DeVos floats ‘microgrants’ for students, teachers as coronavirus upends schooling

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said Friday that she will push for legislation offering “microgrants” to individual students and educators adapting to remote learning.

Speaking at a White House briefing on the coronavirus, which has closed schools nationwide, DeVos said the grants would help “the most disadvantaged students in states or communities where their school system has simply shut down.”

For students, the grants would help them “continue to learn,” DeVos said. For teachers, the grants would “help them pivot to supporting all of their students in a different environment than they’ve been used to.”

DeVos took no questions and offered no information about the size of the grants or how they would reach teachers or students. A department spokesperson said later Friday that the proposed grants could be used for physical items like computers or other devices, Internet access or hotspots, and textbooks or other materials, or for services like tutoring, therapy for students with disabilities, or tuition and fees for an online program at a public or private school.

The proposal would “focus” on students with disabilities and those eligible for government food benefits, and whose school has been closed for at least 30 days, spokesperson Angela Morabito said in a statement.

The idea — especially the grants for students that could pay tuition — is a glimpse at how DeVos will use the upheaval to advance her ideas about education. A proponent of private-school vouchers and school choice, DeVos has long downplayed the role of the federal government and scoffed at those who see school buildings or school districts as education’s key organizing principle.

“I’ve always believed education funding should be tied to students, not systems, and that necessity has never been more evident,” DeVos said Friday.

She’s also spent the last two years promoting a $5 billion tax credit program that would fund stipends for private school tuition and other education expenses like tutoring or enrichment programs — items that overlap with the microgrants proposal. The tax credit program has not gained traction in Congress, though.