Monday morning, the House Finance Committee defeated SB 172, a bill that would have made it possible for thousands of low-income families to send their children to private school Pre-K, many of which are faith-based programs. The bill, patroned by Senator Bill Stanley (R-20, Moneta) created a tax credit for donations made to a scholarship fund to pay for private tuition for families who cannot otherwise afford it, but who want a different option for their children. Unfortunately, the bill died on an 11-11 vote, with the public school teachers union and other public education monopoly establishment groups bringing considerable pressure to bear on certain delegates to vote no.

It was a party line vote with three exceptions. Two Republicans – Tim Hugo (R-40, Centreville) and Robert Bloxom, Jr. (R-100, Mappsville) – sided with the union over struggling families, while Democrat Delegate Steve Heretick (D-79, Portsmouth) voted for the bill.

CLICK HERE to watch the committee’s deliberations (then advance the video to 9:00 am to see Senator Stanley propose SB 172).

Compare the testimony: A broad array of accomplished, non-partisan organizations that actually do work in the field spoke in favor of the bill and worked diligently over the last two weeks to find 12 yes votes. On the other side was the Virginia Education Association, which spends considerable money every campaign on behalf of Democrat candidates, as well as the politicized School Boards Association.

The VEA, which has no actual role in Pre-K education – its members are K-12 teachers – much less in private Pre-K schools, made several false charges including the preposterous accusation that private schools discriminate in student enrollment and hiring. That came as news to two witnesses in favor of the bill: James Dyke, former Governor Doug Wilder’s education secretary, who also is African-American, as well as an African-American pastor who runs a Pre-K program in the middle of the most crime ridden sections in the city of Richmond. At its own expense, that school admits students from families who cannot afford its already modest tuition at a heavy discount. In fact, these scholarships can only be used at accredited institutions, which must already adhere to state and federal nondiscrimination laws.

Also in favor of the bill was the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation, which cited the state’s own School Readiness Commission that recommends a program like this; the Virginia Catholic Conference; Jewish school educators; Chris Braunlich of the Thomas Jefferson Institute and former president of the State Board of Education; the Virginia Council for Private Education; as well as The Family Foundation. In addition, this bill won a large bipartisan vote in the Senate, including that chamber’s Democrat leader, Senator Richard Saslaw (D-35, Springfield). Yet House Democrats made it a partisan issue as a payback to its public education monopoly allies.

One of the most puzzling comments came from Delegate Vivian Watts (D-39, Annandale), who incredibly said that while she recognizes there are families who need immediate help, she could not vote for the bill because she wanted universal Pre-K coverage. She, the VEA, and those voting no basically said, “Let’s NOT help thousands of at-risk children now while we can, because it’s not government run, and instead let them slip through the cracks.” 

We thank Senator Stanley and the committee members who voted yes and actively refuted the VEA’s assertions, as well as our coalition partners. Rest assured, this is an issue that's not going away. We will see to it. Parents need more choices in education, not a one-size-fits all approach.