The Governor’s Tutoring and Special Ed Services Initiative

by James C. Sherlock

VDOE has provided me a concise and clear description of the Governor’s initiative to provide tutoring and special education services to struggling Virginia school kids.

The program seems both on point and appropriately careful.

The input describes the sources of the money, where it was originally targeted, where some of it is being re-targeted for tutoring and special ed services, how  soon it will be spent and the services made available to parents, who will receive vouchers variable by household income to purchase them.

The plan for this initiative spends $30 million out of a total of $68 million available.

That money is available because:

  • the schools to which it was originally targeted with Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools (EANS I & EANS II) funding were not able to use it all within guidelines; and
  • it reverted to a more broadly usable fund, Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER).

The supply of tutoring and special education service providers nationwide and in Virginia who are qualified under federal guidelines for expenditure of the money under GEER has fallen far short of demand.

This program is making a major attempt to organize supply at the state level.

If this attempt proves successful, and additional qualified suppliers become available, demand will exceed what $30 million will buy. If that happens,  I expect the allocation of funds to be quickly increased.

But it remains difficult to provide such services legally, efficiently and effectively. All of it is tax money, or borrowed money that taxpayers will have to repay.

We want value for the money and for the students.

At my request, Charles Pyle, the VDOE spokesperson, provided the following information clarifying the program.

The contract with the vendor (ClassWallet) was signed on February 23 with the notice of award posted the following day.

The contract is for $547,400 [author note: to find and manage service providers in a program that will spend $30 million].

The funding for the K-12 Learning Recovery Grants program is from federal pandemic Emergency Assistance for Non-Public Schools funding (EANS I & EANS II) that reverted to the GEER (Governor’s Emergency Education Relief) II fund.

Virginia received $46.6 million in EANS I funding, of which $28.4 million was unused by non-public schools. The commonwealth received $46.3 million in EANS II funding, of which $39.9 million was unused. As allowed under USED guidelines, these unused EANS funds were reverted to the GEER II fund.

The contract does not bind the vendor to a specific launch date as some of the work of the vendor is dependent on internal work of VDOE in establishing criteria for the approval of service providers and validating the eligibility recipients of services.

Our target is for the platform to be available to parents by late April or early May.

Also, payments will be made directly to the service providers.

Tutoring and other services will not be exclusively online. We anticipate that there will be tutors who will provide services to students in person.

VDOE will work with schools divisions, private and parochial schools, and community groups and organizations to ensure that technology and web access are not barriers to applying for or receiving services

Because of federal restrictions, money cannot go directly to families. Learning Recovery Grants cover:

  • tutoring; and
  • special ed services and supports (i.e. speech and language therapy), technology and equipment.

Qualified special education providers are in even shorter supply than tutors.

Parents select a provider and payment is issued directly to the contractor — up to $3,000 for each qualifying student whose family income is verified at 300% or less of the federal poverty level (FPL is $24,800 for a family of 3) and up to $1,500 to all other public, private, parochial or home-school students residing in Virginia and meeting school age requirements of Virginia law.

Qualified providers, about which there has been some apparent public misunderstanding, include:

  • Tutors who are currently licensed teachers in any endorsement area in any state;
  • Tutors who were previously licensed teachers in any endorsement area in any state whose licenses expired but were not revoked;
  • Tutors who are currently employed as instructional staff at any accredited private or parochial school;
  • Tutors who are currently employed as instructional staff at any accredited college or university;
  • Evidence-based tutoring and learning centers;
  • Specialized education services and supports provider that is a licensed practitioner recognized by any state board or agency.

One concern voiced about this program is accessibility.

  • On the one hand, the services would be most accessible if  delivered during the school day; but
  • On the other,
    1. schools may not be willing to cancel their own classes, tutoring sessions and special ed services in order to provide additional tutoring and special ed services at additional expense by outside providers;
    2. if schools’ own staff are offering the services I assume they cannot be paid by a Learning Recovery Grant on school time; and
    3. in-school provision of services is challenged by the very high chronic absentee rates in schools, especially by students who have fallen behind.

Those are tricky issues to navigate, again especially for poor kids and their families. As we have seen, options will be made available both online and in-person if the student can access them.

School divisions should help with access.

Among the online providers of tutoring and special education services, the commercial providers already licensed by the state to provide full-time remote instruction have a lot of reading specialists, math instructors, and special education specialists licensed in Virginia.

These staffers work from home and can provide Learning Recovery Grant services to individual and small groups of students without changing anything in their work environments and processes.

I think that the Governor and VDOE are proceeding prudently.

We all wish the program well.  We need it to work.

Update.  The original misidentified the payments as vouchers.  They are direct payments from the state to contractors.