Attracted by their “Free Breakfast for Children” and community health clinic program, Lois Bias joined the Black Panthers in college.
Today, having long abandoned the Panthers after they turned violent, she continues to advance the mission of helping people out of poverty, but focuses her attention on educating children in the school she built, Precious Blessing Academy.
For Lois Bias – now a pastor — educating a child means more than just the ABCs. And the task is immeasurably harder because of the circumstances from which the children come.
“So many of our students are in a fragile state,” she said in testimony before a Virginia House Finance Subcommittee. “They are often without mothers or fathers and are sometimes raised by grandmothers and grandfathers. They live on streets that are dangerous, in an environment that challenges them with drugs, sex, and inappropriate behavior.”
“These children come to us needing more than just an education in academics. They need an education in how to grow up and take part in civil society. They need protection that extends beyond the school day. They need involved and engaged adults in their lives to help guide them to adulthood. They need teachers who view what they do as a mission, … not just a job.”
Nearly all of her 73 students came to her from Richmond, Petersburg and Chesterfield Public Schools, parents seeking a better opportunity for their children.
“These children do not thrive in the public school system,” Bias notes. “Not because they are public schools but because they are a system, and systems don’t lend themselves to the kind of involvement these children desperately need. They need to be surrounded not just with educators, but with a family environment big systems can’t give.”
For Bias, Virginia’s Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit (EISTC) has enabled her to help a few more children than she has in the past: This year 6 children are receiving scholarships through the EISTC.
But she has more children who could be helped, and not enough scholarships to help them.
That problem – one duplicated at 139 schools around the state — would be resolved if Delegate Jimmie Massie’s proposal to expand the EISTC was approved. Currently, an individual or corporation donating to a foundation offering scholarships to low income children to attend schools like Bias’ receive a 65 percent state tax credit. Last year, 2,419 students received scholarships.
Among the 18 states with similar credits, only two have a lower tax credit. Those with higher credits are able to help more children In Florida, for example 77,000 children receive scholarships; in Pennsylvania, the number is 50,000; in Georgia, it’s13,000. Massie’s proposal would raise the credit to 90 percent, making it competitive with those states and drawing in additional dollars to help Virginia’s children.
Pastor Bias has seen first-hand the negative effect of a lower tax credit. One of her donors has business facilities in multiple states. “In those states,” she notes, “that company gives twice as much because they can do it at no cost to the company.”
But helping children by expanding the tax credit faces severe opposition from some, fueled by an incomplete analysis. Public educator groups claim increasing the tax credit would cost “millions in tax dollars,” citing an official Fiscal Impact Statement that such an increase would result in a “$2.6 million negative revenue impact.”
But the problem with static Fiscal Impact Statements is that they are one sided. They don’t report that tax dollars “lost” from the tax credit are more than balanced by students who leave the public schools and whose education is no longer funded by the state.
A complete assessment would not only include the “cost” to the state of the tax credit, but also the “savings” to the state from students no longer being paid for in the public school system. To do otherwise is akin to adding up the costs of building computers but not including the revenue from selling them, and concluding that Apple is losing money instead of earning more than $50 billion.
In fact, last year Virginia “lost” $7.2 million because of the tax credit and its accompanying deduction. But it “saved” $11.1 million because of students it no longer had to educate – a net savings of more than $3.9 million.
These savings would increase if the tax credit was increased, because more taxpayers will use the program to help more children and therefore reducing state expenses further.
And that is what Massie’s legislation is about: A stimulus to encourage investment in Virginia’s children, rather than those in other states.
Pastor Bias puts it more succinctly: “Because of this program, our school saved the state the cost of educating six children. And we are saving six lives.
“Why would we not want to do more?”