It’s a question we’ve been asked almost since the historic legislation providing a tax credit for donations to scholarship programs passed the General Assembly earlier this year. After decades of working to bring educational freedom to Virginia, this new program has generated a lot of interest and a lot of questions.
Today, on the 100th anniversary of the birth of school choice advocate Milton Friedman, the Thomas Jefferson Institute hosted a meeting to begin informing organizations of the details of how to set up an eligible scholarship program. The new law requires the Department of Education to create guidelines for the scholarship programs and schools seeking to participate, something the Department is working on, but until those guidelines are released, there are many more questions than answers.
Presenters included a legal expert who advised on how to set up a non-profit organization, and leaders from two of the most successful scholarship programs in other states, Pennsylvania and Florida. Those states have had scholarship tax credit programs for several years and have learned valuable lessons over the years that Virginia can benefit from as we work to implement the new law.
Because the scholarship programs will be under a microscope by those opposed to any kind of education freedom, particularly the education establishment and its friends in the media, it is critical that the organizations that provide the scholarships are set up completely properly, legally and with the highest ethical standards. The law has a five year sunset, meaning that the program must prove itself in a short period of time — something that we are completely confident it will do based on the incredible success of other states. In fact, nearly every similar program has expanded since being implemented.
Here’s what we do know: Beginning January 1, 2013, individuals and corporations can begin donating to scholarship organizations for scholarships to be distributed for the 2013-2014 school year. The 65 percent tax credit for donors will be applied to their 2013 tax returns. The scholarships will be available to families that have incomes up to 300 percent of the poverty line (approximately $69,000 for a family of four) to be used at private schools. Only students who are enrolled in public schools this year or who enter kindergarten or first grade next school year will be eligible. The amount of the scholarship is the lesser of the actual educational expense or 100 percent of the state funding per student for that individual student’s school division.
Beyond those details, we await the Department of Education’s guidelines. Once those are available, scholarship programs will likely begin to form and donations to the programs sought. Currently, 19 different school choice programs in 13 states are providing pathways to success for tens of thousands of children that otherwise would be trapped in failing schools or simply not able to attend the school of their parent’s choice. Unfortunately, due to the education establishment’s visceral rejection of parental freedom, the programs are limited in the number of students they can help, so only a fraction of children eligible, or that apply for scholarships, can be helped. However, that fraction is no longer trapped in a failing school! That success is what we want to see in Virginia.