Despite being fully funded by the legislature, Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s Department of Education has halted a program that disseminates grants to help teachers of color overcome financial barriers as they seek full teaching accreditation. Meanwhile, Youngkin’s much-touted Learning Acceleration Grant program has reportedly left both parents and educators feeling frustrated and helpless.
The Youngkin administration is struggling with two important grant programs administered by the Virginia Department of Education (VDOE).
The first is a teacher diversity grant program, which helps provisionally licensed teachers of color overcome cost barriers–including tutoring and testing fees–to receive their full teaching licenses. The grant program is fully funded to the tune of $50,000 per year, which Virginia lawmakers have included in the past three two-year budget cycles, and was a product of a 2017 task force working to diversify Virginia’s education workforce.
But last year–with no public notice–Youngkin’s VDOE stopped announcing and disseminating these grants for the 2023 fiscal year, which began on July 1, despite the fact that the legislature had already approved the funds for it. That money will instead languish in the state’s coffers, unused.
Additionally, the application for the teacher diversity grant program has reportedly been scrubbed from the VDOE website.
Research shows that all students benefit from greater teacher diversity, and students of color especially benefit from having educators who look like them. Virginia’s teacher workforce remains largely white, even as the commonwealth’s student population continues to become more diverse.
When asked why Youngkin’s VDOE halted the teacher diversity grant program, department chief of staff Jeremy Raley said, without elaboration, to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “The VDOE is currently evaluating this grant program. The Department will communicate more information as it becomes available.”
The teacher diversity grant program was a product of previous administrations, but the current Youngkin administration also seems to be struggling with the execution of one of the governor’s own pet initiatives, the K-12 Learning Acceleration Grants program.
The initiative, first announced in March and opened to applications in May, is intended “to help Virginia families address the impact of the pandemic on student learning.” The program was advertised as making available either $1,500 or $3,000 grants for qualifying students to obtain tutoring in core content areas, as well as for specialized educational therapy services and supports, including speech language therapy and specialized reading instruction.
But now many parents who received grants through this program have discovered that they can’t actually use their grant money. The classes and tutoring programs these parents enrolled their kids in are being abruptly canceled and providers have been pulled from the program without notice.
These problems directly stem from the fact that, part way through launching the grant program, Youngkin’s VDOE switched the program’s payment structure to require vendors to provide services before getting paid. Many vendors, including Hampton Roads-area tutor Camille Donne, were unable to provide their educational services without a guarantee of payment or payment up front.
After sending two unanswered emails to the VDOE seeking confirmation that her classes were approved by the agency to receive reimbursement, Donne made the “heartbreaking” decision to cancel the summer class she’d planned to teach. Forty students had signed up for it.
“I would be out money for the supplies, the instructor, the time. This could be thousands of dollars that I could be out, and everything depends on the state approving or denying it after the class has already been taught,” Donne said. “I’m a single mom, I’m a small business owner, and I just can’t take the risk.”
Larger vendors also found the change untenable.
A spokesperson for Outschool Tutoring–a major virtual class vendor–told CBS 6 that the company was unaware it was supposed to be accepting payments on a reimbursement basis “until it became an issue.” Outschool has been removed as a vendor for the grant program.
When asked why Youngkin’s VDOE pivoted to a reimbursement model in the middle of the program’s launch, agency chief of staff Raley admitted that the department was not following federal and state regulations when it initially began the program. Although he “would not say [VDOE was] in violation” of the law, Raley did acknowledge that the department had to make immediate changes in order to be in “compliance with the grant.”
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