Press Releases

WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) cosponsored bipartisan legislation led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), and a number of their Senate colleagues to address hazing incidents on college campuses. Since 2000, there have been more than 50 hazing-related deaths on America’s college campuses, including that of Adam Oakes, a Virginia Commonwealth University student who died in a fraternity hazing incident.

“Parents who send their kids off to college never imagine that their child may be injured, seriously impaired, or killed by the actions of their friends or peers. Unfortunately, this has been the reality for too many families, including the family of 19-year-old Adam Oakes, who died in a hazing incident at VCU last year,” said the Senators. “We owe it to parents and students to pass this legislation to provide transparency and accountability around these incidents, as well as education on the dangers and life-long consequences of hazing.”

The Report and Educate About Campus Hazing (REACH) Act would require hazing incidents to be reported as part of a college’s annual crime report and establish a definition of hazing to clarify what constitutes a reportable offense. The legislation would also require institutions to establish a campus-wide, research-based program to educate students about the dangers of hazing.

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $6,999,632 in federal funding for the Hampton Roads Community Action Program and Total Action Against Poverty in Roanoke Valley to provide training and career counseling services to incarcerated individuals so that they are prepared for employment opportunities and able to successfully transition into the workforce following their release.

“By expanding employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated Virginians, we can help them successfully transition back into the community, reduce recidivism, and strengthen our neighborhoods,” said the senators. “This federal funding will help individuals find employment and stay on the right track.”

The funding is distributed as follows:

  • $3,999,633 for the Hampton Roads Community Action Program, Inc. in Newport News
  • $2,999,999 for Total Action Against Poverty in Roanoke Valley, Inc. in Roanoke

The grants were awarded through the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA)’s Pathway Homes program, which works to improve employability outcomes for adults during the reentry process from incarceration. 

In 2018, Warner and Kaine voted to pass the First Step Actwhich reauthorized grant funding for state and local reentry programs that reduce recidivism. In 2015, Warner and Kaine successfully urged President Obama to “ban the box” on federal job applications to help expand job opportunities and reduce recidivism among ex-offenders. “Ban the Box” refers to the section on job application forms that inquired whether the applicant has ever been convicted.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Tim Scott (R-SC) re-introduced the Ensuring Seniors’ Access to Quality Care Act, which would provide nursing home operators with access to the National Practitioner Data Bank (NPDB) – a national criminal background check system. This move would give employers greater ability to screen and vet potential employees to ensure that caregivers do not have a history that would endanger the seniors they are employed to look after. Sens. Warner and Scott first introduced this legislation 2019.

“Our seniors are owed compassionate, qualified caregivers as they age and depend more and more on professional assistance,” Sen. Warner said. “This legislation will provide senior living facilities with the tools they need to hire experienced staff and to continue to meet the high demand for workers without sacrificing quality care.”

“South Carolina is home to around 200 skilled nursing facilities that serve thousands of individuals in their golden years,” Sen. Scott said. “At zero cost to taxpayers, this bill will help ensure these facilities hire the best candidates, improving the quality of care for seniors across the nation.” 

Currently, senior living facilities are not authorized to use the NPDB and instead must rely on state-level criminal background checks that can often omit key details about an employee’s background.

Additionally, the bipartisan legislation amends overly restrictive regulations that bar certain senior living facilities from conducting training programs for in-house Certified Nurse Assistants (CNAs) – individuals who assist patients with their daily activities – for a two-year period after a care facility is found to have deficiencies, such as poor conditions or patient safety violations.

Under existing regulations by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), senior living facilities that receive a civil monetary penalty (CMP) over $10,000 are automatically prohibited from conducting CNA staff training programs for a period of two years.

Specifically, the legislation would allow a senior living facility to reinstate its CNA training program if:

  • The facility has corrected the deficiency for which the CMP was assessed;
  • The deficiency for which the CMP was assessed did not result in an immediate risk to patient safety and is not the result of patient harm resulting from abuse or neglect;
  • And the facility has not received a repeat deficiency related to direct patient harm in the preceding two year period;

According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, the need for nursing assistants and orderlies to care for the growing aging population is projected to rise 8 percent from 2020 to 2030. With this growing need for caregivers, in-house CNA education at senior living facilities often helps meet the need for CNAs. However, the existing two-year lockout period can make it more difficult for senior care facilities to properly train new employees and retrain existing staff.

“We commend Senators Warner and Scott for reintroducing this important legislation at this critical moment for the long term care workforce. In the midst of a historic labor crisis, we need solutions like the Ensuring Seniors’ Access to Quality Care Act to help nursing homes vet and train crucially needed caregivers. By allowing facilities the ability to offer CNA training programs and access to the National Practitioner Data Bank, we can ensure our nation’s seniors receive high quality care delivered by highly-trained and dedicated caregivers,” Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of the American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living, said.

“Our nation’s long-term care system is facing a dire workforce shortage that has only intensified in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Katie Smith Sloan, president and CEO, LeadingAge, said. “CNAs provide essential care in nursing homes across the country, and we need strong training programs to ensure older adults have access to critical long-term care services.  Without workers, there is no care, which is why every possible lever to build the direct care workforce must be pulled. LeadingAge applauds Senator Warner and Senator Scott for championing this much-needed legislation to address the nurse aide training lockout. We pledge to work with them to get this bill passed.”

“I started my career as a CNA in a facility training program. I know how important it is to keep this pathway for hands-on training open to ensure we have caregivers for seniors,” Derrick Kendall, Chairman of Virginia Health Care Association – Virginia Center for Assisted Living (VHCA-VCAL) and President & CEO of Lucy Corr of Chesterfield, said. “The demand for CNAs has never been greater, so it’s time to end this barrier to training more, especially when a facility has addressed the reason for the lockout.”

“Having access to the National Practitioner Data Bank would be extremely beneficial for us. It would help prevent bad actors from hopping from state to state,” Melissa Green, Chief Clinical Officer of Trio Health Care, LLC, Hot Springs, VA and a nursing home operator who has facilities close to neighboring states said. She cites an incident when it was revealed that an employee had stolen an identity to work as a nurse—without access to the NPDB there was no way to know the actual nurse’s identity was stolen even though the nursing home completed the required background checks.

“LeadingAge Virginia applauds Senators Mark Warner and Tim Scott for introducing legislation that will enable training of certified nursing assistants (CNAs),” Melissa Andrews, President and CEO of LeadingAge Virginia, said. “A ‘CNA Training Lockout’ runs counter to a nursing home’s ability to provide the highest quality of care that their residents rightly deserve, and we appreciate the senators for introducing legislation that enables our dedicated professional caregivers to care for older Virginians adequately and properly.”

“Now, more than ever, the senior living care field depends on trained professional caregivers like certified nursing assistants to help deliver high-quality services and supports to our residents,” Joan Thomas, chief operating officer at Birmingham Green, Manassas, VA, and a member of the LeadingAge Virginia Board of Directors, said. “We know our residents thrive when they have the support and care of a well-trained staff, and we appreciate this legislation that allows us to give our certified nursing assistants the best tools and training they need to do their jobs.”

Full text of the bill is available here

 WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $6,236,161 in federal funding for 15 Virginia schools for Upward Bound programs. Upward Bound, administered through the Department of Education, provides support to low-income and first-generation high school students in order to increase high school and college graduation rates.

“All students deserve access to the resources they need to succeed,” the senators said. “This funding for Upward Bound programs will support low-income and first-generation students through high school and help them prepare for higher education. This represents another critical investment in leveling the playing field so that more students have the tools to reach their goals and get ready for life after high school.”

The funding will be awarded as follows:

Patrick Henry Community College will receive $312,480 for programs including tutoring, mentoring, and a summer bridge program. It will serve 68 students in Martinsville as well as Henry and Patrick Counties.

Norfolk State University will receive $297,485 for programs aimed at increasing students’ GPAs, standardized test scores, and retention and graduation rates. It will serve 60 students in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Virginia Tech will receive a total of $1,146,350 for programs including financial aid application assistance, Pell Grant education, and course selection. It will serve 223 students across Southwest Virginia.

The University of Virginia’s College at Wise will receive $427,133 for programs including tutoring, information on financial aid and alternative education programs, and college application support. It will serve 80 students across Southwest Virginia.

Virginia State University will receive $451,377 for academic and summer residential programs. It will serve 88 students across the cities of Hopewell and Petersburg, as well as the counties of Dinwiddie, Greensville, and Sussex, and the Matoaca District of Chesterfield.

