Republican members of the Virginia legislature applaud Gov. Glenn Youngkin's State of the Commonwealth speech during a joint session of the General Assembly in Richmond, Va. on Wednesday Jan. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/John C. Clark) Virginia Legislature
Republican members of the Virginia legislature applaud Gov. Glenn Youngkin's State of the Commonwealth speech during a joint session of the General Assembly in Richmond, Va. on Wednesday Jan. 11, 2023. (AP Photo/John C. Clark)

A special savings account proposed by Virginia Republicans could allow parents to use dollars meant for public schools to aid with private education expenses.

Teachers, policy experts, and conventional wisdom agree: Virginia’s public schools are underfunded.

Despite the need for increased education funding and teacher pay, Republican leaders–including Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears and Delegates Glenn Davis, Michael Webert, Amanda Batten, and A.C. Cordoza—are backing a bill that would divert already-inadequate public funding away from public schools.

House Bill (HB) 1508 would divert a portion of per-pupil state funding into a savings account, which parents could then use to pay for private education expenses. This “Virginia Education Success Account” would give parents funds—taken from public schools—to use toward their child’s tuition, deposits, fees, and required textbooks at any private school in Virginia. 

Public vs. Private

Session has barely begun, but the legislation is already sparking debate. While Sears called the bill an opportunity to “innovate and follow the successful path other states have taken,” Democrats called the measure out for funneling funding away from public education. 

Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, a Glen Allen High School teacher and state legislator, took to Twitter to express frustration over the proposed use of state education dollars. 

“Democrats want to fund public schools and build a strong middle class,” VanValkenburg wrote. “Today [Jan. 5], Republicans introduced a bill to defund public schools and send the money to the wealthy through vouchers. Henrico County and Virginia can’t afford the GOP education plan.”

He wasn’t alone. Sen. Creigh Deeds also addressed the bill, posting: “To translate: what they’re proposing is to defund public schools.”

VanValkenburg retweeted Deeds’ message and added: “Instead tax dollars will go to the wealthy, to unaccountable schools [with] lower standards, and to businesses that pop up with programs of dubious educational value ([because] money can go to more than tuition). Let’s invest in our kids, our communities, and the middle class instead.”

Not a New Idea

While new to Virginia, eight states utilize education savings accounts (ESA) in various ways. Three states that border Virginia—West Virginia, North Carolina, and Tennessee—each have their own version of an ESA.

So what type of financial impact could this plan have on public schools? It appears the specific dollar amount that would be diverted from public education funding per student Virginia students is still in question: The Free Lance Star reported the amount would be around $5,500, while the Virginia Mercury reported that the figure could be closer to $6,300. Regardless of the specific amount, bill sponsor Davis says that a third of state funding appropriated for students would be diverted from public schools into this private school savings program.

Virginia already ranks a sad 41st in the nation on per-pupil spending, according to a 2021 report by The Commonwealth Institute (TCI). 

As the bill moves through the various stages of the General Assembly, we’ll keep you up to date on the GOP’s newest plan to take money from an already-underfunded resource. 

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