Having won on school choice, Stanley now seeks to surrender

The General Assembly finally achieved a real breakthrough on school choice with the passage of an education tax credit bill that, in past years, was routinely killed in the Senate Finance committee. The bill only made it out of the Senate this year thanks to Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling’s tie-breaking vote on the floor.

Now, one of the Senate Republican backers of the measure wants the Governor to water it down:

Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin County, said he will ask McDonnell to amend the legislation (SB 131) to narrow eligibility for the scholarships to students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches in the state’s public schools. The final version of the bill passed by the General Assembly sets eligibility at 300 percent of the federal poverty level, or $69,150 for a family of four.

“That doesn’t work,” Stanley said in an interview Friday. “Those grants and scholarships can be used as gap scholarships for a kid that’s got 80 percent of his [tuition] paid because his family can pay 80 percent and needs 20 percent. That’s not what this bill was intended to do, so I’m going to ask the governor to make an amendment to that.”

This is ridiculous.

The final version of the bill has drawn the ire of Senate Democrats, which was to be expected. But the Republicans won the fight and now Stanley wants to surrender.

This bill has its flaws — it falls well-short of universal school choice. It carries a sunset provision. And the amount of money that can be distributed each year is capped. And now Stanley wants to make an already limited bill even more so.

McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin is quoted as saying “‘We strongly support this bill and its successful implementation.'” That’s heartening to read. And here’s hoping Gov. McDonnell, who has long-supported educational reforms, sticks with the original bill and ignores Stanley’s defeatism.

Virginia should be moving aggressively forward on school choice, not backward. And self-styled conservative Republicans should never willingly cede the bit of ground that so many others fought for years to gain.