Thursday, January 14, 2016

Public Money to Private Schools: HB 389

Delegate Dave LaRock has filed another “voucher” bill (HB389) which will pay for private school tuition with public tax dollars.  The bill creates “Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts” into which 90% of the state funding for a student is deposited by the local school division where the student resides.  The parent then uses that funding to pay for “education related expenses.”  The student can attend private sectarian or non-sectarian schools, preschool, a private online learning program, or home school.  The remaining 10% stays with the DOE and the DOE shall contract with a scholarship foundation or financial institution to administer the accounts.

The amount of funding available for students would vary widely between localities.  Students in Lee County would be eligible for $6,922, while an Arlington student would receive only $2,135.

The funds can be used for:

tuition, deposits, fees, or required textbooks at a qualified school; (ii) educational therapies or services for the qualified student from a practitioner or provider, including paraprofessionals or educational aides; (iii) tutoring services; (iv) curriculum; (v) tuition or fees for a private online learning program; (vi) fees for a nationally standardized norm-referenced achievement test, an Advanced Placement examination, or any examination taken to gain admission to an institution of higher education; (vii) tuition, fees, or required textbooks at an eligible institution; (viii) contributions to a Coverdell education savings account established pursuant to 26 U.S.C. § 530 for the benefit of the qualified student, except that funds used for elementary or secondary education expenses shall be for expenses otherwise allowed under this section; (ix) services that are offered on a fee-for-service basis by a public elementary or secondary school or preschool to the public, including classes and extracurricular activities; (x) such insurance, surety bond payments, or fees as may be required for the savings account; (xi) transportation; (xii) computer hardware and software, not to exceed 10 percent of the annual savings account disbursement; and (xiii) consumable educational supplies or any other education-related goods or services, such as Internet access, that are necessary for the provision of the qualified student's education pursuant to § 22.1-254

Allowing the funding to be used for transportation seems a wide open door.  Could these funds be used for a car payment on a car used to transport a student to a private school?

Allowing the funds to be deposited in a Coverdell account opens the door to the parents using Standards of Quality (SOQ) funding to pay for college tuition, not to provide elementary and secondary education, the purpose of SOQ funds. 

In regard to the Standards of Quality (SOQ), the Constitution of Virginia states, “The General Assembly shall determine the manner in which funds are to be provided for the cost of maintaining an educational program meeting the prescribed standards of quality….”  Public schools are required to satisfy accountability provisions – Standards of Learning (SOL) tests and accreditation standards.  This bill requires no accountability for private schools accepting SOQ funding.

Last year’s bill (HB2238) was much narrower.  It was for disabled students only.

The fiscal impact statement for last year’s bill stated:

This legislation will create increased administrative cost to local school divisions. Local divisions are required to accept and process applications, hear appeals, issue renewals, disburse funds, report participation to DOE, collect receipts from parents and analyze the receipts to ensure the expenditures meet program policies, conduct audits, and investigate possible inappropriate uses of funds. School divisions are required to cover any audit costs with existing local funds. The 10 percent retained savings would not be available to offset local administrative expenses related to these tasks. However, school divisions would not transfer the local per pupil SOQ share to the Savings Account and would retain that funding, which could offset any additional administrative costs. The net fiscal impact of the provisions of the bill to school divisions cannot be determined at this time and will vary by school division.

As the affected population increases with this year’s bill (HB389) this local impact will be much larger, but still indeterminable. 

This bill has no provisions regarding the family income.  Poor tax-payers will be subsidizing the private school tuition of millionaires.

Virginia currently ranks 41st in state support for our schools.  Our teacher salary is $6,759 below the national average, and we have an existing educational scholarship/tax credit program which is underutilized.  Now is not the time to use more public dollars to fund private education.

Please contact your Delegate urging opposition to HB389.