SWVA school leader sees little need for education savings accounts

ABINGDON, Va. (WJHL) — Virginia lawmakers are again considering a measure that would allow some parents to spend public money on private schools.

Last week, Lieutenant Governor Winsome Earle-Sears held a press conference, urging lawmakers to support the latest proposal for education savings account.

Supporters say the measure would help parents ensure their students receive a high-quality education.

However, Washington County, Virginia Superintendent Keith Perrigan says public schools can be that option.

“I think here locally, there’s really not much of a need for those educational savings account because our school systems are performing so well and we have such robust opportunities,” Perrigan told News Channel 11.

Instead, Perrigan said the state would be better served to move more money towards public schools, citing a 2023 report by Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission, which found that Virginia schools receive 14% fewer dollars per student than the national average.

Earle-Sears and others have been pushing for education savings accounts along with other school-choice measures for years.

“Can we just get the blanket money to say this amount for the child, for the parent to decide where to send their child to school?” the Lieutenant Governor asked at the Jan. 24 press conference. “I don’t understand what could be so difficult to do unless there are other agendas.”

If the current proposal passes, the measure would allow eligible parents to apply for state money that could be spent on private school tuition, textbooks, tutoring or other educational alternatives.

To achieve eligibility, students must have been enrolled in a public school for two semesters or be entering public school for the first time in first grade or kindergarten. Parents must have income at or below 300% of the federal poverty level or $93,600 annual income for a family of four.

Last year, four similar Virginia bills failed in the last session, but even if this one succeeds, Perrigan isn’t expecting a big impact on his district.

“I wouldn’t worry about a mass exodus from our schools because I think our parents are very happy with the services and the education that we provide. “

The House bill is still under review by an education subcommittee.

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