The Virginia Attorney General’s Office has notified the fundraising arm of the New College Institute that it can still award scholarships despite ongoing tension between the institute and its foundation. And in a strongly worded statement, it warned the foundation against “using … young Virginians’ futures as a pawn” in internal disputes.
The Martinsville-Henry County Academic Foundation, formerly known as the New College Foundation, said recently that it would hold off on all funding for the institute. Executive Director Kevin DeKoninck cited instructions from the attorney general’s office to pause activities.
But the attorney general’s office has pushed back on DeKoninck’s assertion that it can’t continue working with NCI.
“Neither NCI nor the Office of the Attorney General objects to the issuance of scholarships for the benefit of students affiliated with NCI, or to distributions to NCI,” the latest letter, dated March 10, states. The letter, directed to foundation attorney Christopher Kozlowski of the firm Gentry Locke, was signed by Senior Assistant Attorney General Ramona Taylor. It notes that NCI expects the foundation to inform the institute of any money spent from foundation funds restricted to NCI.
The foundation rebranded itself in early February, saying that its new mission would support education in the greater Martinsville-Henry County area, including the New College Institute. But the foundation was established in 2006 specifically to raise funds for NCI.
The Martinsville institute is a state-run facility that works with partners to offer education and job training programs.
The boards of the institute and its foundation have been at odds for several years, based on correspondence reviewed by Cardinal News via a Virginia Freedom of Information Act request.
A letter from Taylor dated Feb. 15 asked — at the request of NCI — for the newly renamed foundation to pause distributing any funds it held prior to the name change to any entity except NCI. Taylor wrote that it would take further discussion to determine whether the foundation can broaden its scope.
Asked this week about the status of the foundation’s 12 scholarship funds, director Kevin DeKoninck said that all funding would be paused. “We’d love to continue supporting the community in this way but, due to the Attorney General demanding that we not distribute any funds, we will not be able to at this time,” he said by email on March 9.
In a statement sent exclusively to Cardinal News on Friday, Victoria LaCivita, spokesperson for Attorney General Jason Miyares, said: “The Attorney General is incredibly disappointed that the MHC Academic Foundation would take out their frustrations on young Virginians who need help paying for college. The Attorney General’s letter was quite clear that funds held before the Foundation’s restructuring are restricted and can only be used for their initial purpose — to benefit New College Institute. This obviously includes NCI scholarships.”
LaCivita noted that the latest letter sent to the foundation emphasizes that restricted funds can only be used for NCI’s benefit. “We expect the Foundation to stop using scholarships and young Virginians’ futures as a pawn in their internal disputes,” she wrote.
Source: New College Foundation Form 990 filings
Along with supporting the programming offered at NCI, the foundation awards scholarships to students working toward a degree, career endorsement or certificate through a program at NCI.
Awards have typically gone to anywhere between 15 and 30 students each year. The total annual amount awarded in scholarships in recent years has often neared $50,000, according to publicly available tax forms. In August 2022, the last time the awards were given, the foundation awarded eight scholarships, for a total of $17,500.
Scholarship applications are typically reviewed in June and July, with awardees notified prior to the start of the fall semester.
Messages were left Friday afternoon seeking comment from DeKoninck. New College Institute board vice chairman Richard Hall said he had no comment.