School Choice Victory!

For years we’ve been saying that school choice is coming to Virginia.  Friday was the day that God chose to help us take the next big step toward that reality – passage of a school choice bill through the state Senate! On Friday after almost an hour of intense debate, SB 131, patroned by Senators Bill Stanley (R-20, Moneta) and Mark Obenshain (R-26, Harrisonburg), and supported by Governor Bob McDonnell, passed the Senate floor!  SB 131 is bill that provides a tax credit for corporate and individual donations to scholarship programs.

In recent years, school choice advocates have watched similar bills progress with glacial speed in the Senate: first the bill wasn’t even heard in committee, the next year it was heard but didn’t receive a motion, then it received a motion but no second, then it received a second but failed to garner a majority, and then this year not only did it report out of committee, but it passed the full Senate.  The Family Foundation was reminded today by one of our pastors of Galatians 6:9 which admonishes us, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give us.”  These words ring true in our hearts today as we remember the years and years we have labored with no results.

Thanks to Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling’s tie breaking vote, SB 131 passed the Senate on a party line 20-20 vote and will continue on to the House.  A similar bill, HB 321, patroned by Delegate Jimmie Massie (R-72, Henrico), passed the House 64-35 earlier this session.  Still, it is premature to call this bill a finished product as many details need to be addressed – we must continue to advocate until the Governor’s signature is on the dotted line.

Tremendous thanks goes to all who spoke in favor of the bill during today’s debate (Senators Stanley, Obenshain, Watkins, Black, Carrico, Stuart, and Garrett to name a few), but a special thank you goes to Senator Walter Stosch (R-12, Glen Allen), chairman of the Senate Finance committee who eloquently defended the bill’s merits today.  Senator Stosch put to rest rumors of the bill requiring state dollars and spoke to the efficacy of the program citing An Achievable Dream, a Newport News school seeking to break the cycle of poverty through a quality education, funded in part through a private donation program.

Other notable comments came from the opposition.  Senator Dick Saslaw (D-35, Springfield), in a characteristically-consistent display of sarcasm, tried to frighten his colleagues with what he perceived as a drawback … the bill’s provisions might be renewed past its 2017 sunset and actually have a lasting impact!  Trying to prove his point that the bill would be a lasting policy change, not one that will actually expire on its sunset, Senator Saslaw promised to “parachute off the building” if the bill isn’t renewed.

Senator John Edwards (D-21, Roanoke) complained that Virginia’s public schools have too high of a teacher-student ratio and thus we should “fully fund” public education prior to considering a school choice tax credit – ironic though as SB 131 could actually serve to decrease the teacher-student ratio as kids are benefited with scholarships to attend private schools.  Senators Chap Petersen (D-34, Fairfax) and Henry Marsh (D-16, Richmond) went so far as to claim school choice tax credits violate the separation of church and state although a reasoned review of the Virginia Constitution proves that point moot.  In the end, all attempts to silence the school choice movement came to a halt as the votes were cast and for the first time in Virginia history, low-income parents were afforded the right to choose the best educational opportunity for their children.

For all of you who contacted your Senator and urged him or her to vote in favor of school choice – thank you.  In fact, Senator John Watkins (R-10, Midlothian) who initially voted against the bill in committee switched his vote after some additional research and consideration this week and voted in favor of the bill today.  Your calls and emails made a difference.  Thank you.