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Republican Budget Amendment for Virtual Learning Refunds Rejected

Woman raises hand
Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant raising her hand during a discussion on a budget amendment she proposed. (Photo: Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch)

During a heated back and forth, the Virginia Senate rejected an amendment to its budget bill that would have reimbursed parents for virtual learning costs. 

In a 19 to 21 vote, senators struck down the amendment along party lines, as was the case with a majority of amendments discussed Thursday.

Sen. Stephen Newman (R-Bedford) and Siobhan Dunnavant (R-Henrico) proposed the budget amendment. Dunnavant told VPM before the vote that Virginia must put CARES Act funds to use by the end of the year.

“We need to distribute it quickly because coronavirus relief funds, if they’re not used by December they’re returned to the federal government,” she said.

The budget amendment would have given localities a total of $300 million from the CARES Act to cover the costs of new technology, tutoring and childcare. Parents would have received up to $500 per child.

Republicans voiced support for the amendment leading up to the vote. Sen. David Suetterlein (R-Floyd) said his only criticism was that the amendment didn’t give parents more money. Sen. Joe Morrissey (D-Richmond) questioned his comment, pointing out the amendment’s price tag. Other Democrats said the proposal misunderstood parents’ needs.

“My issue with this is we’re making an assumption that a one time $500 payement to the parents is somehow going to provide a safety net that will yield long term benefits,” said Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington).

The full budget bill has yet to be finalized by the General Assembly, which is holding a special session to amend the budget passed earlier this year to account for the economic impact of COVID-19. The Senate will vote on its final bill Friday. The House passed its version of the budget earlier this week.