WV continues to fight with federal Department of Education on COVID-19 funding

04 March 2024- West Virginia Governor Jim Justice issued the following statement today regarding ongoing negotiations between his office and the federal Department of Education concerning COVID-19 funding sent directly from the federal government to county school boards and higher education institutions.

“Let me be very clear on this issue: there is no $465 million ‘clawback’ on the table, and there is no allegation that my office, the Legislature, or our education system misspent or mishandled any COVID-19 funds.

“Our negotiations with the federal Department of Education are focused solely on COVID-19 funds sent directly from the Federal government to county school boards and higher education institutions and the rules that were enacted after the money was spent.

“My office has been in direct negotiation with the federal Department of Education, and we expect a positive resolution very soon. 

“The sole issue raised in the federal rules is whether West Virginia’s spending on education rose enough in proportion to the state’s overall spending. Over the last few years, our economy has done an outstanding job of recovering from the pandemic and growing surplus after surplus. I joined the Legislature in targeting these surpluses on improving our roads and infrastructure, sending needed resources to our then-DHHR and jails around the state, and on trying to diversify our economy by investing in economic development projects bringing thousands of jobs into West Virginia. Over the same time, we also increased our spending on our classrooms and gave our teachers much-deserved pay raises. The federal rules, however, focus on percentages. They penalize West Virginia for its economic success and investing in roads, infrastructure, and bringing good-paying jobs to West Virginians, despite our increased investment in our schools. 

“The federal Department of Education raised the same issue last year, and we were able to satisfy them by showing we were making additional investments in pay raises for teachers and service personnel, and with funding to our School Building Authority. Last year we met with Legislative leadership and advised them of the issue and our work to satisfy the federal Department of Education’s rules. This year, we have done the same by continuing to advise the Legislature, and I expect the result to be no different. Our investments in education speak for themselves with pay raise after pay raise, getting more aides into classrooms, and investments into school construction and rehabilitation projects. Our investments will continue this year with my proposals for another historic 5% pay raise and an unprecedented $150 million to our School Building Authority.

“I have strongly urged the Legislature to pass my budget with these items included. I believe our efforts will be successful in discussions with the federal DOE and that no money will need to be returned by the county boards of education and higher education institutions to the federal government. It’s my strong belief that we should spend this money on investments in education at home, rather than letting the federal government take money from our county schools and colleges and universities.

“This issue started several years ago, under a prior State Superintendent who failed to adequately address the issue and failed to tell the State Board of Education. When Superintendent Blatt was appointed, she brought the issue to my attention, and my Chief of Staff and others have been working directly with the federal DOE to negotiate a solution.  

“Again, I’m confident that we will reach a positive resolution quickly, and I call on the Legislature to act swiftly on my proposed budget, including the historic pay raise for educators and the unprecedented funding for our School Building Authority. This isn’t just about meeting federal expectations; it’s about our ongoing commitment to improving education for all West Virginians.”