James Madison University will receive $287,537 for programs including personal advising, college and cultural immersion experiences, and FAFSA education. It will serve 60 students across Northern Virginia.

Portsmouth Public Schools will receive $297,601 for programs including an Individualized Educational Success Plan (IESP) for every recruited student. It will serve 60 students from I.C. Norcom and Manor High Schools.

Paul D. Camp Community College will receive $290,714 for programs including supporting dual enrollment opportunities. It will continue serving Franklin, Lakeland, and Southampton High Schools.

Southwest Virginia Community College will receive a total of $685,387 for initiatives including a Summer Discovery Program, study skills and time management workshops, and college and financial aid seminars. It will serve a total of 132 students across Grundy, Hurley, Twin Valley, Council, Castlewood, Honaker, and Lebanon High Schools.

Hampton University will receive $297,599 for programs including SAT/ACT preparation workshops, financial literacy seminars, and tutoring. It will serve 60 students across Newport News.

Virginia Union University will receive $444,616 for programs including Saturday supplementary education, summer residential components, and Individualized Academic Plan creation. It will serve 85 students across Armstrong, George Wythe, Huguenot, John Marshall, and Thomas Jefferson High Schools.

Rappahannock Community College will receive $287,537 for programs including tutoring, counseling, cultural enrichment, and mentoring. It will serve 60 students from Essex County, Lancaster County, and Washington and Lee High Schools.

Wytheville Community College will receive $297,601 for programs including service-learning opportunities, post-graduation bridge programs, and Wellness Wednesday workshops. It will serve 57 students across Southwest Virginia.

Old Dominion University will receive $400,571 for programs including after-school tutoring, an intensive summer bridge experience, and college tours. It will serve 77 students across Norfolk and Portsmouth.

Virginia Highlands Community College will receive $312,173 for programs including a Summer Academy, career advising and counseling, and cultural and social enrichment programs. It will serve 65 students from Chilhowie, Northwood, Holston, Patrick Henry, and Virginia High Schools.

This funding follows advocacy by both Sens. Warner and Kaine to increase funding for all TRIO programs – including Upward Bound – in a letter to leadership of the Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education Appropriations last year.

 

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WASHINGTON— U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded House passage of their bipartisan legislation to commemorate historic sites that catalyzed litigation leading to the landmark 1954 Supreme Court decision, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. The bill, which unanimously passed the Senate earlier this month, now heads to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law. The legislation will expand the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site in Kansas and designate National Park Service (NPS) Affiliated Areas in Delaware, South Carolina, Kansas, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Specifically, it will recognize the Moton Museum, formerly the Robert Russa Moton High School, in Farmville, Virginia, where Barbara Johns led a protest against school segregation and demanded better conditions for Black students. This designation would help protect the site.

The 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka transformed the United States, overruling Plessy v. Ferguson and striking down school segregation as unconstitutional. The Brown decision was a major catalyst of the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

“Seventy-one years after Barbara Johns led a protest against school segregation at Moton High School in Farmville, we’re thrilled that our legislation to commemorate the Moton Museum and other historic sites associated with Brown v. Board of Education is headed to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law,” said Sens. Warner and Kaine. “We’re proud to help preserve this history and recognize stories of courageous Americans who fought for justice and equality.”

The creation of NPS Affiliated Areas in Delaware, Virginia, and the District of Columbia for sites associated with the Brown v. Board of Education case and an expansion of the Brown v. Board of Education National Historic Site to include the related sites in South Carolina provides an opportunity for these sites to tell their own under-recognized histories of the Brown v. Board of Education case.

In collaboration with local partners and other stakeholders, the National Trust will continue its work to bring recognition to communities that fought for school integration and make connections between communities engaged in the fight for educational equity, past and present.

The legislation was crafted in partnership with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. In the Senate, the bill was led by U.S. Sens. Chris Coons (D-DE) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and supported by U.S. Sens. Tim Scott (R-SC), Tom Carper (D-DE), Jerry Moran (R-KS), and Roger Marshall (R-KS).

Sens. Warner and Kaine were also proud to secure $500,000 in dedicated funding for critical facility upgrades at the Moton Museum in Farmville through the Fiscal Year 2022 budget, and supported efforts to honor Barbara Johns as one of Virginia’s two statues in the United States Capitol.

The bill text is available here.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Chris Coons (D-DE) reintroduced legislation to give low- and moderate-income workers more access to lifelong learning opportunities. The Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act would establish a tax-preferred savings account with a generous government match to support workers looking to retrain or develop new skills throughout their careers.

In the coming years, more workers will be required to learn new skills throughout their careers. A National Academies of Sciences report focused on information technology and the U.S. workforce recently stressed the need to prepare individuals for the changing labor market. Due to automation, the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that up to a third of the U.S. workforce will need to learn new skills or find new work in new occupations by 2030. According to a Pew Research Center survey, 87 percent of workers believe training and developing new job skills throughout their work life is essential to succeed in the workplace. The Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act would give workers a tool to access that training by providing them with a portable, government-matched savings vehicle for lifelong learning.

“Access to lifelong learning and education is a critical tool that workers need to succeed in today’s economy. Therefore, it is essential for the federal government to support Americans’ ability to retrain and upskill throughout their career,” said Sen. Warner. “This is a no-brainer investment that would help workers continue to expand their skillsets and grow their earning potential. It would also help employers who need skilled workers to fill those jobs, particularly in a competitive labor market.”

“By strengthening access to skills training and fostering a culture of lifelong learning, we can support American workers while ensuring we have a workforce ready to fill the jobs of tomorrow,” said Sen. Coons. “That’s why I’m proud to partner with my colleague Senator Warner to invest in our future with this needed investment, and make available the growth and retraining we know will be vital in a competitive, global economy.”

“Small business owners often struggle to find skilled workers, which has become even more challenging during this competitive labor market,” said John Arensmeyer, Founder & CEO of Small Business Majority. “In fact, Small Business Majority's scientific opinion polling found more than one-third of small employers said it is difficult to find candidates with the right education, skills or training. Since small firms rarely have enough time to dedicate to extensive staff training or sufficient funds to pay for employee education, the Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act would be a huge boost to small businesses by offering them another way to invest in the development of their staff. This legislation would also help solo entrepreneurs invest in their own development and acquire skills without the aid of an employer.”

The Lifelong Learning and Training Account Act creates employee-owned Lifelong Learning and Training Account (LLTA) savings plans. Contributions to an LLTA by low- and moderate-income workers or their employers would be eligible for a dollar-for-dollar federal match of up to $1,000. Under this legislation, the federal matching funds would be directly deposited into the LLTA immediately after a contribution by the worker or employer. The worker would then get to choose how to use the LLTA funds, which could be applied towards any training that leads to a recognized post-secondary credential.

For workers that need to contribute to the cost of updating their job skills, this significant federal investment can make a huge difference in whether or not these workers seek additional training. If employers are willing to match employees’ savings, the returns can be even greater—a $500 contribution by a worker would create $2,000 in training opportunities (a $500 match by the employer, and then a $1,000 match from the federal government.) The accounts are portable from job to job, and always under workers’ control.

Contributions by workers and employers are after-tax dollars, but face no additional taxes on earnings if the LLTA funds are used for qualified training expenses. Eligibility is for workers age 25 to 60, with incomes of up to $82,000 per worker. States will manage the accounts. Accounts are designed to encourage the worker to use the funds to regularly update their skills, rather than build up large balances over many years. Restrictions are put in place to ensure that the government’s matching dollars go only to qualified training expenses.

The full text of the bill can be found here.

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded Senate passage of a bipartisan resolution condemning a recent series of bomb threats at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and reaffirming the government’s commitment to combatting violence against students, faculty, and staff. The resolution was led by Senators Chris Coons (D-DE) and Tim Scott (R-SC) and passed unanimously in the Senate.

Since January, the FBI has reported 44 bomb threats to HBCUs, including at Norfolk State University and Hampton University.

“The unanimous passage of this resolution underscores the strong condemnation of recent threats against HBCUs and need to conduct thorough investigations to hold perpetrators accountable,” said the Senators. “We’ll continue to help HBCUs access federal resources to keep their campuses safe, and we remain committed to combatting hate and violence.”

