Isle Marine Trades lab school needs another partner, state budget says

Published 11:00 am Friday, May 31, 2024

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A shipbuilding-focused lab school at Paul D. Camp Community College’s Smithfield campus must partner with a four-year institution by June 30 to keep millions in awarded state funding.

The college says it’s already found one: Old Dominion University.

The Virginia Board of Education in April approved Camp’s application to start the Isle Marine Trades Academy, which the two-year college plans to operate with Isle of Wight County Schools and Newport News Shipbuilding parent company Huntington Ingalls. The concept would allow up to 80 high school students to earn an associate of applied science degree in technical studies and industry credentials in either maritime welding or marine electrical concurrently with their high school diploma.

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Per the board’s vote, which concluded a monthslong application process, the academy is to receive $1 million in state startup funds plus $1.7 million from the state’s College Partnership Laboratory School Fund spread over its first four years in operation.

Language in the $188 billion two-year state budget Virginia’s General Assembly and Gov. Glenn Youngkin approved on May 13 has added another hurdle.

The creation of workforce-tailored K-12 lab schools has been a priority of Youngkin, who in 2022 signed a two-year state budget allocating $100 million in startup funds. Though the Virginia Department of Education’s website claims all four- and two-year public and private colleges are eligible, the budget Youngkin signed in 2022 defines lab schools as “established by a baccalaureate public institution,” or four-year school. 

The definition is unchanged in the 2024-26 budget adopted May 13, though additional text has been added specifying institutions ineligible for funding “may partner with a public baccalaureate institution of higher education in Virginia to operate a college partnership laboratory school if they wish to access funding from the College Partnership Laboratory School Fund.” The four-year school “must have an approved college partnership laboratory school application to serve as the fiscal agent and partner by June 30, 2024,” the 2024-26 budget states.

“Only Virginia’s four-year public institutions are eligible to apply,” Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, D-Richmond, said in an email to The Smithfield Times. “The Youngkin administration has continued to try to expand the eligibility criteria of these schools despite the safeguards placed by legislation in order to protect public education funding for public schools.”

Hashmi said the language in this year’s budget further clarifies that the funding must be appropriated by June 30 as no additional funds have been allocated for lab school startups in fiscal years 2024-25 or 2025-26.

The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported on May 22 that five colleges, including Camp, need to resubmit their lab school applications within the next month. Paul D. Camp spokesman Jeff Zeigler and IWCS Director of Secondary Instruction Marsha Cale, however, each told the Times neither Camp nor IWCS will need to go through the monthslong application process again.

“We will be working with Old Dominion University on this project,” Zeigler said.

Isle of Wight County Schools plans to begin recruiting students next school year and to open the lab school by 2025. IWCS will provide students, the use of Smithfield High School and Windsor High School’s facilities and transportation to and from Camp’s Smithfield campus.

Students would enroll during their junior year and complete general education courses at Camp’s Smithfield Campus from 7:30 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., then travel to either SHS for welding or WHS, which houses the school division’s electrical career and technical education equipment, from 11:45 a.m. to 2:50 p.m. Seniors would spend their mornings at Camp’s Workforce Trades and Innovation Center in Suffolk, which is under construction and slated to open in 2025.