A Subsidy and Benefit for the Few

Del. Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach. Photo credit: Virginia Mercury

by Dick Hall-Sizemore

With the advent of another General Assembly session comes the annual school voucher bill. This version is HB 1508, introduced by Delegate Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach).

Touted as a way to enhance “the right of parents to decide the educational opportunity for their child,” the legislation has a tweak that makes it a little better than similar bills in past years. Nevertheless, in the end, the bill would benefit two groups: first, upper-and upper-middle-class parents who wish, and can afford, to send their children to private school; and, second, parents who home school their children.

The legislation would allow parents to establish an educational savings account into which the state would deposit the equivalent of “all applicable then-current annual Standards of Quality per pupil state funds, including the per pupil share of state sales tax funding in basic aid.” (The legislation is not clear whether this amount is the statewide per-pupil amount or the per-pupil amount for the jurisdiction in which the student lives, although it is implied that the per-pupil amount for the jurisdiction is the relevant amount.) Ninety-five percent of that deposit would be available to the parent to use for educational expenses, with the balance being available to pay the costs of administering the system.

Parents could use the funds in the account to cover the costs of tuition, fees, and textbooks at private schools, tutoring services, transportation, computer hardware and software, and any other education-related goods or services. The program would be administered by a third party under contract to the Department of the Treasury.

The bill has one feature that makes it a little more palatable than bills in previous years. To be eligible, a student must have attended public school for at least one semester immediately before the semester or term in which he initially applies for a savings account. An exception to this requirement would be students starting kindergarten or entering first grade for the first time. Therefore, parents whose children were already in private school or being homeschooled would not be able to take advantage of the savings accounts unless they put their children into public school for at least one semester.

Despite what its proponents may claim, it is unlikely that this bill would benefit economically disadvantaged (poverty level or lower-middle-class) students. Davis, the chief patron, estimated that parents could get an average of $6,300 per student. Annual tuition and fees at private schools around Richmond start at over $10,000 and top out at over $30,000, although there are some Christian schools that have tuition below $10,000. These costs do not include the cost of books, supplies, and uniforms. It is doubtful that a family with an annual income of even $75,000 could afford the difference between $6,300 and the tuition and other costs at one of these private schools, whereas a “power-couple” entering their child in the first grade in Collegiate School, for example, would get a subsidy of $6,300.

Parents homeschooling their children for the first time or after a one-semester sojourn in public school would be eligible, on average, for $6,300 per child to be used for books, instructional material, on-line courses, etc. Under the terms of the legislation, a home-schooling parent could conceivably designate himself or herself a “tutor” and get some compensation.

Perversely, the bill could result in less state funding for those school divisions that have a large number of parents who could not afford to send their kids to private school, even if subsidized. For example, if educational savings accounts were established for 100 students in Richmond, Petersburg, or Portsmouth, the affected jurisdiction would lose at least $630,000 in state funding, However, the costs of operating the schools in the jurisdiction would not be affected by that reduction of 100 students.

Lt. Governor Winsome Earle-Sears attended the press conference introducing the bill. As reported by the Virginia Mercury, she explained, “What we are saying as parents is, ‘No more.’ We’re not going to do the same things and expect different results.” It would seem that she, as well as Del. Davis and his Republican co-patrons, do not have a lot of confidence in the Youngkin administration being able to effect much change in public education.

Share this article


(comments below)


(comments below)


42 responses to “A Subsidy and Benefit for the Few”

  1. Dick raises a point worth discussing: that the benefits of the legislation probably would not enable many poor Virginians to send their kids to private school. I would frame the issue different. This school voucher bill by itself would not enable many poor Virginians to send their kids to private school. But it would make it easier for private schools to provide scholarships to poor kids sufficient to allow them to attend.

    Say for purposes of illustration that Christian School X charges tuition of $10,000 a year. And say the voucher bill provides $6,500 in assistance. Let’s say that Christian School X has $100,000 in its budget for scholarships. Instead of paying for 10 scholarships, the school could pay for 30.

    Also consider that Davis’ bill would supplement an existing program that gives tax benefits for scholarship to qualifying poor kids, and the possibility that poor families could make a modest contribution themselves. The combination of all these sources would allow thousands of poor families to send their kids to private school.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      Your points are valid; however, saying that “thousands of poor families” could send their kids to private schools requires quite a leap of faith. Your scenarios depend on several assumption. One of those assumptions is that the number of scholarships available is based on the amount of money available rather than the maximum number of slots allotted.

