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One state lawmaker wants to expand Virginia's education improvement scholarship tax credit

Lawmakers are about to return to Richmond. And, they'll be talking about a variety of ways to fund education.

Virginia has an education improvement scholarship tax credit that lets people or businesses get a break on their taxes if they make donations to foundations that provide scholarships.

Republican Senator Frank Ruff of Mecklenburg County says these scholarships help students in need, and he has a bill that would expand the use of these tax credits.

"We've got people who want to go to community colleges and four-year colleges and don't know how to get from here to there," explains Ruff. "If we start with them early enough, we can make sure they have good grades and have a good work ethic."

Critics say these tax credits are a backdoor way of using state resources to fund education at private institutions. Chris Wodicka at the Commonwealth Institute says adding more tax credits reduces revenue that would otherwise be available for fund public education.

"A lot of these tax credits are not routinely examined as part of the annual budget process," Wodicka says. "And so it's a kind of spending that happens through the tax code that doesn't really get evaluated on a regular basis."

Unlike members of Congress, members of the General Assembly are required to balance the books instead of relying on deficit spending, at least for the most part. That process has already started with outgoing Governor Ralph Northam sending his budget proposal to lawmakers. They'll start considering it before Glenn Youngkin is inaugurated this weekend.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria.