Monday, February 26, 2018

Voucher Expansion Dies

Today in House Finance, Senator Stanley's bill that would expand Virginia's back-door voucher program died when two Republicans broke with their caucus to kill the bill. Delegates Hugo and Bloxom, both of whom have consistently voted 100% with the VEA, voted against reporting the bill and the bill died. The same committee killed the House version of this bill earlier in session.

This bill would expand Virginia's Education Improvement Tuition Tax Credit program to include pre-school students who are not enrolled in pre-school or who are enrolled in private pre-school. This program allows individuals or corporations to make a donation to a scholarship program that provides money to students to attend private or religious schools. These donations come with huge tax breaks and credits. The bill  is a back door voucher bill. It offers a triple dip into our tax code by 1. allowing individuals or corporations to receive a very substantial state tax credit for the donation, 2. to claim the charitable donation on their state taxable income, and 3. to claim the charitable donation on their Federal income tax return as well. No matter how you try to slice it, when you give away tax credits, you loose revenue. So these credits will result in fewer dollars to invest in our public schools.

Also interesting in this bill is the position of the proponents who argue that these scholarships are designed to help families who live in poverty and to lift these students out of their circumstances and offer up money to pay for high-quality preschool. This bill, however, is designed for families who live at 300% of the poverty line, or $74,000. The scholarships also do not cover the costs of any high-quality preschool program, and most of the scholarships go to religious schools. So state money for "poor" families to send their child to religious schools. As The Washington Post reported last year, these types of programs are welfare for the middle class and a bail out for religious schools.

So we could lose up to $25 million of state money that would find it's way to private and religious schools via families that make $74,000 a year. How about we take that $25 million and make real investments in programs to expand real opportunities for our most at-risk students. Localities would love to expand their Virginia Preschool Initiative (VPI) slots, but can't because of the requirement of the local match to every state dollar. How about Virginia sends state money to the localities, without the required local match, to expand VPI. How about we use that $25 million to develop grants for our local school divisions that are implementing innovative programs to really target school readiness programs for our 4 year olds? There are so many more things we could do then offer tax credits to send kids to religious schools. Virginia can and must do better. 

I am wrapping up today with a report from the Senate floor. Sometimes you hear things from our elected officials that you have to make sure you heard correctly. It's important for me to share with you what some of our elected officials actually think about education. Today's floor debate was around a bill on dual language teachers. Senator Black asked to be recognized from the floor. His floor speeches are usually quite something and often lead you to scratch your head. So today Senator Black told the story of when he was in school and his story really shows how little he believes in the need for good instruction.

He told the story of the "Cubans" who were flocking to his neighborhood when he was in school. They would come to school and not get any instruction in English language; they would just sit silently in class and they were fine.  Day in day out, just sitting and sitting. And then, like magic, he described what would happen at the 6 month mark, "We'd come in one day and they could just speak English, they just picked it up." Pouf!! No instruction and they could speak English. It was that simple. Call it magic, call it a miracle, but that's honestly how Senator Black feels about teaching our English Language Learners.

So while Senator Black believes in magic when it comes to language acquisition, the bill that will support our dual language teachers with their ability to implement real instruction, passed. No magic needed!

And, yes, Senator Black voted against he bill.