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March 31, 2016

Flawed Voucher Legislation on Governor’s Desk

Legislation that provides a payment to families when they move their children to private schools or homeschooling from public schools is before the governor, and it contains significant structural problems even after some revisions.

The measure establishing an educational voucher scheme in Virginia narrowly passed the legislature and now awaits action by the governor.

Lawmakers took some steps to make the legislation more palatable, such as narrowing eligibility and delaying the start date. But a major flaw remains in that the voucher program sends taxpayer dollars to private school and homeschool parents whether they need financial assistance or not. Other states with vouchers, such as Indiana, Louisiana, North Carolina, and Wisconsin target their public dollars to families that need it most by requiring that families meet income requirements to be eligible.

Another problem is that the voucher legislation does not allocate money to families in a fair or sensible manner, leading to wildly disparate amounts available for families even in neighboring localities. The amount of public dollars going to families would range from $2,135 to $6,922 a year, depending on the student’s school division. This variation is not based on the financial need of the family or cost of pursuing private education, but on the state’s share of the Standards of Quality (SOQ) payment for that locality. That means, for example, that a family living in Sussex would receive more than twice as much as a family living in Surry even though they might live only a couple miles apart. This is illogical.

The legislation also has no accreditation standards for the private, parochial, or home schools parents choose for their child, or qualification standards for their educators. Other states with voucher laws put in place an approval process or accreditation requirement for the schools to which participating families are allowed to send their child. These requirements are essential to ensure that public dollars are being used to support high-quality educational programs.

Lawmakers amended the bill during the legislative session by narrowing who is eligible to receive the voucher to students with disabilities. They also included a reenactment clause that delays its implementation until after it receives approval from the 2017 legislature. While these amendments limit the impact of the bill by reducing the number of eligible students and delaying implementation, they do not fix the underlying problems.

–Chris Duncombe, Policy Analyst

The Commonwealth Institute

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