In a roll call vote resulting in 27 ayes and 21 nays, House Education Committee members voted today to pass HB 944, the Opportunity Scholarship Act.
The school voucher bill would, at a minimum, siphon $100 million over three years from public education in North Carolina to give $4,200 per year to families wishing to send their children to private institutions.
Following last week’s debate that featured only public comment, today members heard additional public comments from supporters and opponents of the bill, including North Carolina Association of Educators Rodney Ellis.
Ellis, on behalf of NCAE, spoke against the bill, citing the fact that households do not typically have the funds necessary to cover the difference between the $4,200 voucher and the average cost of attendance at a private school.
Rep. Rick Glazier (D-Cumberland) presented statistics looking at the average costs of private elementary, middle and high schools in the state. Tuition amounts ranged from $5,000 on average for elementary schools to $9,000 for high schools.
Rep. Rosa Gill (D-Wake) put forth an amendment to make private school tuition and fees more transparent to the public, in light of the fact that they could receive taxpayer funds. The amendment failed.
“What happens to those kids … in counties where you don’t have the private schools,” questioned Rep. Henry Michaux (D-Durham), wondering how this bill would provide those students with school choice.
“We know private schools cherrypick,” said Michaux. “Why aren’t we putting a diversity clause in this bill?”
Rep. Bert Jones (R-Caswell, Rockingham) compared offering parents their “God-given right” to school choice to selecting which kind of milk they prefer.
“Just because you support HB 944 would not mean, as the opponents would make it seem, that you are against public education,” said Jones. “That basically means that … just because you purchase 2% milk means that something is wrong with whole milk, or 1%, or chocolate milk, or fat free milk, or all the milks out there now that aren’t even milk.”
The school voucher bill should now move on to the House Appropriations committee; however, the possibility remains that it could be inserted into the budget, without further debate.