UPDATED: Governor laments Virginia Senate panel's killing tax credits for private school tuition
The Senate Finance Committee, after hearing emotional testimony from students and educators, voted Tuesday to kill a measure that would have given businesses tax credits to fund private school tuition for needy students.
Gov. Robert F. McDonnell, invoking President Barack Obama's support for innovative approaches to schools, accused Democrats of siding with "special interest groups and unions."
Supporters, including the Family Foundation and the Virginia Catholic Conference, argued that HB2314 would offer indigent students a way out of inner-city schools. The bill would give businesses a 70-percent tax credit for donations to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships. The scholarships would go to children whose family incomes qualify them for the federal reduced and free lunch program.
Pointing to the results of a similar program in Florida, Del. Jimmie Massie (R-Henrico) argued that the measure would actually save the commonwealth money. Massie said multiple studies there show that Florida saved $36 million a year while helping 33,000 students--75 percent of whom are minorities--to attend private schools.
"Mr. Chairman, low income families are crying out for help," Massie said.
Del. Algie Howell (D-Norfolk), who is black, implored the panel to give Virginia children the sort of options that he did not have when he was forced to attend a segregated school. Massie also presented Del. Terry L. Fields, an African-American member of the Florida House of Representatives, to explain why he became a strong supporter of the program.
But opponents, who characterized the measure as a sly attempt to create school vouchers program, said Virginia had no business giving away tax breaks to subsidize private schools when the state continues to hack away at K-12 funding.
"We can't afford it," said Rob Jones, director of the government relations and research for the Virginia Education Association. "Your constitutional responsibility is to fund the public schools."
Others noted that Virginia already ranks 38th in spending on its schools -- and Florida ranks lower, at 41st. And the House of Delegates' budget, if approved, would cut more funding to Virginia's public schools, critics said.
"It seems somewhat curious that you come here and ask us to take $25 million in taxpayer money to subsidize private schools when the budget that you two as members of the committee have just passed has not done anything and in fact has gone in the opposite direction for public schools," Sen. Edward Houck (D-Spotsylvania) told the delegates sponsoring the bill.
Senate Majority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) went further, scolding Massie for failing to support tax increases that would pay for giveaways. He also criticized the businesses that backed the bill.
"I've been here 36 years..[and] I cannot remember in 36 sessions corporations coming in here, ever, and asking for tax credits for their charitable giving. This is a first for us, and hopefully, a last," Saslaw said. "And let's not kid ourselves. This bill will take money and will take it quickly out of the general fund."
The GOP-led House passed the bill Feb. 8 by a vote of 54-45 with three Democrats in favor. The Democratic-led Senate Finance panel voted to let the bill die 9-6.
Here's the governor's full statement:
"Once again, Democrats in the Senate have unfortunately voted against innovative education reforms that would increase educational opportunities for Virginia's underprivileged children, and have instead decided to side with special interest groups and unions. This proven legislation would have allowed non-profits to provide more scholarships for lower income children to attend non-public schools, a measure that would actually save the state money. It would incentivize the business community to do good work to help those in need, a great American value. It is time for Senate Democrats to rethink their priorities and make decisions that are in the best interest of Virginia's children, not outside unions and advocates for bigger government. The growing national effort to provide more educational opportunities for our young people is a bipartisan one. In Washington D.C. President Obama is committed to this effort and implementing new options and creative educational tools like charter schools and merit pay. I want to thank the Republican members on Senate Finance who stood up for Virginia's low income families and voted to provide new educational options for children across the Commonwealth, and all those who have worked to move this measure forward. Helping disadvantaged children access greater educational opportunities is the right thing to do, and we will continue to work to increase that access in the years ahead."
| February 15, 2011; 12:20 PM ET
Categories: General Assembly 2011
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