Monday, January 25, 2016

Something Important to Do When Snowed In

Delegate LaRock’s HB389 is probably heading to the Elementary and Secondary Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, and it may be taken up as soon as tomorrow at 10 AM.

Here are the Delegates on the subcommittee, their phone numbers, and email addresses:

Massie, (804) 698-1072,
Cox, (804) 698-1066,
Landes, (804) 698-1025,
Greason, (804) 698-1032,
Knight, (804) 698-1081,
McQuinn, (804) 698-1070,
Lindsey, (804) 698-1090,

A simple call or email urging them  to, “Please vote against HB389” Could make a difference.

Here are VEA’s concerns regarding the bill:

This year’s Parental Choice Education Savings Account bill, HB 389, is much broader than last year’s HB2238.  Last year’s bill was narrowly drawn to students with IEPs, foster children, and military dependents.  This year’s bill is open to all students and will have a much larger, though still indeterminable, fiscal impact.  This bill is detrimental to public education, will lead to inappropriate uses of state funding, and its passage will lead to unnecessary litigation.

Virginia currently ranks 41st in state support for public 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 additional public dollars to fund private education.
Lines 82-89 outline broad allowances for usage of the Standards of Quality (SOQ) funding, but there are no accountability or quality control provisions in the bill.  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 and home schooling accepting SOQ funding, and these schools cannot be construed to be part of an “educational program meeting the prescribed standards of quality.”

The SOQ funds include lottery proceeds.  Article X, Section 7.A. states that the lottery proceeds are “to be expended for the purposes of public education.”  This raises a Constitutional question.
It is clear from Article VIII, Section 10, that public dollars cannot go to sectarian schools.  The provision allowing for funding of sectarian institutions, Article VIII, Section 11, clearly refers to higher education, and there are no Constitutional provisions or case law which support the use of SOQ funds for sectarian schools.

There are no stipulations regarding family income.  The wealthy have derived disproportionate benefit from similar programs in other states.

Allowing the funds to be deposited in Coverdell accounts 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.  This is tuition assistance not available to public school students.

No protection is offered to parents should a “scholarship foundation” go bankrupt.

Localities bear the lion share of the responsibility for administering the disbursement, oversight and auditing of the accounts, but receive no funding.  This is an unfunded mandate.

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.

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?