black respondents also had a higher likelihood of supporting increased HBCU funding than their white counterparts (96 percent versus 78 percent, respectively).

Support for Innovation Laboratory Schools

The poll also explored the idea of increasing support for innovation laboratory schools, a topic that is gaining traction across the country. With this type of school, public higher education institutions and select private higher education institutions establish a public school with a specific focus. Features of these schools typically include:

  • Innovative programs ranging from preschool age through grade 12,
  • Opportunities for innovation in instruction and assessment procedures,
  • Opportunities for teachers to be innovative in their instruction, scheduling, classroom management and classroom structure,
  • Increased collaboration between pre-kindergarten and postsecondary program providers and
  • New and/or pilot program models.

Findings from the Commonwealth Poll indicated that over half of respondents (56 percent) supported allowing the establishment of college partnership laboratory schools in Virginia, which would be privately run and publicly funded. There were no major differences across key demographics in support for this type of school.

Ultimately Virginia’s General Assembly also showed support for innovation laboratory schools, and appropriated $100 million into a fund to grow these schools. Specifically, this funding included:

  • $5 million for grants to support the design of innovation laboratory schools and to support institutions in creating their application for starting a school,
  • $20 million for grants to support innovation laboratory school start-up procedures and one-time purchases and
  • $75 million for per-pupil operating grants and ongoing costs associated with the operation and maintenance of the school.

Looking ahead

While the importance of education is certainly clear, members of the public are not always in agreement as to the best way of supporting education in Virginia and across the nation. Fortunately, polls such as the Commonwealth Poll can help provide policymakers with the information they need to make decisions that are, ideally, reflective of the needs and wishes of those they serve.

Author: The Office of Research and Outreach at VCU’s Wilder School aims to enhance, promote, and celebrate the research of Wilder School faculty and students. The Office also oversees the Wilder School Commonwealth Poll, as well as research from the Wilder School’s Centers and Institutes.

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