Home Billions in tax dollars go to private religious schools in the U.S.: What about Virginia?
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Billions in tax dollars go to private religious schools in the U.S.: What about Virginia?

Chris Graham
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A Washington Post story published on Monday reports that billions in taxpayer dollars are going to pay for private-school tuitions at conservative religious schools.

Virginia isn’t, not yet, one of those states. Here in the Commonwealth, the closest thing we have isn’t really very close, just something called the Education Improvement Scholarships Tax Credits Program, which offers a 65 percent tax credit to individuals and businesses to donate to qualified scholarship foundations that then provide private school scholarships to students whose families meet the income requirements.

I mean, yeah, a tax credit is, kinda, sorta, tangentially, money that has to be made up somewhere else.

The more substantial thing in the direction of conservative religious education that we have in place in Virginia instead is a Republican governor who got his job in 2021 by promising to promote “parental rights,” though his idea of “parental rights” is rights for far-right parents who have let themselves be led to believe that elementary-school kids are being taught critical race theory, and that boys are pretending to be trans girls so they can peek at girls in the bathroom.

Between Glenn Youngkin and the school boards in my part of Virginia keeping themselves busy putting the names of slave-owning insurrectionists back on public schools and trying to ban LGTBQ+ kids from taking part in school art shows, who needs to send their kids to actual religious schools, right?

That’s not to say that Republicans aren’t trying to have it both ways. In addition to watering down public education, we’ve had a run of bills from Republican lawmakers to allow parents to set up education savings accounts funded with state tax dollars that would go to pay their kids’ private-school tuitions.

Critics say that the taxpayer money that goes into these accounts is basically taking from the working class and middle class to give to the upper-middle-class folks who already send their kids to private schools, which currently offer schooling for just 10 percent of the school-age population in Virginia.

And they’re right, of course; private schools don’t keep their doors open by taking a lot of working-class and middle-class kids whose parents can’t pay tuition, and the voucher programs in place don’t make up enough of the difference to make the limited spaces in private schools a reality for anybody other than those who can already afford it.

Expect this to be an issue in the 2025 Virginia governor’s race, just because the sitting lieutenant governor, Winsome Earle-Sears, a Republican, is an avid backer of the voucher movement.

Just spitballin’ here, but I’d be all for a compromise allowing the far right to send their 10 percent of kids to school on vouchers if they’d let the rest of us go back to being able to teach the rest about actual American history, take the names of the slave owners off the school buildings and not have to pretend that kids aren’t who they are.

Absent that, maybe we go after that one tax break that we already have in place here, and we can see how that goes.

Chris Graham

Chris Graham

Chris Graham is the founder and editor of Augusta Free Press. A 1994 alum of the University of Virginia, Chris is the author and co-author of seven books, including Poverty of Imagination, a memoir published in 2019, and Team of Destiny: Inside Virginia Basketball’s Run to the 2019 National Championship, and The Worst Wrestling Pay-Per-View Ever, published in 2018. For his commentaries on news, sports and politics, go to his YouTube page, or subscribe to his Street Knowledge podcast. Email Chris at [email protected].