There are 937 private schools in Virginia, serving approximately 136,000 students (~9% of the K12 school age population). The average private school tuition is $10,755 for elementary schools and $15,574 for high schools (2016). Median Virginia private school tuition is estimated to be $7,976 (2014). Fifty-one percent of schools are religiously affiliated. The bulk of the schools are located in the Northern Virginia, Richmond Metro, and Hampton Roads communities. Forty-three of the schools are designated “Blue Ribbon” schools. Blue Ribbon Schools are schools that have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education for achieving superior academic results.
Private school academic programs are as diverse as the organization which incorporated the private school. Private schools provide parents with a wide-range of personalized learning options that can be matched to their child’s needs and parent’s concerns.
In a survey of Virginia voters, 35% of respondents said they would prefer to send their child to a private school, even though only 9% do. The principal reason 26% of parents do not send their children to private school is because they cannot afford the tuition. This barrier to private school attendance can mitigated two ways: (1) seek a discount based upon economic need or academic merit (viz., use school endowment) or (2) use of private or public scholarships.
While private scholarships have been used for many years, public scholarships are relatively new. In 2012, the Commonwealth of Virginia approved Education Improvement Scholarship Tax Credit (EISTC) legislation that allows individuals and corporations to donate to a Scholarship Foundation (SF) and, in return, receive a 65% tax credit. Parents, with children in public school and whose family income is less than or equal to 300% of the federal poverty guideline (non-Special Needs Child) or 400% of the federal poverty guideline (Special Needs Child), may make application to one or more SFs for a scholarship(s) to attend a qualified private school. The aggregate amount of scholarships provided to each eligible student for any single school year by all eligible scholarship foundations from eligible donations may not exceed the lesser of (i) the actual qualified educational expenses of the student or (ii) 100 percent of the per pupil amount distributed to the school division (in which the student resides) as the state’s share of the Standards of Quality (SOQ) costs. The aggregate amount varies by school district. The actual amount varies by year and locality. The scholarship value is estimated be between $1,725 to $4,800 per year. For more information visit the Virginia Alliance for Student Opportunity website.
Over the past three years, Parental Choice Education Savings Account (PCESA) legislation has been introduced in the legislature. In 2016 and 2017, the legislation passed both chambers of the legislature, but was vetoed by the governor. If passed, PCESAs would provide a second method to use 90 percent of the per pupil amount distributed to the school division (in which the student resides) as the state’s share of the Standards of Quality (SOQ) costs. While the scholarship amount is slightly less than the EISTC, PCESA funding could be used for private school tuition, home school costs, or a portion of it saved by the parent to cover future college costs.