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McDonnell Praises Passage of ‘School Choice’ Bills

March 1, 2012

By Zack Budryk
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Bob McDonnell has praised the House of Delegates for passing two bills aimed at promoting private-school scholarships for low-income and disabled students.

The House this week passed Senate Bill 131 and House Bill 321. The bills would establish a tax credit for individuals or organizations that donate money to provide such scholarships.

McDonnell, who headlined a rally for “school choice” earlier in the General Assembly session, has championed the legislation since its introduction.

“I want to applaud the House of Delegates for today passing an important component of my ‘Opportunity to Learn’ agenda that will greatly expand educational options for Virginia’s children,” McDonnell said Wednesday.

“This legislation will truly spur private-sector investment in education by encouraging individuals and corporations to give to nonprofit organizations that provide scholarships for low-income students or students with disabilities to attend a non-public school.”

McDonnell thanked Delegate Jimmie Massie, R-Richmond, who sponsored the House bill, and the Republican senators who carried the Senate measure – William Stanley of Moneta and Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg.

The Republican governor said he looks forward to signing the legislation.

The House voted 57-40 for SB 131 and 54-37 for the Senate version of HB 321. Republicans generally favored the bills, and Democrats generally opposed them.

Earlier in February, the Senate had deadlocked 20-20 on both bills, but they passed after Republican Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling cast tie-breaking votes.

The final version of the legislation approved by both chambers of the General Assembly would give scholarship donors a tax credit equal to 65 percent of their contribution.

The scholarships must go “to students whose family’s annual household income is not in excess of 300 percent of the current poverty guidelines and certain students with disabilities.” That means a student from a family of four with an annual income of $69,150 would qualify for a scholarship.

The state would cap the amount of credits at $25 million per year.

Like McDonnell, Stanley praised the House’s approval of the bills. He said the legislation would expand educational opportunities for children.

“This bill is an historic beginning in changing the way we educate those who face the greatest academic challenges,” Stanley said Thursday. “This bill will encourage local businesses and individuals to direct their hard-earned dollars to help provide for the educational needs of those who need it most in their own communities.”

Virginia would be the 14th state to implement a scholarship tax credit program.

“This is an important step forward for Virginia families on the road to providing educational options to the families who need them most,” said Betsy DeVos, who chairs the American Federation for Children, which supports school vouchers and scholarship tax credits.

“We applaud legislators for building upon the momentum of last year and continuing to expand school choice.”

Critics of “school choice” legislation say such programs divert money from public education and subsidize religious training as well as other private schools.

Sen. J. Chapman Petersen, D-Fairfax, says the scholarship tax credit program would violate the Virginia Constitution, which forbids “any appropriation of public funds, personal property, or real estate to any church or sectarian society.”

“The purpose behind that [article] in our 1971 constitution is quite clear: We don’t appropriate to private entities; we give the money to public entities,” Petersen said.

How They Voted

Here is how the House voted on HB 321 Income tax, state; educational improvement scholarships tax credits.

Floor: 02/29/12 House: VOTE: ADOPTION (54-Y 37-N)

YEAS – Albo, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Byron, Cline, Cole, Comstock, Cosgrove, Cox, J.A., Cox, M.K., Dudenhefer, Fariss, Farrell, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Helsel, Hodges, Hugo, Iaquinto, Ingram, Jones, Knight, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Marshall, D.W., Massie, May, Merricks, Miller, Minchew, Morris, O’Bannon, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Purkey, Putney, Ramadan, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Scott, E.T., Scott, J.M., Sherwood, Stolle, Tata, Villanueva, Ware, R.L., Watson, Wilt, Mr. Speaker – 54.
NAYS – Alexander, BaCote, Brink, Bulova, Carr, Crockett-Stark, Dance, Edmunds, Filler-Corn, Herring, Hope, Howell, A.T., James, Joannou, Johnson, Keam, Kilgore, Kory, Landes, Lewis, Lopez, McClellan, McQuinn, Morefield, Morrissey, O’Quinn, Orrock, Plum, Rust, Sickles, Spruill, Surovell, Torian, Toscano, Ware, O., Watts, Yost – 37.
NOT VOTING – Anderson, Englin, Loupassi, Marshall, R.G., Tyler, Ward, Webert, Wright, Yancey – 9.
Delegate Anderson was recorded as not voting. Intended to vote yea.
Delegate Howell, A.T. was recorded as nay. Intended to vote yea.
Delegate Scott, J.M. was recorded as yea. Intended to vote nay.

Here is how the House voted on SB 131 Income tax, corporate; tax credits for donations to non-profit organizations, etc.

Floor: 02/29/12 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (57-Y 40-N)
YEAS – Albo, Anderson, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Byron, Cline, Cole, Comstock, Cosgrove, Cox, J.A., Cox, M.K., Dudenhefer, Fariss, Farrell, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Helsel, Hodges, Howell, A.T., Hugo, Iaquinto, Ingram, Jones, Knight, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, May, Merricks, Miller, Minchew, Morris, O’Bannon, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Purkey, Putney, Ramadan, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Scott, E.T., Sherwood, Stolle, Tata, Villanueva, Ware, R.L., Watson, Wilt, Mr. Speaker – 57.
NAYS – Alexander, BaCote, Brink, Bulova, Carr, Crockett-Stark, Dance, Edmunds, Filler-Corn, Herring, Hope, James, Joannou, Johnson, Keam, Kilgore, Kory, Landes, Lewis, Lopez, McClellan, McQuinn, Morefield, Morrissey, O’Quinn, Orrock, Plum, Rust, Scott, J.M., Sickles, Spruill, Surovell, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Ware, O., Watts, Wright, Yost – 40.
NOT VOTING – Englin, Webert, Yancey – 3.

This CNS article was published by news organizations that include: The Catholic Herald and EmporiaNews.com.