Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration is continuing its effort to expand school choice in Virginia by pushing legislation that would allocate a portion of per-pupil state funding to a savings account for parents to spend on private school tuition or other approved education expenses.
The government-authorized accounts, known as education savings accounts, would be available to parents of any Virginia child enrolled in a public school for at least one semester. Families would be able to spend the funds on tuition, fees and required textbooks at private K-12 schools in Virginia or on homeschool expenses.
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Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears joined parents and legislators on Thursday afternoon to support the school choice bill and movement, which she compared to the fight for Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that effectively banned government-imposed racial segregation in schools.
“All of us pay for our children’s education. The problem is that the rich make a decision. The rest of us, we only have what the government has chosen to do,” Sears said. “We’re not doing that anymore.”
The news conference followed a rally hosted by Americans for Prosperity-Virginia, which advocates for parental rights and school choice for Virginia families, as well as for lower taxes and less government regulation.
The chief patron of the bill, Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, said the legislation reaffirms state law that provides parents the right to make decisions concerning the education of their children.
“For way too long, too many students have been trapped in schools that are failing them, especially in our historically Black communities,” Davis said. “All children should have access to the resources necessary to reach their full potential.”
Advocates and opponents of education savings accounts quibble over labeling the programs as “vouchers,” a politicized term that, to many, carries a negative connotation.
The difference is that unlike traditional vouchers that give state funds directly to private schools, the funds for education savings accounts are deposited into savings accounts that parents can use for various educational purposes.
The first education savings account in the U.S. was enacted in Arizona in 2011 after previous voucher programs were deemed unconstitutional.
If the General Assembly passes the legislation and Youngkin signs it, Virginia would be the ninth state to enact education savings accounts.
The money for education savings accounts would be pulled from state funding, which is about one-third of per-pupil funding afforded for each student, according to Davis. Federal and local per-pupil funding would stay with the school system.
“[School districts] lose the cost and the overhead of that child, but they still get to keep two-thirds of funding. I would challenge anyone to tell me a better business deal than that,” Davis said.
Some of Davis’ Democratic colleagues do not approve of using state funds to subsidize private schools.
“The bottom line is that for too long, our schools have been underfunded and our kids have suffered because of it,” said House Minority Leader Don Scott Jr., D-Portsmouth.
Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, called education savings accounts the new generation of vouchers, and said the limited oversight for the programs makes it hard to study them.
“There is no accountability with the money when kids go to private schools that pop up to take funding,” VanValkenburg said. “St. Christopher’s School and Collegiate School don’t have more spots. Ideological schools and for-profit schools will pop up, offer inferior product, and discriminate based on their beliefs. All with public monies.”
Legislators will consider the bill during the General Assembly’s 2023 regular session, which begins Wednesday.