Warner and Kaine are longtime advocates of HBCUs. Kaine successfully pushed to pass legislation he cosponsored called the HBCU Propelling Agency Relationships Towards a New Era of Results for Students (PARTNERS) Act, which strengthens partnerships between federal agencies and HBCUs. Warner successfully pushed to promote defense research at HBCUs in the most recent defense authorization bill which included a version of his Building Equitable Access to Contribute to Our National Security (BEACON) Act.

Joining Coons, Scott, Warner, and Kaine in cosigning the resolution were Senators Raphael Warnock (D-GA), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ben Cardin (D-MD), Tom Carper (D-DE), Bob Casey (D-PA), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Ed Markey (D-MA), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Patty Murray (D-WA), Jon Ossoff (D-GA), Alex Padilla (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Roy Blunt (R-MO), John Boozman (R-AR), Mike Braun (R-IN), Richard Burr (R-NC), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Bill Cassidy (R-LA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Tom Cotton (R-AR), Ted Cruz (R-TX), Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Bill Hagerty (R-TN), Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-MS), Jim Inhofe (R-OK), Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Rick Scott (R-FL), Thom Tillis (R-NC), and Roger Wicker (R-MS).

The resolution text is available here.  

 

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, issued the below statement on the bomb threats against historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs):

“I am deeply disturbed by the bomb threats that have been made against more than a dozen historically Black colleges and universities. These acts of attempted terror, issued as we enter Black History Month, underscore the alarming reality that racially-motivated violence and extremism is on the rise across the country. Although at this time no explosive devices have been found, FBI and their local law enforcement partners are taking these hate crimes extremely seriously. As Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, I have requested and expect to receive a briefing at the appropriate time, and I remain committed to combatting extremism and hate violence in all of its forms.”

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Sherrod Brown (D-OH) announced that the Senate-passed FY 2022 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) conference report includes a version of their bipartisan Building Equitable Access to Contribute to Our National Security (BEACON) Act, legislation to expand Department of Defense (DoD) research funding opportunities for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Minority Institutions (MIs). This includes Central State University and Wilberforce University in Ohio, and Hampton University, Norfolk State University, Virginia State University, Virginia Union University, and Virginia University of Lynchburg in Virginia. The Department funds basic research at institutions of higher education and this legislation would ensure HBCU students get the resources and research opportunities to succeed in STEM and other related careers. Brown and Warner filed a modified version of the BEACON Act as an amendment during Senate consideration of the NDAA. The House included a version of the BEACON Act in the NDAA and the FY22 NDAA Conference Report retained a similar provision. The House-Senate NDAA conference report now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.

“This legislation will help tap into the enormous potential of Virginia’s five Historically Black Colleges and Universities, which for too long received a disproportionally small portion of our nation’s defense research funding,” said Warner. “I’m proud to have fought for this provision, which will strengthen the STEM pipeline at our HBCUs and help ensure that these institutions can access the resources they need to bolster critical defense research.”

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities, like Wilberforce and Central State in Ohio, are a critical part of our nation’s higher education system and provide important research opportunities for students traditionally underrepresented in STEM careers,” said Brown. “This funding will widen the talent pool and help elevate partnerships between the Department of Defense and these institutions for years to come.” 

Defense research is a vital source of innovation and a financial resource for our nation’s universities, which received over $4.6 billion from the Department of Defense in science and engineering funding in 2018. Yet, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) received only $21 million – less than a half percent, of that funding. These disparities continue while Black individuals are underrepresented in the STEM labor force by 53% and despite the fact HBCUs are a proven pipeline for diverse STEM talent, graduating 20 percent of all African American college students and nearly 30 percent of all African American STEM professionals.

An interim report from NASEM found that “limited set aside dollars and no requirements or incentives to increase their participation in non-targeted programs, [congressional] encouragement has not translated into significant capacity-building or sustained support.” The report further found that “new funding streams may be necessary to expand opportunities to HBCU/MIs” and “mutually beneficial partnerships may serve as a strategy for HBCU/MIs to build and better utilize their current capacity to conduct DoD-funded research.”

Specifically, the amendment would:

  • Require the Department of Defense to establish a plan to elevate a consortium of HBCUs/MIs, assess their ability to participate and compete in engineering, research, and development activities, and report this plan to Congress.
  • Give DoD the authority to establish a grant program to build out HBCU defense research capacity, including developing the workforce and research infrastructure and improving the capability to retain research faculty and staff. 
  • Increase partnerships between federally funded research development centers, University Affiliated Research Centers (UARCs), and HBCUs/MIs. 

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WASHINGTON—U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner & Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, & Pensions (HELP) Committee, joined a bicameral letter led by Sen. Cory Booker and Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi urging the U.S. Department of Education (ED) to address student voter registration and participation as it formulates higher education rulemaking. The letter comes as states across the country pass legislation designed to curb the voting rights of Black, Brown, and young people.

“Across the country, voting rights are under attack, and new laws restricting access to voting have been transparently intended to discourage students and people of color from participating in our elections. The Department can and should play a significant role in supporting democracy by creating additional nonpartisan opportunities for students to register to vote, keep their voter registration up to date, and participate in state and federal elections,” wrote the lawmakers.

“Participating in our democracy is consistent with the goals of federal financial aid, and the Department should take swift action to support access to voter registration and voting for students in this rulemaking process. Thank you for your attention to our request,” concluded the lawmakers.

Kaine, a former civil rights attorney, has long fought to protect voting rights and expand access to the ballot box. In September, Kaine introduced the Freedom to Vote Act, legislation cosponsored by Warner to improve access to the ballot for Americans, advance commonsense election integrity reforms, and protect our democracy from attacks. The Freedom to Vote Act elevates the voices of American voters by ending partisan gerrymandering and helping to eliminate the undue influence of secret money in our elections.

In October, Warner and Kaine helped introduce the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act legislation to restore the landmark Voting Rights Act and stop the spread of voter suppression.

The full text of the letter can be found here and below:

Dear Secretary Cardona:

We write to urge the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) to address student voter registration and participation in upcoming rulemaking for higher education accountability and to provide additional guidance to institutions of higher education to facilitate civic engagement.

Across the country, voting rights are under attack, and new laws restricting access to voting have been transparently intended to discourage students and people of color from participating in our elections. The Department can and should play a significant role in supporting democracy by creating additional nonpartisan opportunities for students to register to vote, keep their voter registration up to date, and participate in state and federal elections.

Section 487(a)(23) of the Higher Education Act requires each institution of higher education that receives federal financial aid funds to make a “good faith effort” to distribute voter registration materials and to make such materials “widely available” to students. A college’s good faith effort to distribute voter registration information widely should reflect the most common methods by which individuals register to vote— including, increasingly, online registration—and the deadlines they must meet.

The Department has full authority to prescribe regulations to enforce the program participation agreement in Section 487(a)(23). In early 2022, as part of the upcoming institutional accountability rulemaking, the Department should propose regulations that specify the time, manner, and frequency by which voter registration materials are distributed to students.

Importantly, at least once per year, as part of the course registration or other institutional enrollment process, the rules should require institutions to distribute to student’s voter registration information, including, where possible, a direct and accessible web link to register to vote or to update their voter registration (such as providing a new address). The rules should also recommend institutions distribute voter registration materials to students during other interactions many students will have with institutions, such as student identification application processes. While the regulations should prioritize online voter registration options to ensure an easy and accessible process for students, they should also accommodate institutions in states that do not conduct online voter registration.

The Department should also swiftly issue sub-regulatory guidance that clarifies institutions’ responsibilities under current regulations. This guidance should remind colleges of their existing requirement to distribute voter registration information to students well in advance of state deadlines to register to vote. And, such guidance should strongly encourage institutions to adopt best practices for providing links to voter registration online and through direct notifications to students, including links during course registration and campus-wide email reminders. These reminders should also encourage students to check and update their voter registration information to ensure the most recent address is on file and explain current law on where students may register to vote based on their permanent residence. Finally, the guidance should make clear that Federal Work-Study funds can be used for nonpartisan voter registration, education, engagement, and poll watching activities—and can help institutions meet their community service requirements.

Participating in our democracy is consistent with the goals of federal financial aid, and the Department should take swift action to support access to voter registration and voting for students in this rulemaking process. Thank you for your attention to our request.

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine applauded two grants totaling $2,966,029 from the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) awarded to Southwest Virginia to strengthen the region’s workforce development initiatives and outdoor recreation economy. The first is a $1,466,029 grant awarded to the Dabney S. Lancaster Community College in Clifton Forge for the development of workforce training opportunities to help individuals in the region gain key skills for good jobs. The second is a $1,500,000 grant awarded to Russell County for the "Building an Outdoor Recreation Economy in Southwest Virginia" project that will help support increased tourism in the region and create jobs.

