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Packed house for school voucher bill hearing

This morning, members of the House Education Committee heard public comments only for HB 944, Opportunity Scholarship Act, also known as the school voucher bill.

The time allotted for the hearing today was cut down to one hour from two, prompting Chairman Langdon to declare that a vote on the bill would come sometime in the future, likely next week.

Rep. Rob Bryan laid out the specifics of the updated legislation. The bill would offer $4,200 maximum scholarships to students wishing to attend private schools instead of their local public schools.

Appropriations for the voucher program would be $10 million in the first year, $40 million in the second year and $50 million every year after.

Eligibility requirements were tightened somewhat from the original version of the bill: Instead of having eligible children come from households whose incomes were 300% of the federal poverty level, now household incomes can be no more than 133% of the free and reduced lunch qualification level (or 240% federal poverty level) after year two of the program.

Rep. Marcus Brandon, one of the sponsors of the bill, explained that the school voucher legislation was not a way for wealthy people to get scholarships. Brandon was a recipient of a significant amount of campaign money from the school choice movement during his 2012 run for office—25 percent of his campaign contributions came from pro-voucher investors. See that story here.

Those who spoke in support of the voucher bill included Doug Tuthill, a Floridian voucher advocate who heads Step Up for Students, which administers Florida’s tax credit scholarship program. “This bill is crafted to be very similar to Florida’s legislation,” Tuthill said.

Tuthill received $165,995 in 2011 for running Step Up for Students. Most other administrators on his staff also received well north of $100k in compensation.

Minnie Forte-Brown, vice-chair of Durham Public Schools Board of Education, spoke passionately against the bill. “More than 63 percent of North Carolinians oppose school vouchers,” said Forte-Brown.

Referring to a recent benefit for school choice legislation in Greensboro that was organized by Parents for Educational Freedom NC, Forte-Durham said “the 3,000 people who came to Greensboro came to hear the gospel singer,” and did not support school vouchers.

“Don’t be deceived—private schools will reject the students they don’t want,” said Forte-Brown.

June Atkinson, State Superintendent of Schools, NC Department of Public Instruction, spoke against the bill. “If public schools must be subject to the A-F grading system, then so should private schools that receive public funds,” said Atkinson.

It is expected that next week House Education Committee members will debate and vote on the bill.

4 Comments

  1. deborah rowlee

    May 21, 2013 at 3:38 pm

    These vouchers will be ruled to be unconstitutional!

  2. wncgirl

    May 22, 2013 at 2:29 pm

    Just another “dixiecrat” move… these clowns are really putting our state on the map…mostly, for racism and fear of educated women

  3. Jacqui Hawkins

    May 23, 2013 at 7:52 am

    Under this plan, “low-income families” – households with incomes less than 300% of the federal poverty line could enroll their students in a private school. While this plan may sound good on the surface, it is flawed and detrimental to public education, the backbone of our democracy. As a former Floridian, where the idea for this plan likely came from, I can personally attest to the great failures of these “scholarships”.

    In Florida, the “McKay Scholarship” is offered to children with IEPs (Individualized Education Plan). Those schools that accepted the “scholarships” eventually ended up being wrought with problems. Twenty-five schools had fraud allegations (among other things) substantiated and many more investigated. In total, 49.3 million dollars of public funds were given to the schools with substantiated fraud. Problems included: Schools enrolling students without their knowledge, Owners/Adminstrators at one of the private schools for children with disabilities, actually stole identities of the children, Buildings were unsafe and not habitable and some of the major courses at the private schools didn’t equate to classes in the public schools, so any student returning to their public school or moving on to college, had to repeat those courses. What a waste of time to those students and money of the taxpayers.

    The problems are caused by a lack of regulations and public accountability and would not be any different in North Carolina. The teachers in these schools also are not required to have the same qualifications as public school teachers and only the school administrator is subject to a background check.

    While there are some excellent private schools in our area, there is no guarantee to parents that their children will be enrolled in an excellent, or even a good one. Private schools are not required to provide transportation services, and if they did, it would not be with the same regulations of public school busses and they are not required to provide food service for low-income students. The vouchers actually work AGAINST low income families because they would still be left with a tuition and fee balance that many of them simply cannot afford. We need to invest in our public schools, where all really does mean ALL.

  4. Debra Kaufman

    June 4, 2013 at 11:13 am

    Thank you, Ms. Hawkins, for the information from Florida. The proposed legislation in NC seems unconstitutional. How can a legislature legally take public funds for education and give them to private schools? I assume many of these schools will be religious (“Christian”) schools as there are so many in the state. Wouldn’t this law be a breach of separation of church and state? I couldn’t tell whether the Louisiana court ruled against it because of the procedure (it was passed as a resolution, not a law) or on other grounds. I’m afraid this law will pass and it will have to be tested in court, wasting time and money for all citizens, but especially the families affected.