The Bulletin

Virginia schools can now apply for $107 million in grants to combat learning loss

By: - October 2, 2021 12:02 am

Students in masks head for school in Caroline County. (Caroline County Public Schools via NBC12)

Virginia’s 132 school divisions can  now apply for up to $107 million from three different grants to support math and literacy education, including to reverse learning loss during the pandemic. 

The American Rescue Plan aimed at providing federal relief funds awarded Virginia $2.1 billion from the act’s Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, in part to address slumping academics during widespread virtual learning. There is up to $65 million available for programs to address unfinished learning, up to $21 million to support before- and after-school programs and another $21 million for summer programs, the Virginia Department of Education said in a news release. Allowable expenditures for the “Onward and Upward” grants include recruitment of tutors and other staff, programs to reduce student-teacher ratios, technology and transportation for students and support for in-person and virtual programs that address students’ behavioral and mental health needs. 

“These student-focused grants will support programs to help our students catch up, particularly in literacy and mathematics, and achieve their academic goals, while also assessing and addressing their mental health needs,” said James Lane, superintendent of public instruction.

Since the pandemic started, pass rates for the state’s Standards of Learning assessments have decreased dramatically, according to data from the Virginia Department of Education. In the 2020-2021 school year, the pass rate for the literacy and math assessments were 69 and 54 percent respectively, compared to 78 and 82 percent for the 2018-2019 school year. Ben Kiser, executive director of the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, said it’s going to take a few years for students to catch up to the pre-pandemic learning standards.

“We’re talking about almost two years of separation from the normal delivery of content, the engagement with teachers and the engagement with all school services that have been part of our system,” he said. “It’s really going to depend on parent engagement, community engagement, student engagement, all of the stakeholders and parties to bring to bear their resources and capacity to serve children.”

Quality teachers are the key to helping students get over the learning loss they have dealt with during the pandemic, Kiser said. But shortages combined with the stress teachers are going through as they adapt to teaching in person again make it difficult to implement programs outside of regular school hours, he added.

“Resources are critical,” he said. “Effectively and efficiently spending those resources is really where students superintendents are focused, and that’s where there’s a challenge in terms of lack of personnel.”

Schools divisions have until Nov. 23 to apply for the grants.

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Jackie Llanos Hernandez
Jackie Llanos Hernandez

Virginia Mercury intern Jackie Llanos Hernandez is a junior at the University of Richmond studying journalism and anthropology. Jackie grew up in Colombia before moving to Virginia. Jackie is also the investigative and multimedia editor at the independent student-run newspaper, The Collegian. She can be reached at [email protected]