Former GOP speaker Kirk Cox urges Virginia lawmakers to reopen schools

Capitol Connection

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Former Virginia House speaker Kirk Cox reiterated his push to have every local school division return to in-person learning five days a week Thursday, proposing steps that aim to combat learning loss during the pandemic.

Del. Cox (R-Colonial Heights), a retired teacher seeking the GOP nomination in this year’s governor’s race, said all of his proposals could be funded with the federal COVID-19 relief designated for Virginia’s schools.

While he acknowledged the recent effort from Gov. Ralph Northam and other Democrats to gradually get students back into the classroom, Cox asserted that “failed leadership” has led to a multitude of issues that could have a lasting impact.

“Last July, I joined a number of fellow legislators in urging Governor Northam to prioritize five days of in-person learning,” Cox said during a virtual press conference Thursday. “He didn’t listen, and for months our school buildings sat shuttered while students languished in virtual and remote settings that did not meet their needs, despite the best effort of Virginia’s hardworking teachers.”

Cox’s office provided a list — found below — of the actions the former GOP speaker has called for the Virginia General Assembly to take immediately:

  • Provide additional state funding for one-on-one and small group tutoring on a personalized level through local school divisions for the rest of the 2021 school year and the summer
  • Create the READ Fund to directly reimburse parents for supplemental learning opportunities, supplies, and additional tutoring
  • Open summer remediation programs to all students through opt-in programs, with costs covered by federal relief funds
  • Require DOE to issue statewide guidance on remediation best practices, with an emphasis on math and reading, no later than March 31, 2021
  • Require DOE to develop a statewide screening process for school divisions no later than March 31, 2021, that will help identify the specific learning losses and academic recovery needs of their students
  • Provide overtime and supplemental stipends for teachers willing to work with students after hours in in-person small group settings
  • Increase teacher compensation for participating in summer school programs and make that compensation tax free for 2021
  • Mobilize retired and substitute teachers to serve as temporary instructors for tutoring and summer schools by allowing them to earn tutoring and summer school compensation state-tax free for 2021
  • Partner with universities to allow teaching students to earn credit toward student teaching requirements for serving as tutors and summer learning instructors
  • Provide flexibility and streamline re-enrollment process for students returning to public schools this fall

When asked about the estimated price tag, Cox said “probably around $85 million” but that it would be funded with federal stimulus dollars. The latest $900 billion relief package sets aside $54.8 billion for K-12 public schools.

Public school enrollment has dropped significantly this year, with 45,327 fewer students registered in September 2020 than in September 2019. Early data from a survey conducted by the state’s Department of Education, in which all of Virginia’s 132 school districts were required to participate, revealed concerning figures.

“Remote learning challenges was the question. Or what is your greatest challenge, and failing students and access to reliable internet were two of the largest challenges that exist,” Michael Bolling, the assistant superintendent for learning and innovation at Virginia Department of Education, said during a Jan. 28 board meeting.

Forty school divisions reported failing grades as their greatest challenge with remote learning.

According to Department of Education, only 15 school divisions have in-person instruction for all students at least four days a week. Forty-two districts are fully remote.

Also on Thursday, Gov. Northam expressed support for extending the school year into the summer. “It has to be a top priority for all of us to get our children back in the classroom,” the governor said during a live-streamed discussion with The Washington Post a little after Cox announced his proposals.

Kristen Bennett, Cox’s campaign press secretary, said in a text message that “We hope the Governor takes this issue seriously and that he takes steps similar to what Delegate Cox outlined today. This could and should be a bipartisan issue.”

“The General Assembly’s focus, and the focus of Virginia’s next Governor, must now turn to addressing the damaging effects caused by extended remote learning and making sure no child falls behind permanently,” Cox continued.

“A lost year cannot become a lost generation.”

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