RICHMOND — State Sen. Bill Stanley filed a bill Tuesday that would put a referendum on ballots statewide asking voters about modernizing Virginia’s decaying schools.
Stanley, R-Franklin, wants the question to appear on the ballot in November, which is when all 140 seats of the General Assembly are up for election. The question is whether Virginians want the General Assembly to issue $3 billion in state general obligation bonds to go toward constructing, repairing or upgrading K-12 schools.
The bill is part of Stanley’s push to upgrade the commonwealth’s crumbling schools. He assembled a bipartisan subcommittee to examine the problem and produce proposals about how to come up with the $3 billion to $4 billion to fix them.
Stanley was not available for comment Tuesday evening.
The referendum bill states, “The results of the referendum shall be advisory only.” The reason is that the Virginia Constitution requires bond referendums to state which projects would get the money.
However, there isn’t a list yet of what schools would receive this money. So an advisory referendum is being used to allow voters to make their opinions known on the issue.
In both rural and urban Virginia schools, staff have reported positioning trash cans to collect water from leaky ceilings, tiles falling from the ceiling, children burned on exposed pipes and rats scampering through hallways.
Rural localities have struggled more than wealthier ones with funding school maintenance.
In a separate bill, Stanley proposes amendments to the state code that set standards for school buildings, including proper heating and cooling systems and secure entrances.
The legislation also includes a section on school buildings generating energy from sunlight and net energy metering, which is the way in which solar panel owners are reimbursed for sending excess power to the electricity grid.
It states that non-jurisdictional customers and utilities can set a contract upon their own terms, and that arrangement will not be subject to the jurisdiction of the State Corporation Commission, which regulates Virginia utilities.
The bill also would authorize the Virginia Resources Authority to set up a program to provide partial funding of projects that modernize public school buildings as well as establish criteria for accessing that funding.
Stanley wants to use some of the expected windfall from the collection of sales taxes from internet retailers to apply to bond financing.
Stanley has said his biggest challenge is persuading his colleagues in the General Assembly — some of whom, including the speaker of the House, have expressed indifferent reactions to his proposal — to pass his legislation.
Stanley asked Attorney General Mark Herring whether the state and localities are in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education II ruling by allowing students to attend deteriorating schools.
Herring told him last week the General Assembly has placed the responsibility of building and maintaining schools in the hands of localities and school boards.
The bill related to the referendum has been referred to the Committee on Privileges and Elections. The other bill has been sent to the Committee on Education and Health.
The General Assembly convenes Wednesday for a 45-day session.