WASHINGTON (CBS19 NEWS) -- Grant funding will be prioritized to support students, teachers and parents in areas known as Opportunity Zones, which were created under the Federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017.
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced on Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Education would prioritize grant applications for such areas.
Locally, there are four listed Opportunity Zones, which are considered economically-distressed communities. Two are in the urban ring in Albemarle County around Charlottesville, one is in the city of Charlottesville and one is in Orange County. There are 212 such zones across Virginia.
According to a release, the Opportunity Zone priority will let the Department of Education focus on grantees that do work in the Opportunity Zone, are located in one, and that will increase the impact of federal dollars by partnering with a Qualified Opportunity Fund.
"We want to ensure federal dollars have the maximum positive impact on the students and communities that need it more," said DeVos. "Through the Opportunity Zones priority, we can focus our discretionary resources on projects that will spur innovative approaches to education in areas of the country that are all too often left behind. I am grateful to [President Donald Trump] for establishing Opportunity Zones and for his commitment to fighting for every student, no matter their ZIP code, to have access to the education that works for them."
During the last fiscal year, the department encouraged projects in nine grant competitions to support students in Opportunity Zones, and of the 238 grants funded through those competitions, more than half said their work was aligned with the Opportunity Zones initiative on their applications.
The release says of the four 2019 competitions that gave bonus points or established a separate competition track for applications proposing projects in Opportunity Zones, the department has supported 50 grants and awarded more than $30 million to states, school districts and other organizations working to improve educational outcomes in Opportunity Zones.
Some of the grant programs are aimed at charter schools facilities and development, Career and Technical Education programs, and improving school climate.
There are more than 8,700 Opportunity Zones across the United States, which tend to have substantially higher rates of unemployment, lower rates of educational attainment, lower median household income, and higher poverty rates on average than other areas across the country.
For more information on Opportunity Zones in Virginia, click on the link in the Related Links box.