The Washington Post

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)

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)

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.

Laura Vozzella covers Virginia politics for The Washington Post.



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