ATLANTA - Several groups are pressing Gov. Brian Kemp to start divvying out small federal grant funds aimed at helping families pay for school supplies, child care and other expenses while their children are taking online classes amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a letter sent Tuesday, Sept. 15, groups including the American Federation for Children, the Down Syndrome Association of Atlanta and GeorgiaCAN urged Kemp to reserve more than $20 million in federal COVID-19 funds for microgrants, which cover small one-time expenses.
The letter says families could use those grants to purchase technology needed for virtual learning, tutoring services, specialized therapies and for so-called “pod” settings in which students meet in small groups for online classes.
“We believe that offering direct assistance to parents at this time is a necessary lifeline to help prevent those with the greatest need from falling further behind their peers,” the letter says.
The letter also asks Kemp to reserve part of any approved microgrant funding for families whose students have special needs and are currently in virtual-learning environments.
A spokesman for the governor's office said they are "evaluating a variety of options" for how to spend the state's remaining allotment of federal COVID-19 aid.
The letter coincided with a poll of Georgians likely to vote in the upcoming Nov. 3 election that found most people in the state would support Kemp tapping into federal emergency funds for COVID-19 microgrants.
Conducted by the Washington, D.C.-based firm Cygnal, the poll also found many parents have spent $500 or more already on costs they would not normally have due to the need for virtual learning, such as computer hardware, child-care services, tutoring, internet access and services for students with disabilities.
“We believe that all children deserve to continue receiving a quality education throughout the pandemic, not just those with the greatest means,” according to the letter.
Along with several educational and disability-advocacy groups, the letter was also signed by a handful of conservative-leaning organizations including the Americans for Prosperity’s Georgia chapter and the Faith and Freedom Coalition of Georgia.
The Georgia Public Policy Foundation and the Georgia Center for Opportunity also signed the letter.
Many of Georgia’s nearly 2 million K-12 students started off this school year with virtual classes as the pandemic has continued to spark concerns from public-health and education officials over the potential for the virus to spread within school communities.
State officials have already made available funding opportunities for schools to receive federal dollars to boost internet access and for low-income families to help pay child-care costs for students learning from home while their parents work.
The state Department of Education has left it to local school districts whether to hold classes in-person or conduct them virtually amid the pandemic.