UPDATE: Have you applied for a microgrant?

Published 12:51 pm Sunday, June 11, 2023

UPDATE: Well, on the plus side, it’s clear this microgrant has been popular. But VDOE has put out a notice saying they have “received the maximum number of applications for K-12 Learning Acceleration Grants the department is able to process at the program’s current funding level. Additional applications for grants will be accepted if more funds become available for the program.” So until the state budget passes, no more microgrants. 

By Michael Hinman

The Farmville Herald 

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School may be over, but that doesn’t mean your child is finished learning. A new state program can help pay for any extra tutoring needed for struggling students. 

Parents still have a little time left to apply to the state for a K-12 Learning Acceleration grant — a newly minted program championed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin providing a $1,500 subsidy per student to pay for tutoring across myriad subjects, helping get them caught up academically during the seasonal break from school.

Virginia lawmakers earmarked $30 million for the program — enough to fund 20,000 students — earlier this year as a way to combat what some have dubbed the “brain drain” of COVID-19. Closed schools and other distractions stemming from the pandemic lowered math scores for fourth and eighth graders as much as eight points on average, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, while reading scores dropped three points.

Farmville was no exception.

“Parents assume that when their kid comes home with A’s and B’s, then oh, everything is great,” said Angela Whittaker, a longtime educator who runs the Full Circle micro-schools program in Rice. “I got children during the pandemic that were considered gifted from local school divisions, and they couldn’t write complete sentences.”

The education grants are desperately needed, she said, because it gives parents a fighting chance to use the free time of summer to get their young students back on track.

To qualify, a student only needs to live in Virginia, and get their education from a public, private, parochial or home-school environment. Funds are intended to pay for tutoring in what are known as the “core content areas” like reading and writing, math, science, and history and social science. 

Options for tutoring

The tutoring sessions can be in-person, virtual, one-on-one, or in groups of any size. Which means some can even take advantage of the programs offered at Full Circle, as funds can be used to offset tuition there.

“It needs to be remedial, and it needs to be aimed at the core subject standards of learning,” Whittaker said. “And you can do that in some wonderfully fun ways. It doesn’t have to be sitting in a chair with a pencil in your hand.”

Otherwise, money can also be spent on straight-up tutoring services, which typically cost between $40 and $60 an hour, Whittaker said. 

For families living well below the poverty line — typically families of four with less than $30,000 in annual income — grants double to $3,000.

Read the fine print

But parents need to make sure they read the fine print once they get accepted into the grant program. Half the grant money must be spent by Aug. 15, with the remainder expiring just before Christmas. Those getting $3,000 have until late 2024 to spend their additional funds.

“They want kids in summer programs, not just sitting at home and going to the lake and swim,” Whittaker said. “They want them involved in these academic summer programs.”

Where parents find those services is completely up to them, so long as they are program-approved tutors and education services that applied separately to accept these dollars. 

But how would a parent know what subjects their kids need to focus on? That’s where the student assessment summary report comes in. The report, which went home with every student last month, compares where they are academically with their peers. 

They also can see if their kids are passing or failing each subject — a quick indicator of where they might need additional help over the summer.

Applying starts online at tinyurl.com/LearningMicroGrant. Have a way to prove residency handy — like a utility board, or even a driver’s license. And be ready to produce a doctor’s note if your student is not school-age. Families looking to receive the larger grants will have to file financial information documents to prove their income.

Once funds have been transferred into a ClassWallet account, they can be used for approved services. Any expired or unused funds will go back to the state.

Virginia’s K-12 Learning Acceleration grant program might be a direct response to the pandemic, but Whittaker for one hopes the funding will continue on far beyond the coronavirus.

“This gives parents in the community what they need to get more involved with their kids and the way that they are being educated,” Whittaker said. “That parent voice is critical to moving our education system toward something that is truly of service to our children.”