Cox urges Virginia to use federal COVID-19 money for private, homeschool expenses

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Republican gubernatorial candidate and state lawmaker Kirk Cox is urging Virginia to use federal COVID-19 relief money to provide funding for private schooling and homeschooling of students.

An executive order from President Donald Trump authorizes the use of COVID-19 relief money for emergency learning scholarships, which would use Community Services Block Grants for private school and homeschool costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Ralph Northam’s social distancing requirements for schools forced some public schools to offer online classes exclusively and others to offer hybrid schedules that included online and in-person classes. This has led to a decline in enrollment as some families opted to pursue alternative education options.

Republicans in both chambers of the General Assembly sponsored legislation that would have allocated some federal COVID-19 relief funds for this purpose, but the effort failed to get support from the Democratic majority.

The federal block grant program, which has $775 million allocated to it for fiscal year 2021, is used for a variety of programs, including housing, health care and employment programs. Trump’s executive order does not add additional funding to the program, but it lets states direct part of its funding to these scholarships.

“This summer Delegate Cox introduced the READ Fund to provide federal COVID-relief money to parents and students for virtual learning and educational resources like tutoring, technology, and internet access,” Kristen Bennett, the press secretary for Kirk Cox for Governor, told The Center Square.

“When schools close, the children that are already struggling get left even further behind and parents are left to pick up the slack all while trying to work full-time jobs,” Bennett said. “The READ Fund was a golden opportunity to provide additional resources and support for them during the pandemic, and we should absolutely continue to look for the best ways to support our students and parents during this challenging time while trying to safely reopen our schools.”

Sen. Steve Newman, R-Forest, also encouraged the state to use federal funding for these scholarships. Newman sponsored Senate legislation that would have allocated funding to localities to provide money to parents using alternative education options to offset some of the additional costs.

“I applaud the idea that some of the billions of federal COVID relief dollars flowing to states be directed to families in Virginia who face unexpected expenses associated with educating their children in the absence of direct, in-person public school oversight,” Newman said in a statement. “Whether the funds are used to send a child to in-person school through a private education model or to reimburse families for education-related supplies and goods, including internet access, for education at home, they are much needed for Virginia’s struggling families.”

Chris Braunlich, the former president of the State Board of Education and the current president of the Virginia-based Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy, told The Center Square the proposal would not cost Virginia taxpayers a dime and argued it would be beneficial to children hurt by the school shutdowns, particularly low-income and special education students.

“The funds could help low-income parents struggling to get sufficient technology for their children; it could be used by the parents of special education children to purchase education therapies for their children; it could be used for books or for collateral materials or for other material integral to learning,” Braunlich said. “But, so far these parents have been given a deaf ear from both the governor and the liberal leadership in the state Senate and House. It’s time state leadership stepped up and helped the children being hurt.”

Northam’s office did not respond to a request for comment from The Center Square about whether the governor is considering using relief money for this purpose. The Virginia Education Association also did not respond to a request for comment.

Democrats and teachers unions generally have opposed taxpayer money being used for these purposes, arguing tax money should be used for public education, rather than private education.

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