Chatham County parents lead Ga. with most-submitted applications for new virtual learning scholarship program

Education

SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — Parents of fully virtual learners can now apply for financial assistance for childcare, supervision and support during the school day.

The new Supporting Onsite Learning for Virtual Education (SOLVE) program helps cover a portion of the cost of childcare for parents with students ages 5 through 12 years old.

The Georgia Department of Early Care and Learning (DECAL) was given $19 million from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) funding, set aside by the CARES Act.

For families to be eligible, students must be enrolled in a Georgia school district that offers the virtual format as the only learning option available amid the ongoing pandemic.

“Right now, there are about 42 school systems where students are completely virtual,” DECAL Commissioner Amy M. Jacobs told WSAV NOW.

“What we recognized in conjunction with the Governor’s Office was that not having an option can be very difficult for parents, especially working parents that have to work outside of the home that don’t have that option to work at their home,” Jacobs explained.

“[We] also didn’t want students to get behind academically, so providing this financial support helps parents find a safe place for their children to go during the day where they can be supported during their virtual learning,” she added.

The SOLVE funding will provide about 4,000 scholarships to Georgia students who are participating in a full-time virtual learning experience.

Parents can receive an average of $118 per week for each eligible student, and it’s the parents’ responsibility to cover the difference.

How to qualify

Jacobs says DECAL will administer the funding through the Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) program, which assists low-income families in covering the cost of childcare.

In addition to students having to be enrolled in kindergarten through sixth or seventh grade, depending on their birthday, their parents’ earnings can’t exceed 85% of the state’s median income.

“For example, if you’re a family of four, the maximum income for your family would be around $64,000,” Jacobs said, noting that DECAL’s website also offers a chart with additional details, which can be viewed to the right.

Parents of virtual learners must also be working, attending a higher-education or vocational program or a combination of both for at least 24 hours weekly.

Jacobs says that SOLVE funding can only be used at licensed childcare or day camp-exempt providers.

How to apply 

The program began on Sept. 1, and hundreds of applications and approvals are already rolling in from across Georgia, including Chatham County.

As of Tuesday, DECAL has received the most applications from Chatham County than any other Georgia county where students are learning in a 100% virtual format.

“Behind Chatham are the [Atlanta-area] metro counties that you would expect, like Fulton, Cobb and Clayton,” Jacobs said.

Chatham County parents have so far submitted 220 applications; 138 of those applications have been approved and they include scholarship awards for 195 children, according to DECAL.

At least 950 students across Georgia have received scholarships thus far.

Jacobs says the application process is fairly easy.

Parents can sign up at gateway.ga.gov, where they will see a link for applying for SOLVE funding.

“It’s only a one- or two-page document where you enter your personal information,” Jacobs said. “We need to know where your child is going to school, their age, your income and your activity requirement to make sure you meet those eligibility requirements.”

Parents can also choose the eligible provider of their choice from a drop-down menu. 

Jacobs says many applications are approved automatically.

“Some of them have to have one of our scholarship specialists reach out to the parent to get that proper paperwork, but for the most part, most of these are approved within 24 hours,” she said.

Angel Learning Center in Savannah is one of those eligible childcare providers. It serves young learners from six weeks old through students in the sixth grade.

The directors tell WSAV NOW that they’re receiving a number of calls from families asking if they participate in the SOLVE program.

“We have roughly in the mid 40s of students enrolled in our e-learning program, and we’ve had a lot of parents who are trying to go to work, but this isn’t necessarily something that was in their budget to do because they were planning on schools going back, and so were we,” said director of operations Sarah Thompson.

“We already have four parents that are already approved [for SOLVE funding] and we have their certificates here on file, so I think they’re grateful the state’s moving really fast on the grant, and it’s able to get through to help a lot of our parents,” Thompson said.

Funding through the SOLVE program will last at least three months for each virtual learner. 

“We will reassess at that three-month point to see if your school system is still in virtual-only mode, and we will renew that scholarship for another three months,” Jacobs said. “If they are, then we will renew it again for another three months.”

Parents can find additional information on DECAL’s SOLVE program by clicking here.

To apply, visit the Georgia Gateway at this link.

Families can view eligible local licensed childcare providers by visiting qualityrated.org.

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