Delegate Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) has introduced a bill to create education savings accounts (ESAs) for parents that would receive a portion of state education funds; the money-follows-the-student bill is in line with long-sought Republican education goals.
“This is about where our children should go to school,” Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears said at a Thursday press conference.
“If we want the private school, it will be the private school. If we want the public school, it will be the public school. If we want to home school, we will home school. But you know what it’s not going to be anymore? The government is not going to tell us that that’s the school, that’s the only school, and unless you’re rich, then that’s it, and you have no other option,” Earle-Sears said according to Richmond Times-Dispatch video.
HB 1508 would allow parents to apply for an ESA for their child; the account would receive just under 25 percent of the Virginia Standards of Quality per-pupil funding.
To be eligible for the program, students would have to be eligible to enroll in public school and have been enrolled in public school in the previous semester. That generated some consternation at a Thursday press conference when an official from a Richmond-area private school, there to support the legislation, found out that students already in private school wouldn’t qualify for an ESA, according to WRIC.
At a May 2022 retreat for Virginia Republicans, panelists told attendees that a top goal was to find ways to get tax money set aside for education to follow students even if they aren’t part of the public school system. Panelists pitched that as a way to improve education in both private and public schools through competition.
At the same time, panelists acknowledged messaging difficulty caused by the early history of school choice in Virginia, which was part of an effort to give white children options outside of desegregated schools.
Democrats are skeptical of school choice initiatives, citing concerns that they risk taking funds from needy inner-city schools and giving them to private schools.
Social media users highlighted similar concerns after Davis and Earle-Sears announced the legislation.
“To translate: what they’re proposing is to defund public schools,” Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) tweeted.
The bill will have to pass out of the Democrat-controlled Senate Education and Health Committee, where it is likely to be killed or heavily amended. But it’s important as a messaging bill for Republicans to highlight the need to retake a Senate majority in the upcoming election, and comes as Davis, who is the House Education Chair, faces a primary battle against House Appropriations Chair Barry Knight (R-Virginia Beach.)
“Too many students are trapped in schools that are failing them, especially in our historically Black communities,” Davis said in a Wednesday press release from Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears.
“All children should have access to the resources necessary to reach their full potential and it starts with a strong educational foundation. This bill allows parents to choose the educational experience best suited for their child,” Davis said.
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