Bringing at least a modicum of school choice and education freedom long has been a goal of reform minded people who realize that the government-run education monopoly is holding back academic achievement. This Tuesday, the Senate Finance Committee has a chance to show its open mindedness and independence from the education establishment when it votes on HB 2314, patroned by Delegate Jimmie Massie's (R-72, Henrico). The bill establishes a tax credit for businesses donating to non-profit organizations providing scholarships to free and reduced lunch students (family of four earning less than $40,793 per year). Despite fierce opposition from the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Education Association, the bill passed the House of Delegates 54-45 this week.
The modesty of this bill is testimony to how tenacious and powerful the Educrat establishment is in Richmond. It will fight to the death anything that hints at cracking its monopoly or reforms it from within. This is no exaggeration. The Educrats even are resisting a bill to provide for more physical education (HB 1644), patroned by Delegate John O'Bannon (R-73, Henrico). (See Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog.)
On the heels of yesterday's well-attended Family Foundation Day at the Capitol and rally focused on school choice, we think there is real momentum to pass HB 2314. It's certainly well passed time, considering the state of public education in certain areas of the state and for certain families that are trapped with no option but to attend an inadequate public school. Similar scholarship programs in Pennsylvania and Florida have been huge successes. Florida's program is a prime example, where demand for a program started in 2001 has grown from $50 million to $88 million, providing scholarships for more than 33,000 low-income children. The bill is designed to avoid the nefarious "negative fiscal impact" to the state. In fact, the fiscal impact will be all positive. Florida's program, for example, saved that state $36 million in the 2008-09 fiscal year alone, according to the Florida Office of Program Analysis and Government Accountability. In Florida and elsewhere, thousands of children have been given opportunities for a better education through scholarships created because funding is available. Despite cries of "taking money from children" in public schools, the scholarship programs in other states have in no way negatively affected public schools. Unfortunately, the Senate Finance Committee has been very hostile to any legislation that provides education freedom to families. Last year, it killed a similar bill by a 9-6 vote — see committee members make outlandish and outrageous comments. In two different polls conducted by, or on behalf of, The Family Foundation or other education freedom supporters over the past three years, large majorities of Virginians have indicated their support for tax credits like the one created in HB 2314.
Certain liberals like to say, "Conservatives want to take us back," although they never specify where. Perhaps it's more a case of liberals holding us back — or stuck in the past — with ideas no longer as effective as once were, and never moving forward with proven reforms.