NORFOLK, Va. — The Virginia Education Association is calling for an investigation by the state's auditor over concerns of "misappropriated" state funds involving institutions of higher learning.
In a new publicly released letter by the union, VEA President Dr. James Fedderman points to concerns about whether funds from the College Partnership Laboratory Schools Fund are being distributed to "non-qualifying" institutions of learning.
In 2022, lawmakers approved a budget item that appropriated $100 million to College Partnership Laboratory Schools, defined by the Board of Education as K-12 schools established by "postsecondary institutions to provide students an innovative, high-quality education experience."
Fedderman cites language in both the state budget and code that the VEA argues demonstrates the intent of the funds to go to "baccalaureate" public institutions such as the University of Virginia, Old Dominion University, Norfolk State University and so on. The letter goes on to argue that the intent of the item, as viewed by Democratic lawmakers, was meant to "exclusively" apply to public institutions.
However, the Board of Education's public tracking of lab school applications shows private and community colleges are among the list of requesting institutions.
“It seeks to take money away from public education, to allow these lab schools to be utilized," Fedderman told 13News Now. "What we need to be doing is building the infrastructure of our current public school system.”
"We respectfully request that you investigate what we believe is an unauthorized and illegal handling and expenditure of state funds," Fedderman wrote.
In the Hampton Roads region, public documents show Tidewater Community College and Eastern Shore Community College have both requested more than $170,000 in funding toward this initiative.
Norfolk State and ODU are also listed under the "Planning Grant Applications" section by the Board of Education but are eligible for that request based on both being public four-year universities.
“I have no issues with these funds being utilized in the way they’re supposed to, but this is not the case," Fedderman said Tuesday.
Under the "Planning Grant Applications" and "Laboratory Schools Application" sections, four of the institutions listed are private.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin's office provided the following statement by Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera:
“The expansion of eligibility to all higher education institutions was made to ensure that every Virginia student had access to innovative and high-quality education that prepares them for success in life. Without this change, students who live far from colleges with a school of education would miss out on the opportunity to attend a lab school.
The Board of Education was aware of the disagreement between the two houses at their board meeting when they adopted guidelines for the grant process on August 17th, 2022, as it was extensively discussed. Planning grants have been awarded to institutions who demonstrate strong partnerships with school divisions, private partners, and nonprofit organizations.”
The Auditor of Public Accounts confirmed to 13News Now it's in receipt of the VEA letter, but is working on a response at this time.