$44 million in Virginia learning grants sitting in parents' accounts unused: 'Frustrating beyond belief'

Posted at 4:00 PM, Sep 19, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-19 17:52:37-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- Tens of millions of dollars in grants given to Virginia parents remain unspent, as some parents are still experiencing headaches trying to take advantage of their funds.

In July, CBS 6 reported on concerns from several parents who said they were having challenges using money awarded to them by the Virginia Department of Education's (VDOE) Learning Acceleration Grants program.

Governor Glenn Youngkin (R - Virginia) announced the program earlier this year as a tool to combat pandemic learning loss, and applications officially opened in May.

As of September 8, the program has awarded nearly $68 million to more than 33,000 parents, according to data posted on the VDOE's website.

Twenty-two thousand parents received grants of $1,500 and 11,600 low-income parents received grants of $3,000.

The funds are supposed to be used for tutoring services, specialized educational therapy services, and assistive technologies for students with disabilities.

But the program got off to a rocky start over the summer, as thousands of parents had their orders rejected and tutoring classes abruptly canceled.

The program's main tutoring providers were also suddenly pulled from the program.

CBS 6 later obtained internal emails that revealed VDOE staff were aware of complaints coming in "fast and angrier than previous issues."

VDOE had to make significant and immediate changes to how the program was structured because it initially allowed for tutoring services to be pre-paid, rather than reimbursed, which was noncompliant with federal regulations and auditing expectations.

As of July 14, the VDOE said all concerns had been addressed.

More than two months later, CBS 6 checked back in with parents to ask if things had improved.

"No," said Henrico mom Cari Barrett. “And you would think that things would have gotten easier and that classes would start to be approved. Well, they haven’t.”


Since CBS 6 last spoke with Barrett in July, she said she's signed up her six-year-old son for six sessions through Outschool, an approved tutoring provider, using a list pre-approved class options on the website.

She was alerted that her child had been enrolled in the sessions, and the funds were taken out of her "ClassWallet" account, which is the website that serves as parents' online bank for the program.

However, her son was eventually unenrolled in all six sessions at the last minute.

In each case, Barrett received an email two days before the class date that the order "was not approved by the program before the state date."

While the emails stated she would receive refunds within "a few days," Barrett said none of the funds have been deposited back into her ClassWallet account.

"I was frustrated before because [classes] were getting rejected, and now I'm frustrated because they're just not even being touched, and time is running out," Barrett said.

After no luck with Outschool, Barrett tried a different tutoring service. However, she said that the vendor asked for an upfront payment of hundreds of dollars, promising reimbursement later. The governor and VDOE have previously said that parents should not have to pay anything out of pocket in order to use their grants.

"I don't have that money just lying around, and I don't know anybody else that does," Barrett said.

According to data posted on the VDOE website, parents have spent a total of $10.3 million out of $54 million in grants allocated. That means, about $44 million is currently sitting in parents' accounts unspent.

During a press conference on September 7, CBS 6 asked Governor Youngkin whether all the grant money would be put to use. Youngkin referred the question to VDOE Superintendent Dr. Lisa Coons.

"Families are using it as they need the tutoring. So obviously during the summer, some families chose not to, and we are seeing a significant uptick," Coons said.

The VDOE removed a previous requirement that parents had to spend a portion of their grant by September 1 after receiving feedback from parents.

However, the expiration dates on the grants have not changed: December 30 for recipients of a $1,500 grant and May 30 for recipients of a $3,000 grant.

Barrett said she's only had success getting approval on orders of physical materials, such as an iPad, which qualify as assistive technologies for her child.

Richmond parent Emily Kavanaugh said she and other parents have also found success in ordering assistive technologies.

"Everybody was getting so annoyed and frustrated with all the denials that a lot of people are just choosing to use the bulk of the money to get iPads through approved vendors because nobody wants the money to go to waste," Kavanaugh said.

But Barrett said she's worried she'll never be able to utilize what she believed to be the most important part of the program: additional quality instructional time for her child.

"The program was created for a reason because it had a great thought behind it. But now my son is the one losing out because he's not able to get the help," Barrett said. "It's frustrating beyond belief and just not worth it. I wish that the program wouldn't have even been presented to us until it was more organized and easier for parents to use."

CBS 6 reached out to VDOE Tuesday for a response to these concerns and for a breakdown of how the grants have been used so far. A spokesperson responded they were working on a response, but it was unlikely they'd meet CBS 6's deadline. CBS 6 also reached out to Outschool and is awaiting a response.

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