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Youngkin touts Google's $300M investment in Va., $250K grant for CodeVA

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RESTON — Google Corp.’s pledge to invest $300 million in Virginia this year includes a big commitment to computer science education in Virginia schools through a Richmond-based advocacy organization that Gov. Glenn Youngkin hopes will bolster one of his top priorities in the stalled state budget.

Youngkin came to the tech giant’s new Virginia headquarters here on Tuesday to tout an investment that he said not only would bring new data centers, offices and jobs to the state, but also “make a statement about education.”

“We have one simple aspiration, and that is to make Virginia the best place to live and work and raise a family,” he said. “Education is the key that unlocks everything.”

Google, with 480 employees here and in data centers in neighboring Loudoun County, has had a presence in Northern Virginia since 2005. The company said it is looking to invest in data centers here and in other parts of the state and create a network of computer science lab schools through a $250,000 grant to CodeVA, a Richmond advocacy organization for teacher development in the field.

The organization, started by Rebecca and Chris Dovi in 2013, also helped create CodeRVA, a magnet high school for computer science education run by local school divisions in the Richmond region that Google internet guru Vinton Cerf called “incredibly successful” as a way to provide “equitable access” to education in computer sciences.

Google also said it will partner with Virginia’s 23 community colleges and five higher education centers to develop programs to award professional credentials in data analytics and other IT fields, which Youngkin said “will make sure our kids are not only college ready but career ready.”

Cerf, vice president and “chief internet evangelist” at Google, said, “Virginia is a strong example of the work we’re doing across the U.S.”

The grant will help CodeVA build on partnerships it has forged with the state, three higher education research centers in southern and southwestern Virginia, and public school divisions in Chesterfield, Loudoun and Stafford counties and the cities of Harrisonburg and Suffolk.

“We’re very excited about it,” said CodeVA Executive Director Chris Dovi, a former Richmond Times-Dispatch reporter whose wife was a computer science teacher in Hanover County before they co-founded the organization. “We’re looking at it primarily as a way to do planning for expansion of this hub network around the state.”

“We’re very excited about the opportunity to work with Google on curriculum development and expanded computer science resources for all teachers, particularly for those who are already teaching computer science in their classrooms,” he added in an interview after the event.

Youngkin is excited about the potential collaboration between the initiative and a proposed network of laboratory schools that he has proposed to create with colleges and universities with an initial $150 million investment in the pending state budget.

“One of the greatest opportunities is for us to train the workforce,” he said, announcing also that Virginia has joined a National Governors Association compact for K-12 computer science education.

The lab school initiative is caught up in a budget showdown between the Republican-controlled House of Delegates and the Democratic-run Senate, which has been unwilling to divert money from K-12 education to schools that would operate outside of traditional public school supervision.

Youngkin used the Google announcement to ratchet up pressure on the General Assembly to reach a budget compromise that includes his priorities for education and tax cuts. He said he still hopes for a deal by the time the assembly reconvenes on April 27 for the so-called “veto” session to act on his vetoes and amendments to legislation lawmakers adopted in the regular session that adjourned on March 12.

“The General Assembly needs to help us,” he said. “We need our budget out.”

Youngkin said he expects the General Assembly to approve “the largest education budget in the history of Virginia,” but Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax, a senior House Democrat who attended the event here, said that also would have happened if former Gov. Terry McAuliffe or another Democratic candidate had been elected last fall.

“It’s going to be the biggest budget [for education] because we have the cash to do what we have to do,” Plum said in an interview from his home near the Google offices.

The delegate chided Youngkin for vetoing bills Democrats sponsored that were companions to measures carried by Republicans that he signed, as well as other legislation that had passed the assembly with bipartisan support.

“What he did with his vetoes was kind of a thumb in the eye of the General Assembly,” Plum said.

In a news briefing after the event, Youngkin called on the General Assembly to support his proposal for suspending the state gas tax for three months — endorsed by a House committee on Tuesday — and repeal the state sales tax on groceries without creating a hole in local government and school budgets.

He said there is no need to replace an estimated $132 million that would be lost each year by repealing the share of the grocery tax that goes to transportation improvements. “We’ve got plenty of money in the system,” he said, adding, “we don’t have to backfill every single time we reduce taxes.”

The governor also reiterated his support for House and Senate proposals to help the Washington Commanders build a new stadium in Northern Virginia for the NFL franchise that would be financed partly by forgone future tax revenues from a large commercial development around it.

“My job as governor is to make sure Virginia gets a good deal if we press forward with the Commanders,” he said.

It wasn’t all work for Youngkin, who had fun touring Google’s Virginia headquarters in the Reston Station office building. He advocated for a ping-pong table to add to the relaxed work environment and then engaged in a spirited basketball shootout with Liz Schwab, Google regional director for external affairs (and a former Division 1 player), on the Pop-a-Shot hoops installed in one lobby.

“This is a terrible place to work — look at those views!” he joked with Google employees on the tour.

Youngkin also signaled his desire to see more employees return to their offices after working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. “People are coming back to work and we are on the path to normalcy,” he said, extolling the collaboration of people in the office while acknowledging the continued role of telework.

Plum, a former public educator first elected to the House in 1982, applauded the Google initiative, which he said builds on Virginia’s long track record of investing in high-tech industries.

That includes a $1.8 billion package of incentives pledged to Amazon in 2018 for a minimum $5 billion investment in its second headquarters in Arlington County that would create at least 25,000 high-paying jobs.

Two-thirds of the package was a pledge to invest $1.2 billion over 20 years in developing tech talent by expanding the number of graduates in computer sciences and related fields from state institutions by 25,000 to 35,000.

“It’s the future,” Plum said.

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