This calendar year is turning out to be one of the most unusual of my lifetime and likely yours. It will be a point of reference for the rest of this century for many reasons, some more palatable than others. Once again, the pandemic has played another role in our society.
The November 3rd election was the latest victim of this insidious infection. While some would like to cast dispersions on the integrity of the election, I commend the dedicated election officers who executed this process in the most professional manner under extreme circumstances. I also applaud the registered voters that came out in droves on November 3rd as well as those voting early to have their voices heard. Now we must protect those votes and let the democratic process of counting continue without intimidation or intentional disinformation.
The large turnout for early voting can be attributed to newly enacted legislation from the 2020 General Assembly. These measures were intended to remove barriers and unwarranted hurdles for casting a ballot in the Commonwealth. Virginia took great strides to embrace and encourage voter participation and empowered more than two million Virginians to cast a ballot via absentee mail-in vote or early vote. This is democracy at its finest hour. Now we must turn our attention to uniting this nation.
On January 20, we will see an orderly transition of power to the future with or without a new president. I am optimistic the campaign rhetoric will subside, and we can work together to march through the pandemic, rebuild the economy, and focus on the many important issues that will shape our nation’s future.
Now that Daylight Savings Time has ended and we are in November, it is necessary to remember Covid-19 is still very much among us. In many places, Coronavirus is once again spiking. This was predicted. However, this time we are better prepared thanks to Governor Northam guiding Virginia through this pandemic. Well over 3,500 Virginians have been lost to Covid-19, leaving a deep void within the hearts of loved ones. At the same time, their passing is a stark reminder this medical nightmare is still active within our communities.
November 11 is Veteran’s Day. It is the day we commemorate the men and women who have worn the cloth of this nation. to ensure the freedoms we so cherish. We salute these courageous heroes. We thank them for their selfless service and the sacrifices they and their families have made for us.
Debate rages on within school districts on the best practices going forward. The most important element of this dialogue focuses on public safety – for the students and their families and for the staff they encounter. This is a very fluid situation and seems to be revisited almost daily. The goal is to get special-ed and high-risk students back to school in the next couple of weeks if they are not already there. Several of the Northern Virginia jurisdictions are polling parents for their desire to return in person as soon as possible.
None of this is easy and most of it is contingent on how well we can contain Covid-19. These tough decisions require a much larger picture of existing realities in our community. Duly noted, like most families, some have fared better than others in the virtual world. 2020 cannot be a “gap year.” We need to get this right. Like most everyone, teachers have had to make some serious adjustments to their methods and quickly adopt technology skills that foster learning.
The General Assembly has taken steps to keep education as a priority. We have made investments to keep localities whole as well as keep critical broadband affordable and accessible. Daycare is also a priority, with funding infusions from the CARES Act.
Higher education has received an additional $116 million from federal funds to continue its mission of producing a skilled workforce. Last week, Governor Northam announced that $30 million of these funds will go to help Virginians whose employment has been impacted by the Covid-19 crisis pursue workforce training in a high-demand field. The new Re-Employing Virginians (REV) initiative will provide scholarships to eligible individuals to enroll in a workforce or community college program in five essential industries, including health care, information technology, skilled trades, public safety, and early childhood education. The initiative will provide one-time REV scholarships of $3,000 to register in a qualifying full-time workforce program and $1,500 to register part-time or in a short-term, noncredit training program.