Should Virginia give tax credits for donations to scholarship funds for private schools?
Tax credits pull more money out of public schools
Yost is a member of the House of Delegates representing the 12th District.
As a rural legislator, I see the importance that schools play in our communities. These institutions provide not merely an educational experience but also serve as centers of community activity during football games, basketball games, track meets, academic competitions and, most recently, graduations.
Before I continue, I am not against the principle of school choice. I believe that parents should have the option to choose where their child attends school, whether that is at home, in public schools, charter schools or private schools. However, as a representative of the 12th District, it is my responsibility to do what I think is in the best interest of my constituents.
During the 2012 General Assembly session, we considered numerous public policy proposals aimed at providing reforms to Virginia’s educational system, most notably House Bill 321 and Senate Bill 131. These bills establish a tax credit for corporations making donations that provide education improvement scholarships to students to attend nonpublic schools.
While this is certainly a laudable endeavor, in the end it only continues to shift money away from core functions of government and adds another tax credit to Virginia’s already cluttered books, two of the main reasons I opposed passage of the legislation.
First, the proposed tax credit has a spending cap of $25 million. Although we saw an almost $600 million increase in public education funding this year, this increase goes only part of the way to restoring funding to the 2007 levels before the recession. But it is not only the public education system that is struggling; an aging transportation infrastructure, struggling public safety agencies or protections for our state’s most vulnerable would all be better served by these monies.
Secondly, a November 2011 publication by the Joint Legislative Audit Review Commission reported that Virginia has enacted more than 70 tax credits that aim to promote economic development, resource preservation and other activities that are deemed desirable. These credits have a combined cost to the commonwealth of nearly $3 billion. While tax credits are intended to promote a specific activity, it is possible to be fiscally irresponsible with tax credits, and until this past session, Virginia had no laws on the books to provide sunset dates and periodic reviews to identify effective tax credits and improve or eliminate ineffective ones.
In closing, the fiscal impact statement provided by the Department of Taxation noted, “To the extent that this legislation is successful, it will result in future funding increases being less for public education than would otherwise be the case.” Now is not the time to be providing taxpayer-funded subsidies for private school tuition when approximately 94.8 percent of Virginia’s children attend a public school.
School choice tax credits empower parents
Stanley, of Franklin County, serves in the Virginia Senate.
The most basic fundamental freedom that parents in Virginia possess is the power to determine how their children are educated. This right is based in the belief that parents know what’s best for their children and will always want what is best; consequently, parents should be empowered to make decisions on the type of education their child will receive.
A child’s educational opportunities should be determined by needs and abilities, and not by zip code. Parents must have all options at their disposal, regardless of their economic status.
My school choice bill ensures parents of all economic stations will have these options available to them. Senate Bill 131 empowers low-income and needy families with school choice for their children by establishing a K-12 scholarship program funded by private industry and individuals.
The school choice law encourages private contributions from both businesses and individuals to approved not-for-profit scholarship organizations, giving business and individual taxpayers limited credits against their Virginia income taxes. The eligible scholarship foundations that receive these donations must use the donated money to provide scholarships to qualified families to pay for the yearly private-school tuition for qualified low-income, at-risk or disabled students. The eligible donated amount will provide $25 million in scholarships to eligible students per year.
Under this new law, nearly 500,000 low-income, at-risk and disabled children will be eligible to receive a scholarship. This program will save the state significant tax dollars by saving the full yearly amount that it would otherwise spend on each student who takes advantage of the private school scholarship, without harm to local government revenues that are allocated for public education. Moreover, similar scholarship programs in other states have been extremely successful, and have withstood legal challenges on constitutional grounds. Despite what the opponents say, it poses no harm to public schools; frankly, the annual maximum $25 million tax credit is modest in comparison to what the state pays in public education. Providing school choice for all Virginia parents will make our public schools better, more competitive and, in the end, stronger.
We need to think outside the box and employ innovative teaching and educational methods. Because the promise of an education is a core service of state government, it is incumbent upon us to do all that we can to improve our education system, as well as to provide every student with a level playing field in providing high quality educational choices that will give the student the best chance to succeed without regard to economic status.
It is imperative that we have a vibrant workforce that is skilled and educated. We need to provide the educational platforms for our workforce that will foster the future economic prosperity of our region. Our children are that future workforce.