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July 9, 2012 | Volume 87, Number 18
 

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photo: Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell who signed the Education Improvement Scholarship Bill is pictured with Dr. Judi Lynch, principal of St. Gertrude High School, Richmond, and members of the Virginia Catholic Conference Education Policy Committee: Dr. Tricia Barber, principal of St. Francis of Assisi School of the Diocese of Arlington; Miriam Cotton, Assistant Superintendent of Schools of the Richmond Diocese; Stephen Reardon, Chair of the Richmond Diocesan School Board; Francine Conway, Richmond Diocese Superintendent of Schools; Jeff Caruso, executive director of the Virginia Catholic Conference; and Annette Parsons, Chief Education Administrator of the Richmond Diocese.More school choices now available in Virginia

At a special ceremony at Elijah House Academy in Richmond, Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell signed the Education Improvement Scholarship bill which greatly expands educational options for lower-income students and low-to-moderate-income students with disabilities.

The law establishes a tax credit for K-12 scholarship donations by individuals and businesses, and has the potential of enabling thousands of families with limited economic means to send their children to nonpublic schools.

Similar programs are already in place in eight other states.

The bill was a top priority of the Virginia Catholic Conference, the public-policy representative of Arlington Bishop Paul Loverde and Richmond Bishop Francis X. DiLorenzo and their two dioceses.

The measure — an unprecedented breakthrough for Virginia’s school choice movement — will also benefit Virginia’s Catholic school community in its collective effort to sustain enrollments and provide opportunities for more children.

“All students, regardless of their zip code or economic means, should have the opportunity of a world-class education which will provide them future opportunities to thrive and succeed in the economy of tomorrow,” Governor McDonnell said. “This legislation provides incentives for corporations and individuals to invest in the future of students who would otherwise not be able to afford educational opportunities that can change the course of their future, and that can contribute to the workforce of tomorrow.’’

“Virginia’s Catholic bishops are extremely grateful for the passage of this legislation and to all who helped make it possible,” said Conference Executive Director Jeff Caruso.

“This scholarship program will provide better options and opportunities for children in need. This vital goal is integral to the Church’s social mission and to the common good of our Commonwealth.”

The Conference advocated for the initiative in conjunction with the Offices of Catholic Schools of both dioceses, which are responsible for 81 Catholic schools statewide, and collaborated with a broad coalition of organizations to urge the bill’s passage.

Annette Parsons, Chief Education Administrator of the Diocese of Richmond, said tuition tax credits make good sense.

“Education Improvement Scholarships will save the state money, and at the same time give families the ability to choose the education option that they believe is best for their children,” she explained.

The bill’s route to the Governor’s desk was dramatic, passing the House of Delegates by a wide margin but succeeding by just a single vote in the Senate, after Lieutenant Governor Bill Bolling, acting in his role as Senate President, cast the deciding vote to break a 20-20 deadlock.

Virginia’s Education Improvement Scholarship tax credit program is set to begin in tax year 2013.

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