Virginia Republicans had a golden opportunity to embrace a strong school choice measure in the upcoming session, one that would have used tax credits to allow just about everyone in the commonwealth to put their kids in the schools they thought best-matched their kids needs. The state’s largest tea party organizations were for it. Taxpayer groups were for it. But instead, the state’s GOP has decided to embrace the same tired, small-bore approach it’s tried and failed to enact for more than a decade.

As my colleague Josh Eboch writes, it didn’t have to be this way. Del Tag Greason showed interest in the tax credit idea, and initially agreed to patron the bill in the General Assembly. He recently backed out though, preferring instead to sign-on with a more limited measure patroned by fellow Republican Del. Jimmie Massie. Massie’s bill passed the House last year but, failed to clear the Senate Finance committee (whose Democratic members put on one of the more disturbing displays of self-parody I’ve ever seen).  

Massie is trying again, with the same bill and the same coalition, to attempt to put the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent.  By making small steps toward wider school choice, they believe they can win. Eventually. History and bitter experience in other states and localities with school choice measures already in place show the camel never gets into the tent.

The mantra coming out of the Massie corner is that “nothing will pass the Senate.” This is echoed in the Governor’s office. When McDonnell Education Secretary Gerard Robinson was asked if Mr. McDonnell intended to do anything bold on school choice this year, the reply was they intended to wait to see what happened with the senate elections in November.

There is some merit to all this.  When even mild changes in the state’s charter school law were proposed (and eventually approved) last year, the legislative black caucus came out waving the bloody shirt of massive resistance.   Against such irrationality, there’s very little even the most robust coalition making the very best of arguments can hope to accomplish.

So if even a mild measure is sure to offend Senate Liberals, why not go for a bolder measure that would affect every Virginian? Republicans insist that only small steps are likely to succeed. But even small steps are vocally opposed and ultimately defeated.  So why keep pursuing the same failed strategy, particularly when the state’s tea party groups are behind a much broader bill…and willing to put their muscle behind it?

If you can make sense that one, you’ve got a future as a Republican member of the General Assembly.