Wednesday, January 4, 2012

GA Alert #1: Now Is the Time for Educational Choice

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Victoria Cobb, President

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


GA Alert #1: Now Is the Time for Educational Choice


For years, educational choice has been offered in Virginia … but only to the wealthy who can afford to purchase that choice.  This year, we plan to see that change.


The Family Foundation has worked for years to provide educational freedom to Virginia families but has run up against stumbling blocks in the state Senate.  This year, The Family Foundation’s top priority - two bills (the Senate bill patroned by Senator Mark Obenshain and the House bill patroned by Delegate Jimmie Massie) have been introduced.  Specifically designed to assist low-income students, these bills will provide a tax credit for corporate donations to private scholarship programs. 


These bills have been designed in such a way as to ensure that there will be a positive fiscal impact to the state – something valuable in today’s economy and something that not many tax credits can boast.  Florida’s similar scholarship program is reported by the Florida Office of Program Analysis and Government Accountability to have saved the state $36 million in just one year (FY2008-09). 


Delegate Massie’s and Senator Obenshian’s bills are similar to programs that exist in several states besides Florida, including Pennsylvania and Arizona.  In those states, over 100,000 students are being provided with pathways to success they would not have experienced prior to the educational freedom legislation.  Each of these programs began as smaller efforts, but once law, were extremely successful and have been expanded by bipartisan majorities.  Florida’s program is a prime example, where demand for the program started in 2001 has grown from $50 million to $88 million, providing scholarships for over 33,000 low-income children.


As in past years, we predict the education establishment, like the Virginia Education Association (VEA) and the Virginia School Boards Association, will oppose these bills as being “voucher” schemes that will drain funds from public schools.  Ignoring evidence to the contrary, they continue to hide behind old arguments that lack merit.


The momentum for educational freedom is growing nationwide and that momentum is coming to Virginia because parents and families want more opportunities.  The cookie cutter, one-size-fits-all education model of the past century is simply not adequate for today’s society.  We cannot mass produce successful kids.  We need to have public policies that empower families to choose the best environment that meets their children’s specific needs.  For some, that will be the public schools, but for others, it will be one of the quality private schools available in Virginia.  Families in Virginia are growing weary of being forced to attend schools assigned them based solely on their zip code.  They are growing weary of partisan politics blocking opportunity for their children. 


Due to the November 2011 elections, we have hopes that the new Senate will be friendlier to educational choice.  Four years ago, similar legislation didn’t get a motion in the Senate Finance committee.  Three years ago, only three members voted in favor.  Last year, all six committee Republicans favored the measure and vocally defended it while Democrat leaders had to battle to keep their members in line.  Now, with a conservative majority within the majority party, we expect a greater embrace of this small step toward educational freedom in Virginia.


The time has come.  Now is the time for educational choice in Virginia.

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