Today, in a House Appropriation’s sub-committee, one of the most fascinating — and revealing — debates we’ve seen this session occurred concerning school choice. HB 599, patroned by Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico), creates a tax credit for individuals or corporations that donate to scholarship foundations that in turn give scholarships to students toward private school tuition. HB 599 has ingeniously been crafted in such a way as to ensure that there will be no fiscal impact to the state — something valuable in today’s economy and something that not many tax credits can boast. In addition, local school systems would actually save money as students leave their schools. The intrigue began when the opposition stood to speak. Dick Pulley, a long-time lobbyist representing the Virginia School Board Association, stood up to oppose the bill. As a lobbyist from an allied organization said, Mr. Pulley flexed his organization’s muscle, but failed to supply a coherent argument as to why he opposed the bill. He was forced to admit that the bill was better because there is no fiscal impact so the usual "this will take school books from children"contrivance wouldn’t fly. Left without that, he revealed his organization’s true colors.
After saying a lot of nothing, he finally came out with, "We philosophically oppose these types of bills." Not one to let an argument like that go by without explanation, Delegate Kirk Cox (R-66, Colonial Heights), a public school teacher, asked Mr. Pulley, "Could you explain what you mean by ‘philosophically oppose'?" Mr. Pulley responded:
We have good public schools. We support public schools. We’re going to have a hard time keeping public schools at the level they’re on now if we pass this bill. We support parents making good educational choices for their children, but we’re opposed to having a public policy device that would allow that to happen.
It is difficult to explain the visceral contempt the public education establishment in Richmond has for parents who choose options other than government-run schools. Organizations like the Virginia Education Association, the Virginia School Board Association and the school principals association make it abundantly clear, year after year, that children of families who choose private education or home schooling are inferior to children who attend public schools.
After lengthy debate, HB 599 was recommended for reporting to the full Appropriations Committee on a vote of 5-3. Those voting for the bill include Delegates Cox, Scott Lingamfelter (R-31, Woodbridge), Charles Poindexter (R-9, Glade Hill), Watkins Abbitt (I-59, Appomattox), and Johnny Joannou (D-79, Portsmouth). Those voting against the bill include Delegates Bob Tata (R-85, Virginia Beach), Jim Scott (D-53, Merrifield), and Mayme BaCote (D-95, Newport News). The bill now goes to the full Appropriations Committee (click here to contact members) Friday.