- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2001

RICHMOND The Virginia House yesterday passed a bill that would require schools and home schoolers who participate in a proposed tuition tax credit and scholarship plan to submit to the state's Standards of Learning testing.

The SOL requirement probably dooms the bill, since its supporters do not back the requirement.

After approving the SOL requirement, the House delayed final action on the bill until later this week.

This was the first year the bill made it out of committee; it did so only after it was changed drastically. In past years, the bill had been a straight tuition tax credit bill, offering parents who home schooled or sent their children to private schools a direct tax credit.

This year, the bill allowed individuals and companies to take a $500 tax credit for donating to a nonprofit scholarship fund, which parents would then apply to for up to $3,100 in tuition assistance for private school or $550 for home schoolers.

But opponents of the bill added on the SOL requirement, made it apply only to low-income families, and prevented families that receive scholarship money from also donating to scholarship funds to collect the tax credit. The technique is known as the "shad treatment" adding a bunch of amendments to a bill until it's unpalatable to just about everyone.

At this point, even if the bill does pass, it's unlikely any private schools or home schoolers would want to take advantage of the bill, given its baggage.

"I think as a result of that, [the bill] may not last all that long," said Delegate John H. "Jack" Rust Jr., Fairfax Republican and one of those who pushed for the bill on the floor yesterday.

The bill was based on a program in Arizona that offered the tax credits-scholarships construction. In Arizona, according to figures through August 1999, middle-income families were the most likely to take advantage of the program. The average scholarship in Arizona amounted to $411 annually, and more than 2,500 companies or individuals had taken the tax credit for donating.

Minority Leader C. Richard Cranwell of Roanoke led all 45 Democrats and nine Republicans in voting to add the SOL requirement.

"If you put your hand out and ask for public funds, then you should be accountable, just as we require of public schools," Mr. Cranwell said.

But supporters of the underlying bill said the SOL requirement would entangle church and state where religious schools are involved, and also said the SOLs would disrupt private and home-school study programs, which are often based on a set of published study guides that don't conform to the SOLs.

Delegate M. Kirkland Cox, Colonial Heights Republican, said the SOL requirements coming at certain grade levels would throw off many parents who teach more than one child at home, since those parents sometimes try to teach all the children the same subjects, just at different levels, at the same time.

Supporters also said that adding the SOL requirement would also mean the state should pay for remediation, teacher training and SOL study guides that the state has committed to paying for so public-school students can pass the SOL tests.

But opponents, keeping with a long Virginia tradition of public money going only to public schools, voted for all of the amendments, leaving the bill unpalatable to many of the original bill's supporters.

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