Governor Ralph Northam is proposing that Virginia legislators use $250 million of Virginia’s American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds for HVAC upgrades in the Commonwealth’s schools. He announced the proposal on Monday, a week before the Virginia General Assembly is scheduled to meet to allocate the ARPA funds.
“Air quality is a key part of maintaining safe and healthy learning environments for our students across the Commonwealth,” Northam said in a press release. “This investment will help families, educators, and students feel more confident about the quality of the air they breathe as we return to in-person learning five days a week this fall.”
The money wouldn’t be a simple give-away. Instead, it would be reimbursements to local districts, and would be a one-to-one match of local spending. Northam’s proposal suggests that localities could use their own ARPA funds to help fund the upgrades.
The Virginia Department of Education has identified 463 HVAC projects across Virginia’s schools that will cost $623 million. Funding will be based on each school’s daily membership, with a minimum $200,000, according to the release.
“Ensuring there is clean air in our classrooms helps assure staff and students that schools are safe places so they can focus on learning,” Secretary of Education Atif Qarni said. “We know high quality ventilation systems reduce the number of virus particles in the air, and this investment means that Virginia schools will have updated HVAC systems for years to come.”
Northam doesn’t have the authority to allocate the funds by himself, but he and top Democratic legislators have been announcing their priorities for how the General Assembly will use Virginia’s $4.3 billion in ARPA money. Northam’s Monday announcement says more proposals are coming throughout the rest of “Investment Week.”
Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee Chair Senator Janet Howell (D-Fairfax) said, “This investment is another prime example of how we will be utilizing American Rescue Plan funding to move Virginia forward and build on the investments of last year’s CARES Act funding.”