Blatt expects education spending waiver soon from feds

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — State School Superintendent Michele Blatt told members of the state Board of Education Tuesday she expects the U.S. Department of Education to grant a waiver to the state in connection with how the state has spent education dollars following covid.

Blatt said that waiver could be coming soon.

Michele Blatt

“We do not have the official letter yet for the waiver to have been approved but all indication looks like it is on track to be approved,” Blatt told the board at its regularly scheduled monthly meeting.

The state is seeking a waiver because its public education funding dipped after covid, The federal government has threatened a clawback of funds from states that couldn’t show they are spending more. The Justice administration has repeatedly said it’s been working on the issue and the state was not in danger of a $435 million clawback.

Blatt said Tuesday she believes the state will be able to meet the waiver requirement by showing it has increased spending connected to another 5% pay raise for teachers and school service personnel, hiring reading aides for the second year of the Third Grade Success Act and the legislative-approved additional $150 million in funding for school construction projects through the state School Building Authority.

“Those three sources of funding more than cover what was being asked by the U.S. Department of Ed,” Blatt said.

West Virginia’s submissions to the U.S. Department of Education show pre-pandemic spending on K-12 education of $2.007 billion in 2017, $2.023 billion in 2018 and $2.095 billion in 2019.

The post-pandemic spending dipped to $2.009 billion in 2022 before going up to $2.062 billion in 2023.

That occurred as West Virginia’s state budgets, more generally, were growing — from $4.82 billion overall spending in 2017 to $5.3 billion in 2022 before dropping back to $5.07 billion in 2023.

Meanwhile, the state School Building Authority is scheduled to meet Wednesday to begin allocating the $150 million in new funding.

According to the SBA meeting agenda, SBA Executive Director Andy Neptune will recommend approval of the remaining MIP (Major Improvement Projects) and Needs projects that were not funded by the SBA in the past funding cycle That funding will be $87.5 million of the new $150 million.

Neptune will also recommend amendments to previously approved grants for Berkeley and Wood counties for a total of $35.2 million.

The remaining $27.1 million will be applied to future SBA funding requests.

The SBA meeting is set for 10:15 a.m. Wednesday in Charleston.

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