      You did not comment on my other criticism–this program would amount to a subsidy for parents who can afford private school and who would send their kids to private school even without the program.

      1. Turbocohen Avatar

        Dick, James is 100% correct, and in fact this is how private schools operate now sans vouchers.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    This won’t help the economically disadvantaged kids in several ways:

    1. – not enough money to send the kid to private school

    2. – What private schools are set up to teach ED kids. Most are not like Success Academies in NY.

    3.- If you wanted to know which private schools do the best job of academics or just a decent job, how do we know?

    Is there a way to compare private schools for academic performance ?

    4. Can private schools provide special services for kids with learning disabilities or other disabilities and needs?
    Is there Title 1 available?

    5. How is transportation handled?

    6. How are breakfast and lunch handled?

    There are more.

    I’m not opposed to competitors to the public schools on educating economically disadvantaged, I’m in favor IF they actually will do that and it’s not just a false talking point to gain support.

    1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
      James C. Sherlock

      Glenn Davis’ bill is flawed in my view. If he ever wants it to see the light of day, he will need to make changes like I have recommended. See my discussion with Dick.

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        I agree with part of what you say but I believe if you want “enough” Dems on board, you’ll need more along the lines of what I’m suggesting. The GOP will get their base to support the bill but it will go nowhere without a
        lot more Dem support – and I think that support is actually possible if the GOP makes a serious effort.
        You’ll win folks like me over if it’s done as a serious bill.

    2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      If you are going to provide private schools with tax dollars, then they must follow the same rules as public schools… which would basically make them public schools… Youngkin won’t want that for his kids’ school…

      1. Craig DiSesa Avatar
        Craig DiSesa

        If we make the private schools use the same rules as public schools, then what is the point. Their rules have created this mess.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          they can have different rules to achieve the same end goals.

          They can teach different, use different materials and techniques. Whatever they need to achieve a better outcome.

          That’s the entire premise of the advocates of Charter Schools.

          It’s not about the rules. It’s about transparency of your data that you collect and accountable for the academic performance.

          Again, that’s the premise of Charter schools, they can use a different way to get better results.

          I’m all for it but they gotta prove what they do is better in the end or else why would we want or need them especially if they do worse?

        2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
          Eric the half a troll

          We shouldn’t… unless we give them public funds…

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        Well, not necessarily. There are different ways to go about education and if the stated purpose is to
        do a better job with kids that are not doing well at conventional public schools (the economically disadvantaged), then I’m willing to let them have at it as long as they are as transparent and accountable
        for their mission as public schools are and that especially includes the claim that they can do a better
        job with the economically disadvantaged.

        In fact, if they try to do the same thing as public schools are
        doing and try to educate both the non-economically-disadvantaged in the same classes as the economically disadvantaged, the result will be the same.

        Most teachers will tell you it’s almost an impossible job to try to keep the “high kids”challenged and engaged at the same time you’re trying to help the “low” kids stay on grade level and when push comes to shove,
        teachers are evaluated on how many of their kids pass the SOLs not how many disadvantaged were “helped” while the larger class underperformed also.

        The public schools have an untenable mission in that respect, IMO. The only thing they can really do
        is called “tracking” and that has some big risks if the school is not dedicated to the interests of the
        kids being tracked. If they don’t do the job right, the “tracking” classes become dead ends for those kids”.

  3. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

    If Virginia would stop letting local school boards stop the establishment of charter schools, there might be less pressure to provide state funding for private schools. Wake County, population 1,175,094 (2022 estimate) has 29 charter schools serving just over 16 thousand students.

    Fairfax County, population 1,139,720 (2022 estimate) has how many charter schools?

    1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

      I’m not sure it’s a political party issue. Virginia has a mere 7. Looks to me as if it’s more of an institutional bias against charter schools in Virginia.

      Here’s a link to North Carolina’s list (a bit out of date – 2020). https://www.dpi.nc.gov/media/8934/download

      And the State closes them down when they aren’t producing or following the rules. https://www.dpi.nc.gov/media/15609/open

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        So geeze, you don’t think the schools are a political issue?

        CRT, DEI, Transgender, …

        There are conservative school boards in Virginia.

        Check out Hanover or Spotsylvania or any of those counties in western Va.

        What won’t happen – is winning over the blue counties so the GOP needs to start somewhere where it is actually feasible and build on that.

        This thing about blaming the “blue” school boards is making excuses.

