New School Choice Programs Now Law in Virginia, New Hampshire

Published June 28, 2012

Virginia and New Hampshire passed into law Wednesday statewide school choice programs funded by businesses’ tax-deductible contributions to nonprofits that in turn pay students’ private school tuition.

Both houses of the New Hampshire legislature overrode Gov. John Lynch’s veto of the bill to pass it into law by a 69 percent supermajority. Gov. Bob McDonnell signed Virginia’s House Bill 321/Senate Bill 131

“Every Virginia student should have the opportunity to get a good education and develop their unique talents,” McDonnell said in a statement. “The legislation signed today enlists the private sector to stretch state dollars further in providing greater educational opportunity to families who would otherwise have a financial barrier.”

The laws are the sixth and seventh statewide private school choice programs signed into law in the past year. Nine other states offer tax-credit scholarships. Scholarships in both states will be available to families at up to 300 percent of the federal poverty line, or earning up to $69,150 per year for a family of four.

Virginia Scholarship Specs
Virginia’s scholarships are also available to disabled students, and will be worth what the state would pay to educate a student in public, which varies by district but is usually near $4,000. The entire program is capped at $25 million in reductions to state tax revenue. In every program passed to date, the deductions have saved state money overall because the lost tax revenue is far less than the amount the state would have spent to public school the participants.

“This has been a decades-long journey, but it doesn’t end now,” said Chris Braunlich, vice president of Virginia’s Thomas Jefferson Institute. “It is critical that we have this program but that we have one that actually works, provides better opportunities for children, and incentivizes the private sector to weigh in and help.

Virginia businesses may deduct 65 percent of their donations to scholarship-granting nonprofits. The nonprofits must put at least 90 percent of the money they receive into scholarships. The legislation goes into effect July 1.

New Hampshire Details
Scholarships New Hampshire nonprofits grant cannot exceed an average of $2,500. Lawmakers passed the law with the greatest margin of approval for any school choice program to date. Homeschool students can receive smaller scholarships.

In the program’s first year, up to 30 percent of the scholarship amount given out can go to students already attending private school. That amount increases in subsequent years, as does the total program if enrollment hits certain targets.

“This is a modest step for the state, but it will make a huge difference in the lives of many children,” said Charles Arlinghaus, president of the Josiah Bartlett Center and a legislative advisor. “Our task going forward is to make sure people know about the opportunities now available to them.”

Image by Gage Skidmore.