April 2012 Church & State | AU Bulletin

The Virginia General Assembly has passed a tax-credit scheme that funnels money to religious and other private schools.

The bill would provide a 65 percent tax credit for individuals or corporations that donate money to nonprofit scholarship organizations that pay for tuition at private schools. The fund would be capped at $25 million annually.

Although the measure is supposedly aimed at low- and middle-income families, the definition of those categories would be rather generous. A child living in a household of four with an income up to $69,150 would be able to receive grant money.

Given that this bill diverts public resources to religious education, church-state separation advocates were quick to criticize it. Sen. J. Chapman Petersen (D-Fairfax) charged that the program would violate the Virginia Constitution, noting that it forbids “any appropriation of public funds, personal property, or real estate to any church or sectarian society.”

“We don’t appropriate to private entities; we give the money to public entities,” he said, according to the Capital News Service.

Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Charlottesville) argued that the tax credits will take even more money away from a public school system facing budget shortfalls.