Virginia lawmakers approve special needs education savings accounts

Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe has a chance to be the country’s first Democratic governor to sign a law creating educational choice accounts for special needs students.

Dave Larock

LaRock

The commonwealth’s Senate approved a bill creating education savings accounts Monday on a 20-19 vote. The House of Delegates has already passed the measure, meaning it’s headed to the governor’s desk.

The Senate added a “re-enactment clause,” meaning that even if McAuliffe approves it, HB 389 would need to clear Virginia’s General Assembly a second time next year before taking effect.

Delegate Dave LaRock, the bill’s House patron, said the new program would have the potential to change lives.

“Education Savings Accounts offer educational opportunity to children with special needs, regardless of their circumstances in life,” he said in a statement (hat tip: Jason Bedrick). “These unique children often face challenges which most will never fully appreciate. We owe it to them to provide access to academic resources best suited for their particular needs.”

The Virginia proposal resembles aspects of Florida’s Gardiner Scholarship program.  Parents could receive 90 percent of the amount the state would spend to educate their child in a public school, and use it for education-related expenses like school tuition, private tutoring, therapy, or classes and extracurricular activities purchased a la carte from school districts.

Florida’s scholarship accounts are administered by nonprofit organizations like Step Up For Students, which publishes this blog. Virginia’s scholarships would be administered by school districts.

Arizona, Mississippi and Tennessee have approved similar programs in recent years. One was proposed in Montana but vetoed by Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock. Florida’s program now serves some 4,000 students, and legislation expanding it has received strong bipartisan support.

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