“We’re glad to see these grants from the Appalachian Regional Commission go toward education, job training, and economic development opportunities in Southwest Virginia,” the Sens. said. “We will continue to champion policies that create jobs, grow our economy, and provide greater opportunities for families across the Commonwealth."

The grant awarded to Dabney S. Lancaster Community College will go toward the Appalachian Hardwood Training Initiative (AHTI) and will develop training opportunities for people working in sawmills and wood manufacturing facilities throughout the ARC region, as well as underemployed individuals in the region. Appalachian Hardwood Manufacturers Inc. members have identified key skills needed by the industry to address current gaps. The program aims to train workers to improve their skills and get jobs.

The grant awarded to Russell County, Virginia will go toward the "Building an Outdoor Recreation Economy in Southwest Virginia" project, which will involve the construction of the Three Rivers Destination Center (TRDC) in the middle of Virginia's coalfield region and serve as a hub to grow tourism in Southwest Virginia. The grant will create 16 new jobs and support $1.4 million in increased revenues for the area's businesses and government. The TRDC will highlight the area's recreational assets, help visitors plan trips, and connect tourists with regional amenities and businesses. The center will be located close to the Clinch River State Park, the Jefferson National Forest, Breaks Interstate Park, and other recreational amenities. The center will also serve as headquarters for area tourism organizations, which promote the 600+ regional tourism assets responsible for employing over 1,900 people with a payroll of $40 million throughout the 7-county region. The investment will help support increased tourism and spending, promote entrepreneurship, and help address the negative economic impacts from the downturn of the coal industry.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner and Sen. Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions (HELP) Committee, applauded $49,943,399.02 in federal funding to date from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC)’s Emergency Connectivity Fund Program. The funding is committed for schools and libraries across the Commonwealth to help expand access to internet connectivity for learning, and close the Homework Gap for students who currently lack internet access. Earlier this year, Congress authorized the Emergency Connectivity Fund Program through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The $49 million in funding has been issued in three waves since late September – with the latest wave being issued this week. 

“We’re proud to see these federal dollars go toward keeping Virginia’s communities connected. This investment will help close the digital divide, while improving access to job opportunities and educational resources for Virginians as we continue to recover from the impacts of COVID-19,” said the Senators.

A detailed breakdown of the funding can be found here.

Sens. Warner and Kaine have long been strong supporters of expanding broadband access in Virginia. In August, they voted to pass the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, a comprehensive infrastructure package that delivers wins to communities across the Commonwealth, including at least $100 million to expand broadband across the Commonwealth. Under the bill, 1,908,000 or 23% of people in Virginia will be eligible for the Affordability Connectivity Benefit, which will help low-income families afford internet access. Last year, Warner and Kaine introduced the Emergency Educational Connections Act, legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students during the coronavirus pandemic.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner, a member of the Senate Budget Committee and the Senate Finance Committee, and Senator Tim Kaine, a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee and the Senate Budget Committee reintroduced the School Infrastructure Modernization Act, legislation to help modernize schools in Virginia and across the nation. This bill would adjust the current federal historic rehabilitation tax credit to make school buildings that continue to operate as schools eligible for the credit. Under current law, the credit only applies to buildings renovated to serve a different function than before. This bill would waive this ‘prior use’ clause for school renovation projects, allowing school districts with aging infrastructure and tight budgets to partner with private entities to finance renovations that the districts otherwise would not be able to afford. Older schools can often be renovated for less money than the cost of new construction. Representative Dwight Evans (D-PA-3) introduced companion legislation on the House side.

While Mayor of Richmond, Kaine led a coalition to utilize the historic tax credit to finance the renovation of a closed public school and reopen it as the Maggie L. Walker Governor’s School for Government and International Studies.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has further underscored the need to ensure our schools are modern and safe learning environments,” said the Senators. “By modernizing schools, we can help more students learn, support local economies with construction jobs, and maintain the character of these historic institutions.”

The Federal Historic Preservation Tax Incentives Program has played a role in rehabilitating historic structures and revitalizing communities for more than 35 years. In the Commonwealth alone, the Historic Rehabilitation Tax Credit (HTC) has helped restore more than 1,200 structures since 1997. According to a June report from the Virginia Department of Education, over half of all schools in Virginia—more than 1,000 schools—are at least 50 years old.

Earlier this month, Kaine joined Representative Evans on a letter calling for the inclusion of this legislation in the final Build Back Better bill. The legislation was included in the latest House Ways and Means Committee draft of the Build Back Better bill. In March, Kaine joined Senator Jack Reed (D-RI) in introducing the Reopen and Rebuild America’s Schools Act, legislation that would build on Kaine and Warner’s bill by investing $130 billion over ten years to modernize K-12 classrooms across the country and help schools upgrade their physical and digital infrastructure. 

To see full text of the School Infrastructure Modernization Act, please click here.

WASHINGTON- U.S. Senators Mark Warner (D-VA), John Cornyn (R-TX), Michael Bennet (D-CO), and Tim Scott (R-SC) today introduced the Teacher and School LEADERS Act, which would reform Teacher Quality Partnership Grants to better support school leaders and allow for greater innovation in educator preparation.

“Investing in professional development supports and empowers educators and makes them better teachers. I am proud to reintroduce legislation that invests in the future of our children,” Sen. Warner said.

“Strong school leaders can have an outsized impact on the quality of education for our students, especially in high-needs school districts,” Sen. Cornyn said. “It’s important that educators have access to grant programs to further their impact in our local schools, and I’m proud to partner with my colleagues on this legislation.”

“Educators work tirelessly in Colorado and across the country to support our kids, and this past year has been especially challenging,” said Sen. Bennet. “Our legislation invests in flexible, high-quality training programs for our nation’s educators to use innovative tools and approaches in the classroom. Now more than ever, teachers and school leaders deserve to have access to the training and support they need to grow their careers and support their students."

“We owe a debt of gratitude to our nation’s teachers and school leaders who have given so much to the next generation—even in the midst of a pandemic,” said Sen Tim Scott. “As someone who struggled in school, I am living proof that a few devoted teachers can change the trajectory of a kid’s life. By providing high-quality teacher and leadership preparation programs, the Teacher and School LEADERS Act will ensure more of our educators have the tools they need to lead the next generation with excellence.”

Background:

The Teacher and School LEADERS Act would reform Title II of the Higher Education Act to expand the Teacher Quality Partnership (TQP) Grant program. Specifically, the bill would:

  • Expand the program to provide training to educators who aspire to fill leadership roles in high-need schools.
  • Provide grant applicants and recipients greater flexibility over who they can partner with for preparation programs by removing restrictions requiring them to partner with an Institution of Higher Education to qualify.

The Teacher and School LEADERS Act is supported by the Association of Latino Administrators and Superintendents, the American Psychological Association, Knowledge Alliance, the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, the National Center for Learning Disabilities, the National Council of Teachers of English, the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Leading Educators, the National Science Teaching Association, the National Network of State Teachers of the Year, New Leaders, Teach For America, and Third Way.

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WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $4,123,765 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education for five of the Commonwealth’s higher education institutions to help them prepare and respond to COVID-19.  The grants can be used in various ways, including resuming operations, supporting students, reducing disease transmission, and developing more agile instructional delivery models for students who can’t attend in-person class. 

“We are pleased to see these federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan go toward helping the Commonwealth’s higher education institutions recover from the effects of the past year,” said the Senators. “We will continue working to ensure Virginia institutions have the resources they need to continue serving their students.” 

This funding was awarded through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, which Senators Warner and Kaine voted to pass in March. The legislation included significant funding to help Virginia’s colleges and universities respond to COVID-19.

A breakdown of the funding is below:

  • Norfolk State University in Norfolk will receive $1,952,775
  • Ferrum College in Ferrum will receive $390,542
  • Institute for Psychological Sciences (Divine Mercy University) in Sterling will receive $180,966
  • Rappahannock Community College will receive $1,536,345
  • Appalachian School of Law in Grundy will receive $63,137

As a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, Kaine has been a strong advocate for students amid the pandemic. Last year, Kaine introduced the Coronavirus Relief Flexibility for Students and Institutions Act to fix several implementation issues with the higher education emergency relief fund in the CARES Act by providing institutions of higher education and students with the increased flexibility Congress intended.  

