Assembly 2011: Senate Finance Committee kills school choice bill
A bill that would give businesses a tax credit for providing private school scholarships to children and another that would re-examine the way the state allocates public education dollars have been killed for the year.
The Senate Finance Committee’s nine Democrats voted down six Republicans' attempt to advance a bill that would provide tax credits to businesses who provide private school scholarships to free and reduced-lunch kids. The measure was a part of Governor McDonnell’s 2011 education agenda.
Democratic Senator and Majority Leader Dick Saslaw of Fairfax.
Saslaw: I cannot remember in 36 sessions, corporate interests coming in here ever and asking for tax credits for their charitable giving. This is a first for us and hopefully a last.
The other thing is, let's not kid ourselves, this bill ultimately will take money and will take it pretty quickly out of the General Fund. You can’t give a credit to somebody without that money coming out of there. You take the student out of the class, that building is still there, the fixed cost is there and that fixed cost remains and your average cost per student, of course, goes up, which on the other hand, when those kids attend a private school, that drives down the average cost for the private school, so this is totally to their benefit.
I don’t know what the fate is of this bill. I generally don’t vote for these things. I might be a little more amenable to this in the future if I saw your name on a tax increase to pay for some of these things that you want to give away, because we can’t constantly empty out, continue to empty our treasury.
Democratic Senator Edd Houck of Spotsylvania is a retired public school administrator.
Houck: What I am sent here as a state Senator to do is to uphold the public good. Public schools. Now I've heard the phrase used by some of the witnesses here this morning, they keep referring to the failing schools, the failing schools. Well, I take strong exception to that.
Do we have schools that need additional help for those students that attend there to succeed? Absolutely. In fact, this current budget, there couldn’t be a more marked contrast between the two budgets that's before us right now. The gentlemen who come here presenting this bill, the two delegates, have just sent us their budget, which does not increase funding for public schools at all, even for those “failing schools.” In fact, if you look at that early childhood pre-school program for at-risk students, you’ve actually reduced it and eliminated it. It seems somewhat curious that you come here and ask us to take 25 million dollars of taxpayer money to subsidize private schools, when the budget that you two as a member of the committee have just passed has not done anything, in fact gone in the opposite direction for public schools. There’s no doubt that 25 million dollars, with education being the lion’s share of our state budget, this would definitely have a negative impact on public schools.
The bill’s patron, Republican Delegate Jimmie Massie of Henrico, denies this.
Massie: That’s not the experience in all the other states. The experience in all the other states is, it generates money, it is revenue-positive for the states and it improves the public schools, because competition makes them better and those overall additional revenues you can plow back into public education. Florida saved almost 200 million dollars over the last 10 years on this program, and they’ve been able to use that money in public education, plus, per Education Week magazine, the competition has made the public schools better, so it's gonna be a net benefit for the public schools.
This is an election year and it’s an especially difficult time for Democrats to vote against the teachers' union, so I think that’s what you saw happen today, the vote was based on the politics, not based on the facts or the public policy, so when the governor and I have another year to raise the money, educate people, hopefully elect some more Republicans in the Senate next year, I think next year we’re down on the five-yard line. I'm very confident we’ll punch it across the goal line.
Craig Carper, WCVE News, Capitol Square