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School Vouchers and Tax Credits: 21st Century “Separate But Unequal?” (Part 1)

By Leonard E. Colvin
Chief Reporter
New Journal and Guide

In 2021 when Republican Glenn Youngkin was elected Governor, there were only seven charter schools and few examples of state-funded vouchers for parents to pay for their child to attend a private school.

He supports the expansion of vouchers and tax credits to offer parents more “choice” by giving them dollars from public school division budgets to use to enroll their children in private schools for profit or church-run schools.

There are also charter schools, disguised as public ones, which use the selective private model. Public school divisions in Virginia and elsewhere are facing tighter budgets and fear these “Choice” models.

Democratic lawmakers in the State Senate blocked many of the Republican proposed education “Choice” proposals this year. Public school officials and union activists have fought against the expansion of Youngkin’s “Choice” Agenda.

An attempt to limit an existing voucher program also stalled, due to a budget amendment from Youngkin. One program already existing to support parents in engaging private schools is tuition tax credits.

The Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credits Program allows individuals to receive a tax break for contributing to foundations and private schools to fund tuition scholarships for low- and middle-income students there. More lenient income restrictions exist for students with disabilities.

An article written by Megan Pauly of VPM (Virginia Public Media) News, which was requested and received from the state Department of Taxation shows wealthy individuals have received nearly all of these specific tax credits in recent years.

About 98% of contributions to the program claimed on tax returns during the past six years have been from individuals with six-figure incomes or above; more than one-third were claimed by those earning an annual income of $2 million or more.

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According to the VPM article several private religious schools in the Richmond area — including the largest single benefactor of the tax program, is McMahon Parater Scholarship Foundation, in Richmond which last year received $3.2 million in scholarships for 1210 students.

In Hampton Roads, a school named the Park Place Academy, a small church-based school, received $174,123.30 for 77 scholarships. It is one of few schools where the study body is mostly African American.

It no longer sits in Norfolk’s Park Place. It was moved to a site in a section of Norfolk near Granby High School, according to its website.

The amount claimed in tuition scholarship tax credits increased by nearly 250% during the past 6 years from $3.6 million to $12.1 million in 2021, according to the article.

The credit is worth 65% of the monetary value of the contribution; in 2019 it allowed for a credit on both state and federal taxes.

A statement by a Youngkin education official said the tax credit program “provides our poorest families in the Commonwealth to have the opportunity to make sure that they’re choosing the environment, the learning an environment that serves their students the best.”

According to the article, the Family Foundation, a conservative lobbying group, supported Youngkin’s proposal.

It urged residents to voice their support, stating in an email and newsletter “the number of families searching for alternatives to Virginia’s public school system because of radical ‘transgender’ policies and the ‘woke’ curriculum or teaching of Critical Race Theory (CRT) that undermines their family values continues to rise.”

CRT is not taught in any Virginia Public School.

Supporters of public-school education fear the Conservative U.S. Supreme Court will expand the use of such tax programs and approve the direct use of public funds for vouchers to church and privately run schools in the future.

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If Virginia Republicans reclaim the State Senate in 2023, they could join the House, now controlled by the GOP and Youngkin to make good on political promises to expand tax credits and vouchers that “resourced parents” not poor ones could use to enroll their children in private and church-run schools.

Opponents of these ideas believe to cut costs the plan would enable private schools to be selective and would not accept academically marginal minority students or pupils with emotional or physical disabilities.

“The fact that you’re getting a tax credit means this really shouldn’t be characterized as a donation,” said Jessica Levin, a senior attorney with the Education Law Center quoted in the VPM article. “Individuals and corporations are taking money that they would otherwise owe in taxes, and they’re being allowed to give it to a voucher-granting organization and get a tax credit.”

Levin said these tax credit programs, though different than other voucher programs are “just a little bit more of a roundabout way to divert what should be public dollars for public schools instead to private education expenses” and fuel school segregation.

Norfolk, Portsmouth, Franklin, and Richmond have three of the largest “economic and racially diverse school divisions in Hampton Roads.

Upper middle incomes, Black and White, are positioned better financially to walk away from the public-school option in favor of private education. This could lead to the creation of a new era of “separate but unequal”, a public educational system serving mostly poor and minority children.

Such efforts to undermine public schools and “racial diversification” were a strategy that Virginia locales (supported by the state) used during the “Massive Resistance” Desegregation era in the 50s and 60s.

A whole new book of tax codes and other strategies were designed by southern states including Virginia.

Because of these anti- desegregation schemes, compliance and implementation of Brown vs.The Board of Education which outlawed separate schools was resisted in many southern locales.

Among the most notable examples in Virginia were Prince Edward County and Norfolk.

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To Be Continued…

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