On Wednesday morning I threw on a tie and trudged down to the Virginia General Assembly Building to attend hearings on a few bills before the Senate Finance Committee. Among them was Henrico Del. Jimmie Massie’s education tax credit bill. The bill would have allowed private donors to contribute money into a scholarship fund that, in turn, would help poor and low-income students attend the schools of their choice.
The bill had passed the House a week before, though, like similar bills in previous sessions, the margins were close (because a few Virginia Republicans, for whatever reason, really do have a thing for government schools).
The Senate, though, has generally been hostile to the idea of school choice. And this time, the hostility turned weird.
There was state Sen. Henry Marsh (D-Richmond) practically eating his microphone in the process of showing his disgust for the measure. There was state Sen. Yvonne Miller (D-Norfolk) growling that the bill had nasty overtones of “selling children.” And there was Senate majority leader Dick Saslaw (D-Fairfax) proving to the world (again) that he really is a few bricks shy of a load.
All of this comes on the heels of Gov. McDonnell’s proposals to reform Virginia’s sclerotic charter school law, which has prevented, rather than encouraged, the creation of charters in the commonwealth. Earlier in the week, the legislative black caucus issued a scathing deunciation of the whole concept, with Sen. Marsh among those thundering that this tentative step toward wider education reform was the greatest threat to Virginia’s public schools since Massive Resistance.
Outrageous? Sure. But it’s standard rhetorical practice for Marsh & Co.
Some time ago at an education reform conference here in Richmond, Marsh charged that school choice was just a way to re-segregate the public schools. Gerard Robinson (the commonwealth’s new Secretary of Education) then stood up to say that where once George Wallace stood in the schoolhouse doorway to keep black kids out, some politicians (like Marsh) were now standing in the doorway to keep them from leaving.
Marsh left the meeting very soon afterwards…exercising a freedom he and his Democratic colleagues are determined to deny to poor kids in their own Senatorial districts.