Conservatives in Virginia have teamed up with an unlikely ally to lobby for legislation that would allow parents of disabled children to design an à la carte education tailored for their child’s specific needs.
The bill, proposed by Delegate David LaRock, a Republican representing Virginia’s 33rd District, has the backing of the NAACP Virginia State Conference.
The legislation would create what are called “education savings accounts” for students who have disabilities such as autism, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.
Proponents of the legislation call the NAACP’s endorsement a historic moment in the school choice movement.
“The NAACP’s endorsement shows that this issue transcends politics,” LaRock told The Daily Signal on Monday via email, adding:
We cannot turn our backs on special needs children who are locked in schools that are failing them. School choice shouldn’t just be for the wealthy; it creates an opportunity for a child’s fullest potential to be met. This issue is turning into a turf war, and the NAACP has decided to support special-needs children over special interests, for which many families will be deeply grateful.
In voicing its support, Rodney Thomas, a lobbyist of Virginia’s NAACP said in a statement:
In this day of limited funding for education and special needs individuals, this bill offers an opportunity to those parents and their children suffering from dramatic illnesses and disabilities.
“We cannot turn our backs on special needs children who are locked in schools that are failing them,” –David LaRock
The proposal, Virginia Parental Choice Education Savings Accounts (HB 2238), allocates 90 percent of the funding that would have followed a student to public school to the parents via a pre-paid card.
Parents could then use the money for a variety of education services such as private-school tuition, private tutoring, special education services, homeschooling expenses, textbooks and virtual education.
>>> Commentary: The Future of Education Savings Accounts for Every Child
Already, education savings accounts exist in Arizona and Florida, and will be proposed in over a half dozen more states this year.
>>> Read More: Arizona’s New Frontier for Education
If Virginia succeeds in implementing the school choice program, advocates predict other states are likely to follow.
“Choice in education is gaining momentum around the country,” said Craig DiSesa, director of legislation and accountability at Middle Resolution, one of the organizations behind the push to enact HB 2238. “Every time a state passes an opportunity for parents to choose their child’s education, we advance liberty.”
Conservatives praise education savings accounts as a way of empowering parents and funding students instead of institutions. Teachers unions regularly oppose such measures, fearing they will withdraw money and power from local school districts, and also lead to waste or abuse.
Behind the fight against the commonwealth’s effort is the Virginia Education Association—one of the state’s largest teachers unions.
The Virginia Education Association refused to respond to The Daily Signal’s request for comment about why it is opposing the plan.
The union endorsed the state’s Democratic governor, Terry McAuliffe, potentially leaving him in the position of deciding whether to veto a bill that has bipartisan and NAACP support but is opposed by one of his most powerful allies.
The House passed the legislation 57-42 on Feb. 10. Monday, the Senate Finance Committee voted 8-5 to refer the bill to the Senate floor with an amendment for reenactment. This would allow for additional time for the various details of the program to be addressed further.
After passage in the Senate—which proponents are confident will happen—the bill would return to the House to be voted on again.
It would then proceed to the governor for his signature.
“By signing Parental Choice Savings Accounts, Gov. McAuliffe can provide parents of special needs children with a customized education program that best fits their learning style,” said DiSesa of Middle Resolution. “The endorsement of [education savings accounts] by the NAACP demonstrates parental choice in education crosses all political and social divides.”