RICHMOND — The sponsor of a bill that will create tax credits for contributions to private school scholarships wants Gov. Bob McDonnell to make sure the incentive is targeted to students from low-income families.
Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, said he will ask McDonnell to amend the legislation (SB 131) to narrow eligibility for the scholarships to students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches in the state’s public schools. The final version of the bill passed by the General Assembly sets eligibility at 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $69,150 for a family of four.
“That doesn’t work,” Stanley said in an interview on Friday. “Those grants and scholarships can be used as gap scholarships for a kid that’s got 80 percent of his [tuition] paid because his family can pay 80 percent and needs 20 percent. That’s not what this bill was intended to do, so I’m going to ask the governor to make an amendment to that.”
McDonnell will have 30 days to act on the legislation. If he amends the bill, the General Assembly would vote on his recommendation at its April 18 veto session. McDonnell has made the tax credit proposal a centerpiece of an education agenda that has had mixed success in the legislature.
“We have 30 days to review the bill and look forward to discussing specifics with the senator,” McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin said. “We strongly support this bill and its successful implementation.”
Stanley’s bill barely got through the politically-divided Senate last month, thanks to a tie-breaking vote from Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling. Democrats opposed the legislation, arguing that the tax expenditure will drain resources from the state’s general fund, which supports public schools and other programs.
The bill would award tax credits to individuals and corporations to offset 65 percent of a donation to a qualifying scholarship foundation. Scholarship awards would be capped at the state per-pupil funding rate for the student’s home locality. The amount of credits the state would award would be capped at $25 million annually.
The program would take effect in 2014 and would expire in 2017 unless lawmakers lift a sunset provision in the legislation.
The original version of Stanley’s bill limited the scholarship awards to students who would qualify for free and reduced-price lunches in public schools. The income eligibility was expanded when Stanley’s bill was merged with a similar measure sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg.
“I think it’s important, and would be important for our area, for children in lower-income families to be able to go to private school and for parents to be able to make those choices,” Stanley said Friday.
Del. Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico County, who sponsored the House version of the bill, said he was unsure whether he will support Stanley’s recommendation. The original version of Massie’s bill limited scholarship awards to students who qualified for free and reduced-price lunches, but the Senate amended it to mirror Stanley’s bill.
Stanley said he will not ask the governor to change the income eligibility standard for disabled students. Disabled students from families with incomes as high as 400 percent of the poverty level will be eligible for private school scholarships.
– Michael Sluss