Va. governor vetoes school choice bills

Gov. Terry McAuliffe

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a trio of school choice bills this week —including one establishing education savings accounts (ESAs) for students with special needs.

The vetoes came just a month after McAuliffe vetoed a pair of bills allowing home education students to participate in public school sports.

The education savings accounts could have been the sixth such program nationwide, the first approved by a Democratic governor, and the second private school choice program in Virginia. (The commonwealth offers a small tax credit scholarship program for low-to moderate-income students. That program launched in 2013.)

The governor provided three reasons for the veto of the education savings account legislation (House Bill 389).

First, he argued the program would violate the state’s constitution, which restricts public funding of schools that aren’t “exclusively controlled by the State or some political subdivision thereof” and bans funding of “sectarian” institutions. It’s not exactly clear how those prohibitions might affect ESAs, which are controlled by parents and can be spent on a host of educational expenses such as therapies, tutors and textbooks, as well as tuition at sectarian and nonsectarian private education or even classes and extracurricular activities at a local public school.

Second, McAuliffe argued the creation of ESAs “diverts much-needed resources away from public schools,” which would still have to pay for teachers, buses and other expenses. This assumes that all costs in education are fixed. As a banker, businessman and investor, McAuliffe should know that schools have a mix of fixed and variable costs.

Finally, the governor claimed the scholarship funding would “codify inequity” because the scholarship amount would have varied from district to district. ESA funding was based on the state’s already codified school district funding scheme. If funding equity were the main concern, the governor could encourage lawmakers to fund ESAs based on a statewide average.

The other bills McAuliffe vetoed would have created a statewide public virtual school and allowed students to transfer out of the 12 lowest-performing public schools identified by the state’s department of education.

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BY Patrick R. Gibbons

Patrick Gibbons is public affairs manager at Step Up for Students and a research fellow for the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice. A former teacher, he lived in Las Vegas, Nev., for five years, where he worked as an education writer and researcher. He can be reached at (813) 498.1991 or emailed at Follow Patrick on Twitter: at @PatrickRGibbons and @redefinEDonline.


Woo Hoo! As a parent, a PTA dad and a VERY STRONG supporter of our PUBLIC schools, I’m encouraged and invigorated by this good news.

Look, Terry McAuliffe is as mainstream/establishment/Clinton-Obama-Corporate Democrat as you can get. For HIM to come out and take this action shows at least two things:

1) The fight by parents and taxpayers against charters, vouchers and the lavishly funded effort to privatize K-12 public education is gaining ground. More and more parents—particularly middle class, educated ones—now understand the game that so-called “Ed Reformers” A.K.A. Privatizers are playing. (I’m typical; 5 years ago I was clueless even though I had kids in public elementary school; now I’m well-informed, very active, and committed to spreading the word to all other parents and taxpayers about the slick, sleazy and reprehensible game being played by those who mendaciously claim to “care about the children.” (LOL! As if Chris Christie, Ted Cruz and other extremist right-wingers have EVER cared about children other than their own!)

2) The Democrats who once proudly, openly and assertively called themselves “charter advocates” or “pro-reform” or, most revoltingly, “pro-choice” on K-12 education are now recanting, explaining, clarifying and in some cases outright RUNNING from what they now know is a liability of a position—except within far-right, conservative circles OR within the circles of indigent parents who have been politically exploited and sold a fraudulent Bill Of Goods by a well paid cadre of propagandists.

Our PTA meetings five years ago were all about raising money, field trips and other ways to augment what the school’s increasingly smaller budget could do for our children; NOW, our meetings are about lobbying state legislators, organizing demonstrations, putting together an pro-public schools/anti-charter, voucher and privatization film series, starting an “Opt Out” task force—and bringing in a speaker to explain Pearson, Murdoch, Gates, Broad, Walton, and the Amway family and why they are attacking our schools, calling out politicians who can no longer mouth nice-sounding platitudes about education while doing EXACTLY the opposite in office, and much more.

In short, Terry McAuliffe, like both Hillary and now even Bill Clinton, superb politicians all, have a very sensitive nose and finger to sense which way winds are blowing and what scents or stenches are in the air.

Whether they personally agree or not, I understand why you paid shills and propagandists have gone from just whining to now shaking in your “Ed Reform Boots;” yes, it MUST be terrifying to think that your lucrative jobs and “consulting gigs” might come to an abrupt end.

Billionaires get bored. AND they’re not going to let history remember them as the people who threw millions and millions at what will undoubtedly be seen as some bizarre, disjointed, contradictory, cause that ultimately, when the facade was worn away, was shown to be just another attempt to consolidate more power, control and money in the hands of a very small, elite circle that does not, and cannot ever know or admit the concept of “having enough.”

Hey, don’t feel too bad, guys. Ironically, due to the “noble” efforts of people like you, there is now a serious shortage of teachers; lots of jobs are open everywhere, teaching K-12 students. So…if you REALLY care about our kids, and the education they’re getting…how about it? Why not go get your teaching credentials and prove people like me wrong. Go teach these kids you supposedly care so much about. Hell, I’d even admire you if you did so in a private school or in one of those well-funded businesses called charter “schools” like the one run by Eva Moskowitz in NYC, on her ever so modest salary of $600K+++.

So, thank you, Governor McAuliffe. My prediction: within 18 months the only members of the laughingly named “Democrats” for Education Reform will be the ghost of Lester Maddox and that strange millionaire greeting card brat from suburban Colorado. Cheers!

Patrick R. Gibbons

Thanks for the comment “Protective Parent.” For the record, I did teach in Virginia public schools and I support giving parents – especially low-income parents and parents of special needs children – choices to attend any school. I hope one day you’ll learn to support all options for all families, not just those fortunate enough to buy a house zoned for a great school. Thank you for reading.

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