Spring 2024

Claire Lindsay, "Bettering the 2023 Virginia K12 Learning Acceleration Grant"

           The 2023 Virginia K12 Learning Acceleration Grant was implemented in early 2023 by the Virginia government who set aside millions of taxpayer money for recipients of the Grant to help their child further their academic success. By focusing on the research and providing background about the grant, I will critique its current allocation system to introduce a modified, potential new technique and application, and address the significance of equality in the United States education system. In the United States education system, one of the fairest ways to distribute goods, services, or rewards to a student(s) is the meritocratic method of allocation. However, the new 2023 Virginia K12 Learning Acceleration Grant violates this idea of fairness by steering away from the meritocratic method of allocating goods and services. This methods article focuses on public policy and just methods of allocation in the education system, and aims to consider the fairest way of allocating the goods and services provided by the 2023 Virginia K12 Learning Acceleration Grant. 
           The system of meritocracy as a concept is defined as the distribution of goods and services based on worth and desert when measuring both success and failure. This system ensures that those who are the most deserving will be first in line to receive the good or service. Meritocracy, conceptually, is the opposition of the lottery of birth and the system of hereditary aristocracy, and is the best allocative method in the sense that fairness cannot be overlooked. It is the best method to distribute goods, services, rewards, etc., in the United States educational system to make sure students receive the goods and services they deserve and are rewarded in retrospect of their skill and achievements.
           The Virginia K12 Learning Acceleration Grant is currently subjected to a first-come-first-serve basis, which is not a fair means of distributive justice. This program does not focus on allocating money in a fair way, such as other states that “provide funds only for homeschooling families or students with unique learning needs” but is available to all students who are school-age and haven’t graduated from high school (Rhodes, Virginia K12 Learning Acceleration Grants: What they are and how to use one). The grant, which was started in May of 2023, was implemented by the Virginia government who set aside millions of tax money that Learning Acceleration Grant recipients may apply for. Therefore, a Virginia parent who fits the income qualification is eligible to apply as long as their child resides in Virginia, is of school-age as defined by the state, and has not graduated (Rhodes, Virginia K12 Learning Acceleration Grants: What they are and how to use one). Children who attend public, charter, and private schools, or are homeschooled, are all eligible for the grant, as long as the household income does not exceed 300% of the federal poverty line. This grant is $1,500 or $3,000, depending on income, and can help families pay for tutoring and other educational services outside of the classroom (Virginia Department of Education, 2023). The money can be used for: tutoring services, such as in person, virtual, hybrid, 1-on-1, small group or large groups settings; specialized educational therapy services and supports, such as specialized reading instruction or speech therapy, or other specific services provided by a licensed practitioner; and, lastly, assistive technology up to $750 (VDOE, 2023). The government gave these grants to a total of 33,350 students and awarded a total amount of $67,188,000 (VDOE, 2023). There is normative adequacy in giving money set aside from the government to those in need, and the government was successful in aiding many low-income families. However, by focusing solely on income level, they were not successful in efficiently helping struggling or failing students.
           Rather than focusing on bettering children who deserve to receive additional help outside of the classroom, this grant focuses on the parents of children in school with low incomes. But in school systems, meritocracy must be the means of distributing goods, or there will inevitably be an otherwise unfair education system. In an article written by Kevin Finneran, he expresses why grades and test scores matter, and that we have a shared societal interest in identifying which students are the most likely to succeed based on performance in school. He writes that “course grades and test scores help us identify those most likely to perform well in demanding jobs” (Finneran 2022, paragraph 7). Course grades and test scores reflect the conceptual understanding of pupils, and those who perform well deserve to be rewarded with recognition or admission into top schools. Grades and test scores help to allocate goods such as scholarships, awards, or special performances, which should be based on meritocracy and its concept of desert. However, just as impressive grades and success in school deserve to be recognized and rewarded, failing grades and students who struggle in school deserve to receive extra help outside of the classroom. A fair system of which the government can allocate the 2023 Virginia K12 Learning Acceleration Grant would be to follow this concept of meritocracy; however, with a slight difference in that desert plays a role in failure rather than success. This sort of inverse-meritocratic system would base allocation on students who deserve the extra help first, based on student failure. Desert is still used to determine where the good be allocated, but measures failure rather than success. Though this basis of desert and worth is different from those who perform well and are rewarded, it is nonetheless a meritocratic system in that students who deserve the extra help should be the individuals to receive it; not because they need the grant to access education, but because they could improve their success in school. 

