Education Savings Account Bills Fail in Virginia House and Senate
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None of the four bills proposed by Republican state legislators in Virginia this year to allow parents to use state education funds for non-public educational opportunities were successful in passing through the General Assembly.
One bill, sponsored by State Senator Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, was defeated in the Democrat-controlled Senate. Two other bills, carried by Delegates Phillip Scott, R-Spotsylvania, and Marie March, R-Floyd, failed to advance in Republican-controlled House Education subcommittees.
The most promising bill, House Bill 1508 sponsored by Delegate Glenn Davis, R-Virginia Beach, initially received approval from the House Education Committee, which Davis chairs. However, it faced challenges later in the legislative process.
This bill, which garnered support from several Republicans, including Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears, aimed to establish the Virginia Education Success Account Program. The program would have allowed parents to create a savings account funded with state dollars, which could be utilized to cover educational expenses at private elementary or secondary schools in Virginia. These funds could have been allocated for expenses such as tuition, deposits, fees, and textbooks.
According to Davis, an average of $6,303.25 per student could have been available through the program. The eligibility would have been limited to students previously enrolled in public schools or those entering kindergarten or first grade.
Davis stated that one-third of out-of-state funding designated for students would have been directed towards this program.
When the bill reached the House Appropriations Committee, Davis fell short of the necessary votes for it to pass. He agreed to send it back to the Education Committee, hoping to expedite the remaining approval processes. However, he mentioned that the committee missed the opportunity to include a delayed enactment clause due to the timing.
As the deadline for the House to consider its bills passed on Tuesday, Davis’s legislation effectively expired due to inaction.
"This year, we’ve witnessed the largest and most diverse grassroots effort for education savings account legislation that I have ever seen," said Davis. "I am incredibly grateful for the support and testimonies, which have had a significant impact. I wish that these testimonies could have been presented to the Senate Education Committee, and I anticipate that they will be next year."
Earle-Sears expressed disappointment regarding the bill’s failure but affirmed the ongoing commitment to advocate for improved education opportunities, including the ESA, for all students, regardless of their location.
The education savings account bills this year were part of a broader Republican initiative to strengthen and expand parental rights in response to the increasing tensions between Virginia parents and school boards on issues such as school reopenings, mask mandates, curriculum decisions, and transparency concerns.
The opposition from Democrats, including Davis’s bill, stemmed from concerns that these bills would divert funds away from public schools.
Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, remarked, "This signifies that there are sensible Republicans on the House Appropriations Committee who comprehend the importance of supporting public schools rather than defunding them."
Similar bills promoting educational savings accounts were passed by Republicans in 2016 and 2017 but were vetoed by former Democratic Governors Terry McAuliffe and Ralph Northam, who cited significant constitutional concerns.
Rachel Adams, the director of external affairs for Americans for Prosperity Virginia, a libertarian conservative advocacy group, expressed their intention to continue educating lawmakers on the advantages of educational savings accounts. She emphasized the importance of ensuring that these accounts do not harm public schools and confirmed their plans to return next year.
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