        If Conservatives can go rile up the folks in Loudoun, they sure as heck can get other School Boards on board I would think.

        Get it done. Stop making excuses!

      2. LarrytheG Avatar

        Last time we talked, I went and checked out the NC Charters. It’s hard to find out about them and
        their academics. I have no idea if they are better than public schools or for that matter better with economically disadvantaged kids than public schools. They just seem to be a “choice” without a whole
        lot of info with which to make an informed decision.

        1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

          I’d never argue that every charter school is great – that’s why I linked to the page showing the state closures.

          But if some weren’t doing a better job for students and their parents, there wouldn’t be so many schools and students. 16,000 in Wake County.

          1. LarrytheG Avatar

            RIght. But how do WE know which ones are good and which ones are not if we wanted to choose?

            When we talk about public schools in Virginia, we not only know the SOLs of the school but we also
            know a bunch of other data. Is that kind of data made available for Charters?

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      The problem, of course, is the Virginia constitutional provision giving local school boards authority over the operation of local schools. Even if local school boards were willing to allow charter schools in, they would have ultimate authority over them and most of the national charter management organizations will not operate under those conditions.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Sorry, but the government that governs local governs best. School boards are elected locally by the citizens they are governing. If they do not govern to the liking of those citizens, they will be voted out. I certainly do not want representatives from our state legislature making decisions about our school system in Loudoun. That is why we elect a school board.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Yes I agree. If the local school board wants to support choice/charter schools then they do have that option and they will be held accountable by the folks they serve that elected them.

          This is the opportunity for Conservatives to show that charter/choice works by doing it in the conservative counties that would support that option.

          1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            Dick said: “…they would have ultimate authority over them and most of the national charter management organizations will not operate under those conditions.”

            That tells me all I need to know right there…

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            Perhaps Dick mispoke? But yes , if the Charter Management folks won’t agree to local governance and
            want autonomy instead, hmmmm… not exactly transparent and accountable. “Give us our money and go away”.

          3. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
            Dick Hall-Sizemore

            They can be held accountable for their results through contracts.

    3. Eric the half a troll Avatar
      Eric the half a troll

      How does Wake County’s public school system perform in comparison to Fairfax…?

      1. LarrytheG Avatar

        Excellent question!

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          this is good! thanks!

          Are there any similar reports for the Charter schools?

          what determines which ones close?

          1. f/k/a_tmtfairfax Avatar

            Each public and charter school receive the very same report card on performance from the State. I haven’t found a website that combines just charter schools.

            There are statutes and regulations with which charter schools must comply. Schools must report data and are monitored by the State. I’m not sure what triggers a shutdown. I did see that both charter and public schools are listed as not in full compliance with requirements.

          2. LarrytheG Avatar

            I appreciate you providing the info you are finding. Thanks.

        2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
          Eric the half a troll

          I very quickly looked at this one easy stat – SATs. Wake County average is 1179 while Fairfax County is 1218. Clearly other stats are relevant but it may help explain why there is not a huge push from the electorate for Charters in Fairfax.

          1. Using SAT scores to measure student knowledge and achievement is not equitable…

          2. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            True that. I just don’t have the time or energy to dig deeper.

  4. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    Let’s get real. If “poor” people may not benefit, then do nothing? What if “rich” people are harmed, which most redistribution schemes are aimed against, although the IRS historically goes after the “poor” and “middle” because they are easier marks, but I digress.
    Thales Academy, right here in the West End, charges $5,300. I suspect every single public school per child spending is more. The monopoly/oligopoly does not produce results worth the money. I doubt UVA does, and certainly UofR doesn’t.

  5. James C. Sherlock Avatar
    James C. Sherlock

    Dick, I share your criticisms of this particular bill relative to poor children, and I oppose it for that reason. I do not wish to drain public education funds for alternatives until we take care of poor children first.

    That is my personal line in the sand.

    But neither you nor I shares the disdain of many towards any solutions that offer true choices.

    Good charter schools. One choice that we absolutely know works for poor kids is charter schools run by successful charter management organizations.

    Arizona. In 2020, Arizona had 560 charter schools serving 232,000 students, more than 20% of the public school students in the state. Virginia, famously, has seven.

    Arizona’s new law. Also promising are some of the provisions of the new Arizona law on “Empowerment Scholarships”. https://www.azed.gov/esa/eligibility-requirements.

    “An Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) is an account administered by the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) and funded by state tax dollars to provide options for the education of qualified students in Arizona. ESA funds do not constitute taxable income to the parent of the qualified student.”

