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West Virginia won’t face a clawback of $465 million in COVID education funds after feds approval, governor says

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) — Gov. Jim Justice announced Friday that West Virginia will not face a clawback of $465 million in COVID-19 funding from the U.S. Department of Education, addressing concerns raised by state lawmakers during the final days of the March legislative session .

The Republican governor said in a statement that federal officials approved the state’s application for forgiveness of the money, which was part of the more than $1 billion in federal aid the state received to support students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

To receive the money, the state had to continue funding education at the same or higher levels than before the pandemic. In other words, federal money could supplement, but not replace, existing state investments in education.

For the federal spending packages passed in 2020 and 2021, this meant a dollar-for-dollar match. For 2022 and 2023, the federal government has examined what percentage of each state’s total budget will be spent on education.

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In 2022, these regulations were waived for West Virginia. While lawmakers were working to finalize the state budget at the end of the session in March, the state had not yet been approved for a 2023 waiver.

The question threw the state’s budget process into disarray and created uncertainty in the days before the 60-day legislative session, with lawmakers saying they would pass a “skinny budget” and reconvene in May to discuss unfinished business, when the financial situation is clearer.

Justice said at the time that his office was in negotiations with the federal government and that he expected a positive resolution, citing funds spent on school services and teacher pay increases every year since 2018 — when school employees went on strike over conditions in schools.

On Friday, he praised the federal government’s decision and said he was never concerned that the waiver would not be approved.

“This announcement came as no surprise and was never a real issue,” Justice said.

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He also said the state has spent money on building projects and placing teaching assistants in classrooms to improve math and reading skills. The state said it spent $8,464 per K-12 student in 2024, compared to $7,510 during Justice’s first year as governor in 2017, according to documents submitted to the federal government.

But as state spending rose overall — from $4.9 billion in 2017 to $6.2 billion in 2023 — the percentage dedicated to education fell. The key metric that triggered a pause in the federal government was an 8% decline in the education portion of the budget pie – from 51% in 2017 to 43% last year.

Justice said the state’s investments in education speak for themselves: State leaders also approved $150 million for the state School Construction Authority in the state budget for the fiscal year that begins in July.

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