As in past sessions, several bills seeking to divert public funds towards private education savings accounts have been introduced and heard at the General Assembly. Additionally, a constitutional amendment to usurp local control over the charter school approval process was also introduced. A brief overview of such legislation is listed below.
Currently, there are several variations of the Savings Account proposal, also known as the “Virginia Education Success Account Program:” HB 1508 (Davis), HB 1396 (March), HB 1371 (P. Scott), SB 823 (Chase), SB 1290 (DeSteph), and SB 1191 (Reeves).
These pieces of legislation each establish the Education Savings Account Program, which allows the parent of an individual, who is a resident of Virginia and is eligible to be enrolled in public school, to apply for an account. This account deposits state and local funds from the Department of Education for parents to use to educate children in places other than full-time public schools. Each of these bills has a range of differences such as the definition of a “qualified student,” whether eligible students should be counted in the average daily membership calculations, and if saving accounts can be used for homeschooling, etc. Although different, at the core, each bill diverts funds from local school divisions to give to parents to use at nonpublic education establishments.
According to the Virginia Board of Education, when adjusted for inflation, state direct aid for public schools has fallen by 3.4% since 2009. Local governments have taken on this share of the funding burden, investing more than $4.2 billion beyond what they are required to do so to support K-12 education, yet many localities struggle to raise sufficient revenue to meet the growing needs of students and communities. Until the state restores its share of funding and meets the needs of local school divisions across the Commonwealth, any conversation on diversion of funds is premature.
On January 19, SB 823 (Chase), SB 1290 (DeSteph), and SB 1191 (Reeves) were all heard in the Senate Education and Health Committee’s Public Education Subcommittee. VACo testified in opposition to these bills, which were not recommended by the subcommittee. The bills were subsequently passed by indefinitely by the full committee on January 26 by a vote of 9-6.
In the House, HB 1508 was narrowly reported and referred to House Appropriations by the House Education Committee on a vote of 11-10 on January 25. VACo had previously testified against the bill in subcommittee. On the same day in the House Education Committee’s Early Childhood/Innovation Subcommittee, HB 1371 was taken by for the day while HB 1396 was recommended to be passed by indefinitely on unanimous vote of 8-0. VACo testified in opposition to the bills. It is likely that the remaining House bills will meet a fate similar to their Senate companions.
Additionally, SJ 254 (Obenshain) would amend the Constitution of Virginia to grant to the Board of Education the authority, subject to criteria and conditions as the General Assembly may prescribe, to establish charter schools within the school divisions of the Commonwealth. Currently, this authority rests solely at the local level, which VACo supports. On January 24, VACo spoke in opposition to the measure, which failed to be recommended for reporting from the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee’s Subcommittee #1.
VACo Contact: Jeremy R. Bennett