By Hannah Hess | Virginia Statehouse News
RICHMOND — Parents of children who are struggling in some of Virginia’s most troubled public schools could get more choices, if Republicans win tax breaks for companies that make donations for low-income students to attend private institutions.
The plan provides corporations with a tax credit that covers 70 percent of a donation to a nonprofit that provides private school scholarships to the 38 percent of Virginia public school students eligible for free and reduced meals at school. Parents could choose faith-based schools or other private learning environments they deem appropriate for their children. The model has seen success in Florida.
“Virginia has great public schools, but the public school environment is not a one-size-fits-all for all kids,” Delegate Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico, said Wednesday. Massie is sponsoring the bill in the House, and he has championed the same school choice bill in past years.
Gov. Bob McDonnell also has tried to secure tax credits for corporations as part of his “Opportunity to Learn” agenda. An identical measure cleared the House by a 54-45 vote last year, but the measure was killed in the Democratic-controlled Senate Finance Committee.
Opponents of the school choice proposal say the scholarship program undermines the public schools by siphoning away money and motivated students.
To refute critics’ arguments, state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisburg, the Senate sponsor of the scholarship tax credit program, pointed to a Northwestern University study of Florida’s educational system.
The study, published in the winter 2011 edition of Education Next, a nonpartisan K-12 education reform journal, found that public schools responded to the competitive pressure of the state’s tax credit program by improving performance. The districts that lost the most public school children to private alternatives experienced the biggest education gains in the state.
“The vision I have for our school system is an all-of-the-above approach, in which our public schools are incited to do an even better job for families and for kids in those areas,” Obenshain said Tuesday. Continue reading.