The Big Idea is a series that asks top lawmakers and figures to discuss their moonshot — what’s the one proposal, if politics and polls and even price tag were not an issue, they’d implement to change the country for the better?
“I was a U.S. and Virginia government teacher, and I did that for 30 years. I loved that. Not long after I started teaching, I ran for the House of Delegates and was fortunate enough to work my way up to speaker,” he told Fox News in an interview.
A major component of Cox’s campaign is his plan to not only reopen schools but also combat learning loss. Only 26 of Virginia’s 132 school divisions are operating in person, meaning all students receive four or more days of in-person instruction per week, according to the Department of Education.
“A lost year can become a lost generation,” Cox said. “I was advocating to open all schools in July, and of course Gov. [Ralph] Northam did nothing on that.”
Cox said he is frustrated that many in state government are just now turning their attention to reopening schools after he put forth a plan to use federal funds for PPE, contact tracing and other coronavirus-related expenses to help students return to classrooms in the summer of 2020.
“The Democrats weren’t interested in anything creative to directly help parents,” he said.
Many studies have shown that remote learning is having an imbalanced effect on kids. A McKinsey analysis released in December found that Black and Hispanic students in the U.S. are “more likely to remain remote” but face a greater danger of falling behind their peers.
“[T]he cumulative learning loss could be substantial, especially in mathematics—with students on average likely to lose five to nine months of learning by the end of this school year,” McKinsey stated in the analysis. “Students of color could be six to 12 months behind, compared with four to eight months for [W]hite students. While all students are suffering, those who came into the pandemic with the fewest academic opportunities are on track to exit with the greatest learning loss.”
Some of Cox’s proposals include incentivizing retired teachers and student teachers to do one-on-one tutoring and giving all students the option of summer school. Cox also proposed creating the READ Fund to reimburse parents directly for supplemental learning opportunities and supplies as well as bumping up teachers’ pay for taking part in summer remediation programs.
The roughly $80 million price tag could be paid for using federal coronavirus relief funding, Cox said.
He’s also worried about students’ mental health.
“The psychological effects are devastating. The great thing about a teacher in a classroom is you spot those pretty quickly,” Cox said. “Think about a teacher that never really has met their students. … You’re meeting them virtually. You have no feel for who’s struggling.”
“I would really find that difficult,” the former teacher said.
Cox blasted the Democrats currently in control of the state for failing to address the issue.
“We went into special session [last summer] and didn’t even deal with that issue, which I thought was amazing,” Cox said. “I’ve been talking about this from the very, very beginning.”
Like many states, Virginia is seeing pushback from teachers’ unions about returning to the classroom. Teachers’ unions argue that reopening will not be 100% safe until all teachers and school faculty are vaccinated.
Fox News’ Audrey Conklin contributed to this report.