Governor Youngkin has an easy choice to make: either slash scholarship funding for low-income students or protect a program that empowers parents. The Virginia legislature surprised just about everyone earlier this month by cutting the state K-12 scholarship program’s budget by more than half. Governor Youngkin must use his budget veto power to restore program funding because low-income students deserve access to strong educational options and Virginia parents deserve education freedom.
The governor recently released a report detailing Virginia’s declining education performance and low academic standards. Apparently, Virginia has the nation’s lowest proficiency standards in reading and mathematics. “Virginia’s student achievement gaps are disturbing and cannot be ignored,” according to Governor Youngkin. Unfortunately Covid-era extended school closures across the state exacerbated existing performance gaps, and left poor students even further behind.
Fortunately the state has a small scholarship tax credit program that helps lower-income Virginia families afford the educational options they desperately need right now. Virginia’s Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits Program provides a 65% tax credit to individuals or businesses who donate to scholarship granting organizations. The scholarships empower students to attend participating private schools. Current law caps the state funding for the program at $25 million per year, but a provision in the budget proposal would reduce that cap to only $12 million per year.
Advocates for school choice and parental rights are very concerned about the cuts to Virginia’s state tax credit scholarship program in the state budget. They are calling for Governor Youngkin to offer an amendment to the state budget and restore the tax credit cap for Virginia’s tax credit scholarship program.
Last week, the co-hosts of WMAL’s O’Connor and Company show discussed both the budget cut and the expectation that Governor Youngkin will restore program funding. “He is about to have a moment of trust here where he needs to step up,” according to Larry O’Connor. “Cutting school choice in this climate when education was THE number one that got Governor Youngkin the victory – he can’t let this happen.”
“We should not lose sight of who this benefits,” IWF’s Patrice Onwuka pointed out during the show. “This benefits kids in failing schools, kids who want a chance, who want a shot. Kids who can do well if they’re given the opportunity and the financial resources to be able to go to a school that helps them to thrive and to succeed.”
The scholarships provide a lifeline for thousands of low-income children across the state. The program has generated far more than $12 million in tax credits already this fiscal year – the Virginia Catholic Conference estimates $15 million. Students already promised scholarships for the upcoming school year will have to be removed from the program if the cap is lowered, and there will be no room for growth. As the scholarship program primarily serves low-income families – families must make less than 300% of the poverty guidelines to qualify (400% for students with disabilities) – the students’ likely will have to leave their current private schools, disrupting their education in an era when students desperately need stability and access to high-quality educational opportunities.
With families clamoring for alternatives to their assigned public schools and low-income students disproportionately harmed by school closures, now is not the time to cut school choice options. The program needs to be improved – it only offers a 65% credit, the average scholarship amounts are small and there is very little communication about it. With more organizations investing in Virginia school choice efforts after Governor Youngkin’s election, there is now an opportunity to improve the tax credit program and possibly expand school choice to offer education savings accounts in Virginia in the future. But if the next legislative session is spent just trying to restore the existing funding, that will be a set back for Virginia families and students.