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McAuliffe rejects education savings accounts for disabled children

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed legislation on Tuesday that would have allowed parents of disabled children to use state funds to create education savings accounts for their children.

In recent weeks, this is the fourth bill involving issues fraught with national, ideological significance that McAuliffe has vetoed. (The others involved religious liberty, funding for Planned Parenthood, and a requirement to notify parents about sexual content in assigned readings.)

In his veto message, McAuliffe argued the bill may be unconstitutional because it allows state funds to flow to sectarian schools.

Article VIII, Section 10 of Virginia's constitution allows state funds to be used for K-12 education outside the public schools, but only if those schools are non-sectarian.

McAuliffe also said the bill "would divert much-needed resources away from public schools," in addition to creating "an unfair system."

The Governor said his "goal is to support and improve public education across the Commonwealth for all students, not to codify inequality."

The bill's chief sponsor in the House of Delegates, Del. Dave LaRock (R-Loudoun) blasted McAuliffe for doing "what his special-interest supporters tell him to do."

According to the Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Virginia spent "$11,242 per student in the 2015–16 school year." LaRock's bill would have allowed parents to use $3,625 of that amount for the accounts, with the remainder remaining in state hands.

Writing in a legislative brief of the bill, the Foundation's state programs and government relations director Brittney Corona noted that the accounts would have been limited to public school students with "an intellectual disability or serious emotional disturbance, physical disability, speech impairment, hearing impairment, visual impairment, autism spectrum disorder, or a specific learning disability."

The Virginia Education Association urged its members to contact McAuliffe and ask him to veto it.

VEA Director of Government Relations Robley Jones crafted language for VEA members to use in their appeals to the governor on the Association's website.

Jones suggested members say the bill was poorly crafted, was likely unconstitutional, and that the accounts "could be used for car payments and college tuition."

The bills supporters fired back.

"The Governor needs to listen to the struggles and concerns of ordinary Virginians," LaRock said, "instead of yielding to the education establishment that throws roadblocks in front of any effort to provide better education options for Virginia’s students and parents that is not channeled through the public school system.”

LaRock's bill was approved 53 to 46 in the House, and 20 to 19 in the Senate. The closeness of the vote indicates it will be difficult for supporters to muster the two-thirds vote of members present to override McAuliffe's veto.

LaRock promised to try again in 2017.

"Education Savings Accounts are a proven example of problem solving through smart innovation, not endless appropriations," LaRock said, adding that he is "confident" the bill will eventually be approved.

But for that to happen, LaRock said, "we need a governor with some compassion and understanding of the need to provide relief for these kids and schools.”