    “The ESA program allows parents of qualified students to utilize public monies to purchase educational services from private schools, education providers, and/or vendors. Eligible students receive 90% of the State aid1 that would have gone to the student’s school district or charter school had the student remained enrolled in the public school system.:

    I particularly like that they rate their public schools from A-F, and to qualify a kid under the “bad school” category the kid needs to be in the zone for a D or and F school.

    Other than that qualification, Arizona qualifies kids with disabilities, kids of active duty military parents or a military parent killed in the line of duty, kids on indian reservations, wards of the court, a sibling of any of those qualifying students and previous Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) recipients.

    Arizona excludes homeschoolers. I agree with that. Homeschooling is a valid choice, but not one that requires tax money.

    1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      I, too, would like to see good charter schools. I don’t think they could easily be established in Virginia under the current constitutional provisions for public education. I wonder why, if Governor Youngkin were such a strong supporter of charter as he seemed to be, he has not proposed an amendment to the state constitution to authorize their establishment.

      1. James C. Sherlock Avatar
        James C. Sherlock

        I recommended in writing to Glenn Davis that he make modifications similar to those in Arizona to his bill and pair it with the constitutional amendment we support. I told him that those changes to emphasize targeting better options for poor kids would give his bill at lease some chance in the Senate. Joe Morrissey might even co-sponsor it.

  6. Nancy Naive Avatar
    Nancy Naive

    So, like a Health Savings Account (HSA), the State creates this account, let’s call it an ESA, into which it dumps $6300 annually per K-12 student. Parents can then withdraw that money for education expenses during the year.

    I can see VaDeptTax waiving tax, but is it subject to Federal tax? Do they have IRS okay? Sounds like income to me. Heck, even my Va Tax Refund is subject to Federal income Tax.

    Has anyone really thought this out?

    1. Has anyone really thought this out?

      Well, it is a Bill, carefully crafted by lawyers, our elected representatives, and their assistants. And it has been placed before the Virginia General Assembly for its consideration…

      Soooooooo…. No.

    2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
      Dick Hall-Sizemore

      The legislation states that the proceeds from the account do not “constitute state taxable income to the parent.” I have no idea how the IRS would view it for federal income taxes.

      1. Nancy Naive Avatar
        Nancy Naive

        I can guess. Unless there is a IRS provision that allows you to transfer money from the “savings account “ to the provider directly, then you need to account for it as income. Your example of a homeschool parent declaring themselves as a tutor is definitely income. Purchasing supplies would be too. Better “receipt up”.

        If the State wants to create this nightmare, they had better start in Congress, and have them create a 529-like program first.

        1. LarrytheG Avatar

          Perhaps, they will allow it as a deduction on the State like they do with some other state deductions.

  7. Craig DiSesa Avatar
    Craig DiSesa

    The question of marginalized communities comes up all the time. That is why we are working with many in those communities to ensure parents/guardians are aware of this program and will help them navigate the application process. We are presently drafting a substitute that will make certain this happens.

    Have any of you on this comment chain recently met with people from those marginalized communities? Or have any of you spoken with any former RPS school board members? Or have you spoken with present and former leaders of state NAACP chapters? I have! And they all know one thing, our public schools are failing families across the Commonwealth and they want change.

    They know that spending more money on public schools fits the definition of insanity. They know we don’t have a funding problem, we have an appropriations problem. They all know unless we offer an alternative to families, especially in the marginalized communities, children will end up on the streets and many will die. I have seen it personally. When you experience the death of a young person because they couldn’t receive a good education, it breaks your heart!

    My recommendation is to stop picking at a viable solution because it isn’t perfect and help us provide for these families.

    As for the performance of programs like ESAs I suggest you actually look at the evidence. There are volumes of data across the country that demonstrate these type of programs work for marginalized communities. Florida leads the country with 160,000 students using some form of school choice. Their public schools have consistently improved over the past 20 years, unlike Virginia. Google search – Who Is Afraid of School Choice and WinWin which is a study of 100 gold standard research papers on this issue. They will address all of your concerns.

    A former Secretary of Education in VA told me the other day that when we pass this legislation, it will be provide the largest transformation of Virginia’s education system over the next 50 years. Don’t you want to be part of the solution?

    I invite all of you to join us on this journey. It promises to be very rewarding!

    Craig DiSesa
    Executive Director
    Virginia Education Opportunity Alliance

Leave a Reply