           Using an inverse-meritocratic method of allocation would change, almost entirely, the way in which this grant is awarded. Basing this grant on meritocracy, or desert and worth, would introduce a hierarchical system in which parents of students who are struggling in school would receive the money from the grant before those whose children do not need additional help outside of the classroom. As the grant is arranged now, any student whose parent does not exceed the income limit is eligible, but changing it to a meritocratic system would create somewhat of a tier system, in which those who deserve the help are the first to receive it. This tier would be determined by those who deserve the money for extra help and would, broadly, allocate the grant to:
           1. Students who receive failing grades.
           2. Students who receive mediocre grades. 
           3. Students who do not need extra help outside of the classroom, who come from families of lower incomes within the income limit. 
           4. Students who do not need extra help outside of the classroom, and come from a household with a higher income within the income limit.
           Instead of solely basing the grant’s allocation on income, the inverse-meritocratic system would base the allocation on students who deserve the extra help first, based on failure, with those who struggle in school coming before those who do not. To ensure the fairness of this method, parents who apply should still submit their financial records to make sure they are below 300% of the federal income poverty line (similar to applying for financial aid), and their child’s report card. 
           When refuting the need-based, first-come-first-serve system of the 2023 Virginia K12 Learning Acceleration Grant, it would be easy to consider who needs the money the most and base the allocation simply on that need, whether it is income or needing extra help outside of the classroom to perform better in school. This argument would hold that students who need money to perform better in school are the ones who should receive it, and thus this becomes a need-based argument. In addition, if it focuses on grades/GPA alone, it may overlook students who come from lower income families and favor students who are lazy or do not reach their full potential. A student from a lower household income may struggle slightly less by putting in more effort, and could use extra money to make it easier to learn and excel, in contrast to a student who does not try very hard and receives poor grades, but receives the money from this grant. However, this extra grant money is not a need, and so the argument should not be need-based. John Rawls, in A Theory of Justice, holds that “a society well-ordered will have institutional rules set up in such a way as to ensure that citizens receive benefits and burdens proportional to their moral desert” (Feldman, 2016). This notion can be applied to the concept of inverse-meritocracy in relation to this grant, and provides the idea that needs are to be separate from additional benefits and burdens. 
          Before the grant was introduced, families were not offered extra money from the government in this way to help their children advance in school. The basis of general education, offered for free by the government, is considered a need as instituted by the United States legal system. However, parents wanting their children to perform better in school is a desire, and an additional benefit. A student can receive the education they need to be successful via free schooling provided by the government, and does not need to do well in school to receive it. Therefore, when it comes to satisfying this desire within a particular group with similar assets, it is both fair and just to look further into who deserves the grant by using an inverse-meritocratic system based on failure. Though this money is not a necessity for education, it is a desire for those families of students who are not doing as well so that their children may be able to perform better. When it comes to this desire, it holds that students who receive lower grades and perform poorly in school should receive the grant.
           To refute the second part of the argument against an inverse-meritocratic system of government when overlooking income level, I pose that it is still fair based on the idea of desert and failure. If a student holds all Fs, that student should be put before a student with all Cs and a slightly lower income because the student with all Fs is worse off, even if the student with all C’s could use the money towards electronics that may help them improve. In this way, the allocation of the money is fair because it looks at student failure before the money is given to them, not potential success that could be brought about after the money is granted. In addition, both of these students come from a household below 300% of the federal poverty line, which means they are both determined as coming from families who deserve the grant money.
           Basing the allocation of goods and services on merit is the most efficient way to promote equality, especially when considering success and/or failure. In terms of the 2023 K12 Learning Acceleration Grant, it would be better to adopt the proposed idea of a meritocratic system in order to best ensure fairness, and that those who have a greater claim, or, in this instance, those who deserve it more, are awarded the grant money. The focus of this grant is to help families of low incomes better their children’s education, and it is only fair to focus on students who struggle before those who do not struggle in school, yet the grant currently denies this fact.

Works Cited

Feldman, F. (2016, July 14). Rawls against Desertism. OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/book/9620/chapter-abstract/156688209?redirectedFrom=fulltext

Finneran, K. (2022, July 1). The merits of meritocracy. Issues in Science and Technology. https://issues.org/editorsjournal-4/

Rhodes, K. (2023, March). Virginia K12 learning acceleration grants: What they are and how to use one. Outschool. https://outschool.com/articles/virginia-learning-acceleration-grants

Virginia Department of Education (VDOE). (2023, November 27). K-12 learning acceleration grants | virginia department of education. K-12 Learning Acceleration Grants. https://www.doe.virginia.gov/parents-students/for-parents/k-12-learning-acceleration-grants

This page has paths:

This page references: