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Virginia Politics
Posted at 05:00 AM ET, 06/28/2012

McDonnell signs tuition tax credit bills at ceremony

Glenn Booker was homeless as a child, but a pastor took him in and gave him not just a home, but a good education at a private religious school. He heads off to Old Dominion University in the fall.

State Sen. William Stanley (R-Franklin) laughs during testimony on a bill at the Capitol in January. (Steve Helber - AP)
The 18-year-old Richmond resident got the honor of introducing Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) Wednesday at a ceremonial bill-signing for legislation intended to make it easier for more underprivileged children to attend private and parochial schools.

At Richmond’s Elijah House Academy, where Booker finished second in his class, McDonnell signed two bills creating tax credits for individuals and businesses that donate private- and parochial-school tuition money to disabled, poor and middle-class students.

The bills were hotly contested during the General Assembly session, with Republicans contending the tax credit would open doors for students and promote religious freedom, and Democrats saying it would undermine public education.

They were sponsored by Del. James P. Massie III (R-Henrico), Sen. William M. Stanley (R-Franklin) and Mark D. Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg).

Del. Chris Jones ( R-Suffolk) right, points to a state map as he explains his redistricting bill to members of the House of Delegates as Del. James P. Massie, III (R-Henrico)left, looks on. (BOB BROWN - AP)
The fight goes back at least two decades. McDonnell said that as a freshman delegate in 1992, he put in a bill calling for a study of tuition tax credits. It was promptly shot down.

But this year, the Family Foundation and other conservative supporters found new allies. Among them was Lois Bias, principal of Precious Blessings Academy in Richmond, a lifelong Democrat who spoke passionately for the legislation.

“This year I became a firm Republican,” Bias said.

After McDonnell presented the pen he’d used to sign Stanley’s bill to him, the senator turned around and gave it to Bias.

The Virginia Constitution prohibits the General Assembly from appropriating funds to any non-public schools, private charities or churches.

But Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II issued a legal opinion in May indicating that the tuition tax credit is constitutional. While the General Assembly is prohibited from appropriating money for private- or parochial-school tuition, it may provide tax credits for that purpose, Cuccinelli said.

By  |  05:00 AM ET, 06/28/2012

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