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) and Mike Braun (R-IN) along with Sens. John Hickenlooper (D-CO) and Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) introduced bipartisan, bicameral legislation to remove an unnecessary bureaucratic obstacle preventing many students from receiving the degree or certification they have rightfully earned. The Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act of 2021 would facilitate the “reverse transferring” of college credits – the process of transferring credits from a four-year institution to a two-year institution in which a student was previously enrolled to identify whether they earned enough credits along the way to receive a degree. 

“This much-needed bill would help to eliminate an unnecessary hurdle for students who’ve worked hard and paid for their studies,” said Sen. Warner. “In a competitive job market, this bipartisan bill will help more Americans claim the degree or credentials that they have rightfully earned.” 

“A four year college is not the only path to prosperity in this country, and community colleges are a vital and economical part of our education system. Removing needless roadblocks on the path to attaining a degree from these institutions is overdue.  I’m happy to join this measure to allow students to get associates degrees and certifications they’ve earned,” said Sen. Braun.

“Our education system has to support different paths to a successful career,” said Sen. Hickenlooper. “Many students who graduate high school never get a four year degree. Making it easier to recognize the work students have already done is a no-brainer.”

Companion legislation has also been introduced in the House of Representatives by Reps. Joe Neguse (D-CO), Rep. John Curtis (R-UT), and Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX). 

“We must ensure every student is provided a pathway to education that fits their goals and career path,” said Rep. Neguse. “This legislation ensures that students can receive credit and earn an associate’s degree or short-term certificate regardless of where they completed their coursework, breaking down barriers for better paying jobs for students who are unable to finish at a four-year institution. Reverse transfer will be a meaningful step for millions of students to increase college affordability and access.”

“I am pleased to join Representative Neguse in introducing the Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act. Utah is home to great schools with many students who begin their education at a community college and finish at a university,” said Rep. Curtis. “This bill will improve data sharing between higher education institutions by allowing a student to continue earning credits towards an Associate’s degree at community college, even after transferring to a university, boosting student earning potential and student retention.”

“There is no single or correct path to higher education,” said Rep. Castro. “As students face increasing tuition costs and student loan debt, it is clear that many students are starting their post-secondary academic goals at community colleges. In my district, Alamo Colleges is the largest provider of higher education in South Texas and proves that two-year programs are critical in preparing students for success beyond their hallways. The Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act will allow these students to easily transition to four-year universities, like the University of Texas at San Antonio in my district, with an associate’s degree as well as the skillset to finish their studies and successfully enter the workforce.”

The National Student Clearinghouse, an educational nonprofit that verifies enrollment data, has identified over four million individuals that have completed enough credit hours at a four-year institution to be eligible for an associate’s degree, but instead withdrew without a degree or certificate. Facilitating the practice of reverse transfer would ease students’ access to credentials they have already earned and better provide for the demands of the future economy. 

The Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act of 2021 would amend the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) to create a new exemption for the sharing of student education records between higher education institutions. The bill would also allow for the sharing of credit data between post-secondary institutions for the sole purpose of determining whether a student earned an associate’s degree or certificate during the course of their studies. Currently, FERPA requires students to give their institutions proactive permission to determine whether they have earned enough credits to be awarded a degree or certificate. 

The Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act of 2021 has the support of numerous organizations, including the Virginia Community College System, American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers, American Association of Community Colleges, and Hispanic Association of Colleges and Universities, among others. For a complete list, click here.

“AACRAO believes this legislation is an important step that will enable institutions to increase educational attainment, and ultimately salaries, for millions of in individuals,” said Melanie Gottlieb, Interim Executive Director of the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admission Officers (AACRAO). “The additional FERPA exception proposed represents a responsible means of sharing student information between a student's 4-year and 2-year institutions in a way that both protects student privacy and supports the completion agenda.”

“Virginia’s community colleges prepare students for in-demand jobs that respond to the marketplace and employers,” said Glenn DuBois, Chancellor of the Virginia Community College System. “The Reverse Transfer Act is a welcome approach that will benefit students from every race, ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic group. Communication will be facilitated, obstacles removed, and processes improved between community colleges and four-year institutions. I applaud Senator Warner and Senator Braun for their bipartisan approach in working across the aisle to advance this legislation that will increase affordability, accelerate degree completion, and lead students to upward mobility.”

“Too many struggling students leave universities burdened with debt and without degrees: disproportionately, they are low-income and students of color. Yet, many have enough credits to earn a career pathway certificate or an associate’s degree at NOVA. Unfortunately, there is no ‘reverse transfer’ system that makes it possible to turn these hard-earned credits into valuable college credentials. Senator Warner’s ‘reverse transfer’ proposal would be transformational. Students could earn degrees and certificates, opening the door to high-demand, sustaining wage careers that would secure their financial futures and grow the high-skilled workforce. It’s a true win-win,” said Anne M. Kress, PhD, President of Northern Virginia Community College.

“Blue Ridge Community College (BRCC) in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley of Virginia enthusiastically endorses the proposed ‘Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act.’ This act will allow students to easily earn degrees and other credentials at community colleges by transferring credits earned at four-year institutions. Earning additional credentials will make the individuals more competitive in the modern workforce,” said Dr. John A. Downey, President of Blue Ridge Community College. “Many students currently transfer to four-year institutions without completing their associate degrees or certificates. Offering a reverse transfer option will encourage those students to become graduates of their community college. Completion will show employers that these students are lifelong learners who continue to improve their education. BRCC encourages all parties to support this important piece of legislation to improve our workforce.”

“Virginia Western Community College is delighted to support the bipartisan Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act to help students achieve their goals of a college degree through reverse transfer. This bill removes the roadblocks that deter students from pursuing reverse transfer and will help colleges make the process of credential attainment more accessible. Additionally, this bill  will benefit students, employers, and our communities by helping students realize the credentials needed for employment,” said Dr. Robert Sandel, President of Virginia Western Community College.

“Across the country, there are 36 million adults with some college credit, but no awarded degree. This number includes uncredentialed completers – or students who have earned all of the credits needed toward a degree that has yet to be recognized or awarded. Unfortunately, our current system presents barriers to identifying, reengaging, and awarding earned degrees to these students. The Reverse Transfer Efficiency Act will help scale reverse credit transfer, a practice to award earned degrees, by removing a key barrier that limits institutions’ ability to work together to identify eligible students and help them claim their credentials. By promoting greater credit recognition, this necessary policy change will help today’s students enjoy the social and economic mobility that postsecondary degree or credential can provide,” said Mamie Voight, Interim President and CEO, Institute for Higher Education Policy (IHEP).

“Almost one million Virginians have Some College, No Degree.  Considering that occupations requiring a postsecondary credential are projected to grow faster than occupations that do not require postsecondary education for entry, it is imperative that we combine Virginians completed college coursework to produce credentials that lead to life-sustaining employment.  The FERPA exception proposed in the reverse transfer legislation will allow Virginia’s Community College to do just that,” said Dr. Towuanna Porter Brannon, President, Thomas Nelson Community College with campuses in Hampton and Williamsburg, VA.

A copy of the bill text is available here

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, urged the Biden administration to ensure that school systems across the country are equipped to fend off the growing number of cyberattacks targeting K-12 schools

In a letter to the Department of Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, the senators requested that the department issue guidance affirming that school districts across the country have the authority to use federal dollars from two COVID-19 relief funds on cybersecurity resources. The two funds – Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) – were authorized by the CARES Act supported by both senators. 

“Experts agree that the increased reliance on online learning programs is likely to far outlast the pandemic.  While online learning offers an abundance of positive opportunities for educators and students, without proper cybersecurity defenses, our nation’s education systems face formidable risks,” the Senators wrote. “School systems must have strong cybersecurity resources available to protect themselves against cyber and ransom attacks. With the increasingly persistent attacks on our schools, they simply cannot wait until they are a target to take action.”

In the letter, the Senators highlighted last year’s cybersecurity breach at Fairfax County Public Schools, the 11th largest school district in the nation, which had private informationstolen and published online. The senators also cited a report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which found that since 2016, more than 17,000 public school districts and approximately 98,000 public schools have experienced breaches that resulted in the disclosure of personal information.

Noting that they have heard from school district leaders who are unsure as to whether they can use relief funds to adopt better cybersecurity measures, the senators specifically requested that the Department of Education publish and publicize guidance clearly stating that these funds may be used to improve cybersecurity. The senators also urged the department to provide recommended cybersecurity benchmarks as well as guidance on suggested spending priorities to best address the disproportionate number of cyber-threats facing school systems.

