Virginia House Considers Repealing Education Tax Credit

Published February 7, 2020

The Virginia legislature is considering a bill to repeal the state’s education tax credit, which allows taxpayers to receive full or partial state income tax credits when they donate to nonprofit organizations that provide private school scholarships.

House Bill 521, which would repeal the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits (EISTC ) program, was introduced on January 8, the first day of the 2020 legislative session.

The EISTC offers tax credits for individuals or businesses that donate to scholarship foundations funding private school tuition. Administered by the Virginia Department of Education, the EISTC program served about 4,500 students during the 2017-2018 school year.

Nearly 20 states now offer tax-credit scholarships, says Jason Bedrick, director of policy at EdChoice.

“Tax-credit scholarships expand educational opportunities, especially for low-income families,” Bedrick said.

Schools ‘Will Likely Close’

Repeal of the EISTC program would have a devastating impact on numerous schools that currently serve scholarship-assisted students, says Chris Braunlich, president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy and a former Fairfax County School Board member.

“Many of these schools will likely close, resulting in no options for the children,” Braunlich said. “These include a Cristo Rey school, a Nativity Miguel school, and numerous schools operating in high-poverty areas where a quality education is critical for the future of the children and the community.”

‘Options Benefit Everyone’

Although opponents of the program claim it drains money from government schools, students who use the scholarships to move from public schools are saving taxpayers money, Bedrick says.

“The scholarships are worth about $3,200, on average, compared to district school spending of about $12,500 per pupil,” Bedrick said.

In addition to the benefits for scholarship students, school choice helps the students who remain in government schools, Bedrick says.

“Rather than see alternatives to the district system as ‘threatening,’ policymakers should recognize that a wide variety of educational options benefit everyone by empowering families to choose the learning environment that’s the right fit for their kids,” Bedrick said.

‘Vital Resources’ for Kids

The financial assistance offered through EISTC is “critical” for low-income students, says Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference.

“If we do not stop this bill, low-income students and students with disabilities will lose vital resources that give them options for their education,” Caruso said.

“These are children who are exactly where they need to be to learn and thrive, and they deserve to stay there,” Caruso said. “All Virginia families deserve to be able to choose the best educational opportunity for their child, not just those who can afford it.”

Control of the Virginia General Assembly flipped from Republican to Democrat in the November 2019 election, when Democrats won majorities in both the state Senate and the House of Delegates. The change in partisan control brought a different direction in public policy, with the Virginia General Assembly currently considering a variety of bills to restrict gun rights and religious freedom protections previously passed by Republican legislative majorities, in addition to the scholarship program.

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.