Final Virginia budget includes school choice support; advocates want more

(The Center Square) – The final budget for Virginia included full funding for a school choice scholarship program and funding for the creation of laboratory schools, but advocates for education choice are urging the government to do more in the future.

Lawmakers approved two key budget amendments proposed by Gov. Glenn Youngkin, which included full funding for the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits program. The program provides a 65% tax credit for individuals and businesses who donate to scholarships for students to attend private schools and nonpublic preschool programs.

The EISTC program will receive the same level of funding as provided in the previous budget, which is $25 million annually thanks to an amendment from the governor, which removed a provision that would have cut the program funding by more than half. The amendment received unanimous support in the Senate and some bipartisan support in the House.

“Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin stood firm by his commitment to support parental rights in education last week by removing a budget provision that would have gutted the state's tax credit scholarship program,” Corey DeAngelis, the national director of research at the American Federation for Children, told The Center Square.

“The House and Senate both concurred with the Governor's budget amendment, saving the state’s program that empowers thousands of families to choose the education providers that best meet their children's needs,” DeAngelis added. “This is a win for Virginia families – and it should be celebrated – but it's just a start.”

DeAngelis said there is still more the state can do, such as expanding the EISTC tax credit to 100%, rather than 65%, and expanding eligibility for families. He said the state should also support an education savings account program.

“Glenn Youngkin and the Virginia Legislature should not rest until every single family can take their children's education dollars to the education providers of their choosing,” DeAngelis said. “Education funding is meant for educating children, not for protecting a particular institution. We should fund students, not systems.”

Lawmakers also approved a program to create laboratory schools, which will be public schools run by universities, similar to charter schools. Although the original budget deal would have narrowed the scope of the program, the House of Delegates and the Senate approved a budget amendment from the governor to broaden the program. The amendment passed on a party-line vote in the House and barely passed the Senate after one Democrat joined the Republicans to yield a tie vote in the chamber. The tie was broken by Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears who approved the amendment.

Per the amendment, both public and private higher education institutions will be eligible to receive public funds to run lab schools. Democratic leadership had sought to prevent private institutions from running such schools. However, Democrats were able to defeat an amendment that would have diverted funding away from traditional public schools to fund the lab schools. Under the approved language, the traditional public schools will keep their funding, regardless of whether students leave those schools to attend lab schools.

“Full funding of education tax credits and expansion of college partnership lab schools to include possible partnerships with community colleges and private universities opens new opportunities and new innovation for the children of Virginia,” Chris Braunlich, the president of the free-market Thomas Jefferson Institute, told The Center Square “The Governor’s Amendments – and their affirmation by the General Assembly – gives children across the academic and socioeconomic spectrum a better prospect of finding the learning structure that suits them best and better prepares them for life.”

Although House lawmakers passed a bill to establish education savings accounts earlier this year, the plan was halted by Senate Democrats.

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