Henrico County VA

McDonnell, Cuccinelli call for ‘School choice’

Gov. Bob McDonnell, Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli and other Republican officials called for more “school choice,” including helping low-income students attend private schools, at a rally at Capitol Square on Tuesday.

They were joined by several hundred students from Richmond-area private schools and other school choice supporters.

The rally was organized by the Family Foundation of Virginia, a nonprofit group that espouses conservative principles and religious values. The rally was held to support two bills before the General Assembly:

• House Bill 321, sponsored by Delegate Jimmie Massie, R-Henrico. It would give tax credits to corporations for making donations to nonprofits that provide private school scholarships for low-income students. Massie’s bill would cap the total credits at $25 million a year. It is awaiting a hearing by the House Finance Committee.

• Senate Bill 241, sponsored by Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Harrisonburg. It would provide the same tax credit, but with the annual cap of $50 million. His bill is awaiting action by the Senate Finance Committee.

McDonnell called the legislation “a very simple and prudent step forward to give effective choice in Virginia.”

He said similar tax credit programs have been successful in other states, such as Florida, Pennsylvania and Arizona.

“Having traveled a lot, around the country and around the world, there are a lot of other states and a lot of other countries that are working really hard to improve their schools, to give young people greater educations and give parents more choices,” McDonnell said.

“If we’re going to continue to be an international leader in things like science and technology, we’ve got to continue to have greater choices and more quality in our schools.”

Cuccinelli echoed McDonnell’s sentiments. He said the government should empower parents.

“Let’s put the people whose moral responsibility it is to raise children in control of their children’s education, and that’s
parents,” Cuccinelli told the crowd.

The attorney general also used his time to endorse HB 947, sponsored by Delegate Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville. It would allow home-schooled students to participate in interscholastic activities at public schools. The measure is sometimes called the “Tim Tebow bill,” after the NFL quarterback who, as a home-schooler in Florida, was allowed
to play football for a local high school.

“That’s a bill I hope you will mention to your legislators today,” Cuccinelli said. “Homeschoolers have always had some tough sledding here. That’s something we should be looking to advance.”

The House is scheduled to vote on HB 947 on Wednesday.

Another speaker at the rally was Melvin Adams, president of a conservative religious nonprofit called Renew a Nation. He said school choice is a religious issue.

“It is the right thing to do because it will give greater opportunities to families who want a faith-based education for their
children – something that every child should have access to,” Adams said. “We are committed to the idea of offering every child a Christian worldview.”

The closing speaker, Dr. Alberta Wilson, compared the current educational system to the schoolyard rhyme “eenie, meenie, minie, moe” before a game of tag. “If, by chance, you live in a good school district, then your child could have that quality education,” said Wilson, the chief executive officer of Faith First, a Philadelphia-based nonprofit that provides scholarships to Christian schools.

“We are here because we want to declare, loud and clear, that we will no longer embrace an educational system that sings ‘eenie, meenie, minie, moe’ and plays the game of chance with our children. We demand school choice, not school chance.”

Victoria Cobb, president of the Family Foundation, said school choice legislation would help low-income families.

“School choice exists for the wealthy. They can put their kid in the right private school; they can move into the right school system,” Cobb said. “But for those that can’t afford it, the only school is the choice that’s given to them by the state. So if that choice isn't a fit for them, for whatever reason, we need to give them options.”

Critics of school choice say such policies undermine public schools. They have likened the tax credits to a voucher system for students to attend private schools. They say these programs drain resources from public schools, which cannot pick and choose which students to educate.

State budget analysts said up to 14,600 scholarships could be offered under Obenshain’s bill and half that many under Massie’s, if businesses donating the scholarships claimed the maximum tax credits allowed.

Under the legislation, the scholarships would go to students eligible for free and reduced-price lunches under federal income guidelines.
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