A PDF of the letter is available here. Text is available below.

 

Dear Secretary Cardona: 

We write today regarding the continued need to prioritize cybersecurity efforts in the context of our nation’s school systems. You know better than anyone the dramatic ways the COVID-19 public health crisis has affected how students learn. Experts agree that the increased reliance on online learning programs is likely to far outlast the pandemic.  While online learning offers an abundance of positive opportunities for educators and students, without proper cybersecurity defenses, our nation’s education systems face formidable risks.  School districts have a unique opportunity to use COVID-19 relief funds to revamp their cybersecurity systems. Therefore, we strongly urge the Biden Administration to publicize guidance stating allowable Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) and Governor’s Emergency Education Relief Fund (GEER) monies can be spent on cybersecurity resources and engage with school districts to increase awareness of the critical need for prioritizing stronger cybersecurity measures. 

The pandemic has changed daily life for almost everyone in many ways; perhaps, there is no clearer example than the sudden shift to remote learning for students of all ages across the country. Census data shows that nearly 93% of people in households with school-age children reported their children were engaged in some form of “distance learning” over the past year.  While the distribution of COVID-19 vaccines has significantly slowed the spread of the virus, some remote learning is likely to continue, with hundreds of the nation’s 13,000 school districts having already created virtual schools intended to operate well into the pandemic’s aftermath.  Even as our nation’s schools fully return to in-person learning, cybersecurity risks will still be plentiful in the technology-dependent modern learning environment. 

With the shift to online instruction, school districts are now incredibly vulnerable to cybersecurity threats. Last fall, Virginia’s Fairfax County Public Schools, the 11th largest school district in the nation, was the target of a cybersecurity breach and ransomware incident that included theft of protected information.  This incident is far from an outlier. A report from the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) released in September 2020 stated more than 17,000 public school districts and approximately 98,000 public schools throughout the U.S. had experienced breaches that resulted in the disclosure of personal information since 2016.  

School systems must have strong cybersecurity resources available to protect themselves against cyber and ransom attacks. With the increasingly persistent attacks on our schools, they simply cannot wait until they are a target to take action.  

The COVID-19 relief bills Congress passed over the past year allocated millions to ESSER and GEER funds, which can be used for this purpose. In total, these bills included almost $200 billion for ESSER and over $7 billion for GEER. These available funds provide schools with a unique opportunity to invest in cybersecurity resources. While we understand schools must divide these funds across various crucial concerns, the pandemic has catapulted our school systems to an inflection point where investment in cybersecurity is now more critical than ever.

We have heard from school districts unsure whether they can use relief funds for this purpose. We greatly appreciate the Department of Education recently issuing a “Frequently Asked Questions” document, which confirms they can be used to improve cybersecurity “to better meet educational and other needs of students related to preventing, preparing for, or responding to COVID-19.”  We respectfully ask that the Administration take steps to publicize this information and help school districts understand the importance of using funding for cybersecurity efforts, including by promulgating lists of recommended cybersecurity benchmarks that additional resources could help school districts attain. Specifically, we urge the Education Department to issue public guidance clearly stating that states and local education authorities (LEAs) can use ESSER or GEER funds to improve cybersecurity, with guidance on suggested spending priorities to address the endemic threat of ransomware disproportionately impacting school systems. We also ask that the Department develop a plan to make sure school districts are aware of this allowable use and engage with LEAs to ensure they understand the importance of these resources.

We implore the Administration to recognize the urgent national need to prioritize cybersecurity in our nation’s education systems. Because of the relief funding Congress has provided over the past year, we have a real opportunity to address accumulating cybersecurity risks in schools. We encourage the Administration to ensure school systems are aware of this use for these funds and engage with LEAs, so they are equipped to take on this challenge. 

Again, thank you for your attention to this matter. We greatly appreciate your efforts on behalf of our nation’s students, and we look forward to continuing work together as our systems grapple with the aftermath of the pandemic. 

Sincerely,

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WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) joined universities and wind energy experts from across the country on Friday to announce the winners of the Collegiate Wind Competition. Over the course of the academic year, thirteen undergraduate teams designed, built, and tested model wind turbines, developed project plans, collaborated with industry experts, and engaged with their local communities—preparing them for careers in the growing wind and renewable energy workforce to support President Biden’s goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. 

“Congratulations to the students at Virginia Tech for winning the Connection Creation Contest in the Department of Energy Collegiate Wind Competition,” said U.S. Senator Mark R. Warner. “Virginia is proud to be a leader in renewable energy and I look forward to seeing the extraordinary work these students continue to do in the jobs of tomorrow.”

“Wind energy is an essential part of our fight against the climate crisis, and that means one thing for talented and driven young people like these students: jobs, jobs, jobs,” said Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “With their help, I have no doubt that we’ll propel the wind industry to sky-high heights, and send a gust of growth from coast to coast that lifts every American community into a cleaner, healthier, more prosperous future.”

Each year, the Collegiate Wind Competition integrates a new challenge into the contest that reflects real-world wind industry needs. Taking the COVID-19 pandemic and the threat of supply chain disruptions into account, the 2021 challenge tasked teams with developing projects for deployment in highly uncertain times, with a significant degree of unknown risks and delays. This year’s competition also featured a new “Connection Creation Contest,” which challenged students to engage with industry professionals, their local communities, and local media outlets, in order to broaden their understanding of the workforce and educate new audiences about the benefits of wind and renewable energy.

The full list of winners is below:

  • Connection Creation Contest: Virginia Tech University
  • Overall First Place: Pennsylvania State University
  • Overall Second Place: Johns Hopkins University
  • Overall Third Place: California Polytechnic State University
  • Turbine Prototype Contest: Kansas State University
  • Project Development Contest: Pennsylvania State University

“Congratulations to the students of Virginia Tech’s Collegiate Wind Competition team on their victory in the Connection Creation Contest. Their accomplishment showed an impressive understanding of the wind power industry and an ability to engage the community in their goals. This achievement shows once again how Virginia Tech leads the way in the STEM field and equips young people for the challenges of the future,” said U.S. Representative Morgan Griffith.

“Congratulations to Cal Poly’s Wind Energy Team for their recognition in the 2021 Collegiate Wind Competition! They embodied the ‘learn by doing motto,’ tackling this real world project with dedication and determination. We know renewable energy is the future, so it is imperative that we have a workforce that is prepared for these future-oriented jobs. We will need smart people, like the members of the Cal Poly Wind Energy Team, to lead the way,” said U.S. Representative Salud Carbajal.

The 2022 Collegiate Wind Competition is scheduled for May 16–19, 2022, at the American Clean Power Association’s CLEANPOWER 2022 Conference & Exhibition in San Antonio, Texas. For more details about Collegiate Wind Competition, visit the CWC website

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WASHINGTON – Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-VA) today joined Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA), Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D- NY) and more than 50 colleagues in calling on the Biden Administration to strengthen the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program and ensure that America’s teachers, social workers, public defenders, service members and community health care workers, along with many other public servants, receive the student loan forgiveness they have earned.

“Especially now, as our nation works to combat COVID-19 and build back better from this pandemic, the federal government must fulfill its promise to our public service workers who placed themselves in harm’s way to serve their community during this unprecedented time,” the lawmakers wrote. “The [U.S. Department of Education] has an opportunity to uphold the promise to our public servants by taking administrative action to provide them with relief.”

The lawmakers continued: “We urge you to take action to waive or modify counterproductive restrictions, barriers and donut holes in PSLF… We also urge the Department to take proactive steps to simplify the process, provide more transparency and bolster oversight of the program and loan servicers to ensure that the PSLF program is implemented in accordance with congressional intent.”

The lawmakers concluded: “We stand ready to work with you on this important issue. Now is the time to fix PSLF and finally allow the program to benefit the millions of dedicated teachers, nurses, first responders, service members and other public servants who have depended on this relief.”

See below for a full copy of the letter.

* * *

The Honorable Miguel Cardona
Secretary of Education
United States Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue SW
Washington, D.C. 20202 

Dear Secretary Cardona:

We write to urge the U.S. Department of Education (“Department”) to take immediate action to ensure that our public servants — many of whom are serving on the front lines of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic — are able to access the loan forgiveness they have earned by fixing the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program using the administrative flexibilities provided to you by Congress during periods of a national emergency.

