House Passes Parental Choice Savings Accounts for Special Needs Students

richmondbeatsqaureBy Sarah Drury
Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The House of Delegates passed a bill on Tuesday to permit the parents of special needs students to obtain state funds that could be used toward private school tuition or home instruction.

Delegates voted 57-42 for the measure, which proponents touted as empowering parental choice but critics saw as a step toward a voucher system.

HB 2238, sponsored by Del. Dave LaRock, R-Loudoun, initially applied to children with disabilities, children in foster care and children of active-duty military personnel. The version that was passed applies only to a student who “is identified as having a disability and is receiving or is eligible to receive services from a school division.”

Under HB 2238, the parents of such students could open a Virginia Parental Choice Education Savings Account. Their local school board then would deposit into the account an amount equal to 90 percent of the state’s portion of the division’s per-pupil expenditure – the cost of educating the child in a public school setting.

This money could be put toward private school tuition, fees, textbooks, college entrance exams, tutoring services or educational therapies.

“While we have excellent public schools in Virginia, they are not always the best option for children with special learning needs or unique challenges. Cost is the biggest factor preventing families from choosing a better option for their child,” LaRock said.

“Education savings accounts give families facing that cost barrier other choices so that they can best meet the educational needs of their children.”

Under the legislation, parents of eligible students would access the money with a debit card. If money remained in the account when the student graduates 12th grade, it could be put toward college. Any funds not used for educational purposes within four years of the child’s high school graduation would be returned to the state.

LaRock’s bill was co-sponsored by 17 fellow delegates and four senators – all of them Republicans. The Virginia Education Coalition, an alliance of conservative activists and organizations, also supported the measure.

Opponents included the Virginia School Board Association and the Virginia Education Association, representing the state’s teachers. They fear that the bill would divert money from public schools to fund private education. Some have likened the bill to an education voucher system.

How They Voted

Here is how the House voted on Feb. 10 on HB 2238 (“Virginia Parental Choice Savings Account; established”).

Floor: 2/10/15 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (57-Y 42-N)

YEAS – Adams, Albo, Anderson, Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Berg, Byron, Cline, Cole, Cox, Davis, DeSteph, Edmunds, Fariss, Farrell, Fowler, Garrett, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Head, Hodges, Ingram, Joannou, Jones, Knight, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, Miller, Minchew, Morefield, Morris, O’Bannon, Orrock, Peace, Pogge, Poindexter, Ramadan, Ransone, Robinson, Scott, Stolle, Taylor, Villanueva, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Mr. Speaker – 57.

NAYS – BaCote, Bloxom, Bulova, Campbell, Carr, Filler-Corn, Futrell, Helsel, Herring, Hester, Hope, James, Keam, Kilgore, Kory, Krupicka, Lindsey, Lopez, Mason, McClellan, McQuinn, Morrissey, Murphy, O’Quinn, Pillion, Plum, Preston, Rasoul, Rush, Rust, Sickles, Simon, Spruill, Sullivan, Surovell, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Watts, Yancey, Yost –42.

NOT VOTING – Hugo – 1.

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