Packed House Testifies at Virginia’s School Choice Hearing, Bill Moves Forward

By Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq
Masooma Haq began reporting for The Epoch Times from Pakistan in 2008. She currently covers a variety of topics including U.S. government, culture, and entertainment.
January 26, 2023Updated: January 26, 2023

Education Success Accounts Bill HB1508 introduced by Education Committee Chair Delegate Glenn Davis was enthusiastically supported by community members, who mostly came to speak in favor of the bill and highlight their children’s struggles, at a Virginia public school.

Before the House Education K-12 Subcommittee voted on the Education Success Accounts (ESA) bill, close to two dozen Virginians, including parents, administrators, and community leaders, came to Richmond to testify in favor of the school choice bill.

A few parents spoke about their child being bullied, with one mother describing how those attacks led her teen to commit suicide, which she said might have been prevented had she had options for which school her child could attended.

Michael White, a fellow at Washington’s American Federation for Children, told the subcommittee his parents utilized a voucher program and were able to send him to Cornerstone School of Washington, beginning in elementary school, without which he thinks he would not have succeeded.

“I will say that this program certainly changed the way that I live and I wouldn’t be here today without it,” said White.

Epoch Times Photo
Michael White, a fellow at Washington’s American Federation for Children, speaks at House Education K-12 Subcommittee hearing Jan. 17, 2023 (Pre-K-12 Subcommittee/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

Meanwhile, a former Richmond City Public Schools board member Ms. Pickney-Epps said parents need options and encouraged the panel to vote in favor of Davis’s bill.

Not all public schools are of high quality, “some are thriving, some are not in the city of Richmond, unfortunately, not enough of them are and our parents need options,” said Pickney-Epps.

The Commonwealth Institute’s Laura Goren said her organization opposes this legislation because voucher programs have been shown to fail students, citing a 2016 study, “for example, a recent study of the Louisiana voucher program [showed] lower language arts and math test scores.”

Va. Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera spoke before the House Education Committee on Wednesday in support of Davis’ bill and challenged Goren’s evidence.

The Education Sec. clarified that there were 17 total random assignment studies of which three showed negative outcomes from school choice, and “two out of those three studies were in Louisiana and had been referenced [by Goren] in the relevant subcommittee without mention of the 11 studies finding positive outcomes,” Guidera said during the Jan. 25, House Education Committee.

If Davis’s bill makes it to the governor’s desk, these government-authorized accounts, known as education savings accounts (ESA), would be available to parents of any Virginia child enrolled in a public school for at least six months. Families would be able to spend an average of $6,000 on tuition fees and required textbooks at private K–12 schools or use them for homeschooling expenses.

Speaking in opposition to the bill, a lobbyist for the Virginia School Boards Association, Stacey Haney said the ESA bill would cause local public schools to lose funding for those children who leave because of this option.

“What we’re concerned this bill will do is siphon money away from public education and leave the students who do stay in the schools falling further behind,” said Haney.

Epoch Times Photo
Lobbyist for the Virginia School Boards Association, Stacey Haney speaks at House Education K-12 Subcommittee hearing Jan. 17, 2023 (Pre-K-12 Subcommittee/Screenshot via The Epoch Times)

However, a representative for Advocates for Justice, Ms. Kandise Lucas, said bill HB1508 is not a voucher program, and the money is there for the student to succeed, not to fund schools.

“We finance and we fund students, we don’t finance systems, we fund students, the money needs to follow the child,” said Lucas.

Guidera said she supports school choice because student academic achievement data shows a public education does not work for all students.

“We know [from] the data 42 percent of our second graders are not on track to read independently by third grade, Virginia posted the country’s most dramatic and greatest declines in fourth-grade math and reading proficiency in the nation, three times worse than the national average, which was already terrible,” said Guidera.

Davis told the subcommittee that parents need more options on which type of school their child can go to, and said the bill will empower parents to choose an educational experience that allows their child to reach their full potential.

Most of the Virginians that testified in favor of the ESA bill last week were Black and Latino. Their reason for supporting the bill was to maximize their childrens’ an opportunities to achieve excellence.

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