Congress created the PSLF program in 2007 to provide student loan relief for those who are pursuing careers in public service, providing a benefit for the employees who devote their careers to helping their communities. Compensating our first responders, teachers, public health workers, nurses and other essential public servants by forgiving the remainder of their student debt after ten years of service ensures that those who wish to pursue these noble careers have a light at the end of the tunnel.

Unfortunately, previous implementation failures by the Department, complex program rules and widespread malfeasance by the student loan industry have precluded many from accessing this important benefit. After the first round of forgiveness initially became available to PSLF borrowers more than three years ago, approval rates for the program have remained below 2.5%. The program has been beset by numerous “donut holes” that disqualify certain types of loans, repayment plans and the payments themselves, leading to extraordinary confusion and distrust of the PSLF program and, by extension, the federal government.

We appreciate recent steps the Department has taken to improve the PSLF program, including streamlining the application process, posting more information online and revisiting rules around the calculation of lump sum and advance payments. However, more must be done.

Especially now, as our nation works to combat COVID-19 and build back better from this pandemic, the federal government must fulfill its promise to our public service workers who placed themselves in harm’s way to serve their community during this unprecedented time. The Department has an opportunity to uphold the promise to our public servants by taking administrative action to provide them with relief.

Accordingly, we ask that the Department invoke the Higher Education Relief Opportunities for Students (HEROES) Act of 2003, which provides authority to “waive or modify any statutory or regulatory provision applicable to the student financial assistance programs under title IV” during a period of national emergency. We urge you to take action to waive or modify counterproductive restrictions, barriers and donut holes in PSLF, including to:

1) Expand the definition of “eligible loan” to provide relief for borrowers with any type of federal student loan and prior payments on consolidation loans: Congress gave all borrowers with federal student loans of any type, including Federal Family Education Loans (FFEL), the right to convert their loans to Direct Loans and qualify for PSLF. However, loan borrowers have long struggled to take this preliminary step at the start of their careers — missing the opportunity to timely consolidate and instead being forced to restart the clock on their loans. To remedy this, the Department can expand the definition of an “eligible loan” under PSLF to include all federal student loans, including loans issued under part B, D or E of the Higher Education Act or under the Public Health Service Act. Further, the Department should deem payments made on component loans prior to any consolidation as qualifying for PSLF.

2) Expand the definition of a qualifying payment plan for all borrowers: At least 1.4 million borrowers are unknowingly enrolled in ineligible repayment plans after previously taking steps to get on track for PSLF. These problems are widespread. Borrowers have been deceived by student loan companies, provided incorrect information or enrolled by default in plans excluded from PSLF eligibility or that would otherwise limit their potential forgiveness. In 2018, Congress created the Temporary Expanded Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program (TEPSLF) as a limited fix for borrowers in the wrong repayment plan, including “graduated” and “extended” repayment plans, but unfortunately, this program has also been subject to unnecessary application barriers and very low approval rates. To remedy these issues, the Department should make all repayment plans eligible for PSLF.

3) Waive the restriction that a borrower be employed in public service at the time of forgiveness: Due to program errors, many federal student loan borrowers have unfortunately given up hope on PSLF. Some borrowers who have remained employed in public service are also not actively submitting paperwork because they are not eligible due to the aforementioned donut holes or believe themselves to be ineligible. Additionally, many public-sector jobs have been lost due to the pandemic, with millions still finding themselves still out of work as the economy recovers. Since the flexibilities we are requesting will expand the calculation of qualifying payments, borrowers who completed their 10 years of service while repaying their student loans should be newly eligible for forgiveness, regardless of whether they are currently employed in public service at the time of the forgiveness.

4) Establish data-sharing agreements to automatically qualify borrowers for PSLF using administrative data: While the current PSLF employment certification and application process requires borrowers to proactively submit information about their employer for the Department to determine potential eligibility, there are millions of employees for whom the Department could easily determine qualification for PSLF. The Department should establish secure data-sharing agreements with the Department of Defense and Office of Personnel Management to automatically identify public service workers who have outstanding federally held student debt. Furthermore, the Department should consider establishing similar data-sharing agreements with state governments that have employment records. For any borrower with a positive match to these databases, the Department should automatically calculate the number of qualifying payments in accordance with the above flexibilities.

After the Department has implemented the above flexibilities, borrowers should receive direct communications about these changes. For borrowers who have already expressed an interest in PSLF, the Department has existing capabilities to determine the number of eligible payments, regardless of whether employment certification has been provided. Qualifying payment counts should be updated in accordance with the new eligibility, similar to the Department’s recent implementation of lump sum and advance payment recalculations. A borrower whose newly calculated payments equal 120, or 10 years of service, should have their loans automatically canceled without any further paperwork. Borrowers who would newly be within reach of forgiveness but who need only certify their employment should receive extensive outreach from the Department to ensure they are aware of the new rules.

While these steps will help to address issues for past implementation failures, we also urge the Department to take proactive steps to simplify the process, provide more transparency and bolster oversight of the program and loan servicers to ensure that the PSLF program is implemented in accordance with congressional intent.

We stand ready to work with you on this important issue. Now is the time to fix PSLF and finally allow the program to benefit the millions of dedicated teachers, nurses, first responders, service members and other public servants who have depended on this relief.

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner (D-VA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Angus King (I-ME) today introduced legislation to stimulate the economy and allow borrowers to get a better handle on their student debt during the COVID-19 crisis and beyond. This legislation comes as student debt in the U.S. surpasses $1.7 trillion – all while an increasing number of borrowers find themselves unable to pay back their loans due to job scarcity and other extraordinary financial circumstances caused by the COVID-19 health and economic crisis. 

“All over the country, we have young people who made a substantial decision to invest in their future, but now find themselves saddled by overwhelming student loan debt during a pandemic that has tanked the economy and shattered the job market,” said U.S. Sen. Mark R. Warner. “The way to get our economy back on track is not by having an entire generation of people who are unwilling or unable to make future financial commitments because they are buried by the loans they took out in their late teens or early twenties. This legislation will give student borrowers a real shot at paying back their debt so that in the near future they are able to invest in a home, start up a business, or save for retirement.”

“Young folks across our country are facing unprecedented financial hardship simply because they made a choice to invest in their futures,” said Sen. Tester. “These are the current and future leaders of our communities and it’s critical that they have financial security so they can make investments and purchases to drive our economy forward and help America bounce back from this crisis. This bill will provide student borrowers with more opportunities to pay back their loans so that they are better able to participate in their local economies without the fear of drowning in debt.”

“The coronavirus pandemic has hit our economy hard – and that’s a major problem for the millions of Americans who took out student loans to invest in their future,” said Sen. King. “As the coronavirus pandemic’s economic fallout continues to unfold, Congress needs to take steps to help these young people have added flexibility and options to meet these obligations. Our legislation provides paths to help get this debt under control – if enacted, it can improve financial prospects for these borrowers while also supporting the overall health of the American economy.”

The Coronavirus Emergency Student Loan Refinancing Act of 2021 would ease the burden of the student debt crisis by:

  • Allowing student loan borrowers to refinance their federal student loans as long as they are in good standing and meet eligibility requirements based on income or the debt-to-income ratio established by the Department of Education. Under the legislation, borrowers would be able to apply to refinance their Direct Loan or Federal Family Education Loan (FFEL).
  • Giving borrowers the option to refinance their federal student loans at lower interest rates to the lowest yield of the 10-year Treasury note in the preceding six months, plus a fixed percentage rate established by the Student Loan Certainty Act of 2013. 
    • For undergraduate borrowers with Federal Direct Stafford, Unsubsidized, PLUS, and Consolidated loans, the interest rate would be equal to the lowest yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note in the preceding six months plus 2.05 percent;
    • For graduate borrowers with Federal Direct Stafford or Unsubsidized loans, the interest rate would be equal to the lowest yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note in the preceding six months plus 3.6 percent; and
    • For borrowers with PLUS loans, the new interest rate would be equal to the lowest yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury note in the preceding six months plus 4.6 percent.

This legislation has the support of a number of organizations, including the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund (DREDF), the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP), the National Association of Realtors, and the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce:

“Loans keep people from going to college, loans force students to major in lucrative subjects rather than follow their true work interests and values, and loans force people to postpone making decisions like buying homes and forming families, which hurts all of us. We are fortunate that Senator Warner recognizes this and has stepped up to do something about it,” said Anthony P. Carnevale, Director of the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce.

“High student loan debt is deterring families and individuals from pursuing the American Dream of homeownership, and its impact has been particularly significant on minority and millennial households. In fact, a 2020 NAR report found that student loan costs have been the single biggest factor inhibiting Americans’ ability to save for a down payment over the past five years. Realtors® applaud Senator Warner for furthering the critical national conversation regarding the impact of student loan debt on the broader U.S. economy, and look forward to working with him to advance this legislation through Congress,” said Charlie Oppler, President of National Association of Realtors.

Bill text is available here. A one-page summary is available here.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $1,879,967 in federal funding to help Virginians in 19 localities reduce their dependency on federal assistance and rental subsidies. The funding, awarded through the Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) Program at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) will help connect Virginia families to public and private resources that help them increase their earned income and transition to more stable housing.

“These funds will empower Virginia families by providing educational opportunities, job training, and counseling to help them make lasting progress towards economic independence,” said the Senators. “We applaud the Department of Housing and Urban Development for taking this approach to give Virginians the tools they need to increase their income and move up the economic ladder.”

The funding will be distributed as follows:

  • Alexandria Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $78,659;
  • Bristol Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $49,627;
  • Chesapeake Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $167,400;
  • City of Roanoke Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $151,470;
  • City of Virginia Beach Department of Housing: $56,347;
  • Loudoun County: $74,080;
  • Danville Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $24,818;
  • Fairfax County Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $152,078;
  • Franklin Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $60,000;
  • Hampton Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $60,152;
  • Harrisonburg Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $35,103;
  • Hopewell Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $72,000;
  • James City County Office of Housing & Community Development: $28,500;
  • Newport News Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $112,031;
  • Norfolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $360,000;
  • Portsmouth Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $226,656;
  • Richmond Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $72,000;
  • Suffolk Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $52,368;
  • Waynesboro Redevelopment & Housing Authority: $48,638.

The FSS program helps HUD-assisted families increase their earned income and reduce their dependency on federal assistance and rental subsidies. Public Housing Agencies (PHAs) work in collaboration with a Program Coordinating Committee (PCC) to secure commitments of public and private resources for the operation of the FSS program, to develop the PHA’s FSS Action Plan (the FSS policy framework), and to implement the program.

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WASHINGTON - Today, U.S. Senators Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine announced $5,740,241 in federal grant funding through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for Head Start and Early Head Start programs throughout Virginia.

“These programs are critical to help ensure that our schools and organizations across the Commonwealth have the resources they need to support our future leaders,” the Senators said. “We’re excited to see this funding go toward promoting early childhood development.” 

The following organizations will receive funding:

Recipient

City

Amount

 

Augusta County School Board

 

Verona

$1,205,103

People Incorporated of Virginia

 

Abingdon

$2,383,149

STEP, Inc.

 

Rocky Mount

$1,120,735

Eastern Shore Area Agency on Aging/Community Action Agency

 

Exmore

$1,031,254

Total:

 

$5,740,241

As Governors and Senators, Warner and Kaine have advocated for investments in early childhood education. Head Start programs promote school readiness for children under 5 years old from low-income families through health, education, family support, and social services.

 

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $2,901,726 in rural development funding to further distance learning and telemedicine at Ballad Health, Carilion Medical Center, Retina and Vitreous Center, P.C., and the Lee County School District in Jonesville, VA. This funding was awarded through the Distance Learning and Telemedicine grant program at U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development.

“Staying connected has never been as important as it is during the COVID-19 pandemic when Virginians are increasingly reliant on broadband internet to safely access medical care and keep up with their education,” said the Senators. “That is why we are thrilled to see these grants go to boosting distance learning and telehealth services at the Mountain States Health Alliance, Carilion Medical Center, Retina and Vitreous Center, P.C. in Norfolk, and the Lee County School District.” 

The funding will be awarded as below:

  • $313,361 for Ballad Health to support a "School-Based Telemedicine Virtual Health Clinic" program to improve healthcare availability to underserved children in Lee and Smyth counties. The program improves access to acute sick care for school children and faculty and removes transportation as an obstacle to care. This rural investment will benefit approximately 46,765 residents across both Virginia and Tennessee.  
  • $752,857 for Lee County School District to implement Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) courses and facilitate meetups with in-the-field STEM professionals. This will also give students in alternative education programs the opportunity to attend their classes in real-time, enable teachers to access quality professional development synchronously without incurring travel and time costs, and provide students and the community access to telecounseling services such as preventative substance-abuse education. This rural investment will benefit approximately 4,590 residents.
  • $947,983 for Carilion Medical Center located in Roanoke, VA, to enable patient access to high-quality primary and specialty care services in 14 counties and six independent cities located in Southwest Virginia, Southside, Roanoke, and the Shenandoah Valley, by expanding and optimizing an existing telemedicine network. Project equipment will include telemedicine carts (for the provision of teleneurology), peripherals to facilitate patients’ physical examinations by transmitting audiovisual information to remote physicians (for use in the proposed virtual care centers), and portable examination and vital sign devices. This rural investment will benefit approximately 200,000 residents.
  • $887,525 for Retina and Vitreous Center, P.C. in Norfolk, VA, to purchase telehealth equipment required to provide diagnostic and treatment services to patients with diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration, eye tumors, and ocular oncology, among other specialties. The system in each clinic will include live interactive videoconferencing hardware and software, a digital stethoscope, a specialized hand-held exam and diagnostics camera, and a variety of lens options. This rural investment will benefit approximately 3,762 residents. 

The USDA’s Distance Learning and Telemedicine program helps rural communities use the unique capabilities of telecommunications to connect to each other and to the world, overcoming the effects of remoteness and low population density. 

Sens. Warner and Kaine have been strong advocates for rural communities and health care access in the Commonwealth. In 2018, the Senators saw through the passage of the Opioid Crisis Response Act of 2018, which included a provision by Sen. Warner to expand telehealth services for substance abuse treatment. Earlier this year, the Senators introduced legislation to help ensure adequate home internet connectivity for K-12 students. In response to the onset of the COVID-19 crisis, Sen. Warner has also introduced comprehensive broadband infrastructure legislation to expand access to affordable high-speed internet for all Americans, as well as legislation to promote broadband in underserved areas. Last year, Sen. Warner  introduced legislation – cosponsored by Sen. Kaine – to expand telehealth services through Medicare, make it easier for patients to connect with their doctors, and help cut costs for patients and providers. Sen. Kaine also introduced legislation in 2019 to expand health care to rural areas through telehealth. The bill passed out of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee as part of the Lower Health Care Costs Act of 2019.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $19,013,614 from the U.S. Department of Labor for two career and training centers for seniors in Arlington, VA.

“These investments will enhance on-the-job training programs and provide seniors who are currently out of work with an opportunity to earn a paycheck and learn new skills, making them better-qualified candidates for future employment,” said the Senators.

The funding will be awarded as follows:

  • $17,431,229 for the National Council on Aging, Inc in Arlington, VA.
  • $1,582,385 for the National Older Worker Career Center in Arlington, VA.

The funding is made available through the Senior Community Service Employment Program (SCSEP). SCSEP is a community service and work-based job training program for older Americans. Authorized by the Older Americans Act, the program provides training for low-income, unemployed seniors, to give them the skills they need to re-enter the workforce. Additionally, SCSEP participants will have access to employment assistance through American Job Centers.

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WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA) announced $17,735,349.43 in federal funding from the U.S. Department of Education to Hampton University to establish the Virginia Workforce Innovation and Entrepreneurship Center (VWIEC), a statewide small business incubator project. This grant will expand the capability and capacity of Virginia’s current and aspiring entrepreneurs to aid with economic recovery in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re pleased that these federal dollars will assist Hampton University in continuing to serve their students in the face of the current health and economic crisis,” said the Senators. “Historically Black Colleges and Universities help provide a first-rate education for so many students from traditionally underserved communities. We will continue to advocate for them as they support their students during this ongoing crisis.”

This grant was awarded through the Department of Education’s Education Stabilization Fund, which seeks to provide support to state educational agencies in addressing the specific educational needs of students, parents, and teachers in elementary and secondary schools, and higher education institutions. Sens. Warner and Kaine are strong supporters of Virginia’s HBCUs. Last year, the Senators successfully pushed to get the FUTURE Act signed into law to restore $255 million in federal funding for these critical institutions. They also secured $93 million in critical funding to strengthen HBCUs as part of the December government spending deal.

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