School vouchers stay in House budget

After many hours of debate, today the full House passed their proposed 2013-15 budget, including school vouchers among its many provisions.

Rep. Ed Hanes Jr., a Democrat from Winston-Salem who is a primary sponsor of the school voucher bill that has yet to be voted on by the full House, put forth an amendment yesterday to strip the House budget of the voucher provision.

Citing his commitment to process, Hanes explained both on the House floor and in a press release, “The announcement that HB 944 had been swept into the House Budget created a huge dilemma for me and education advocates across the State.  This action effectively quashed the right of the people to be heard through the voice of their Representatives. While I remain a passionate advocate of all of our children’s constitutional right to an equal opportunity at a sound and basic education, that passion must be balanced with the rights of the people to be heard no matter their personal feelings.”

North Carolina is not the only state where the school voucher debate is raging. In Texas, five school choice bills were introduced during this spring’s legislative session. Members of the Texas House sent up a smoke signal that school vouchers would not be popular when they put forth an amendment to the House budget that would have banned the use of public dollars for private schools. Texas’ school voucher bill, SB 23 or the “Equal Opportunity Scholarship Program,” died before it reached the Senate floor.

Governor Walker of Wisconsin, home of the nation’s oldest school voucher program in Milwaukee, is also pushing school vouchers for his entire state. While the current proposal caps participation in the program at 500 students in the first year and 1,000 in the second, many are concerned that Walker will eventually lift those caps. That move would cost the state’s public schools, which have the highest graduation rate in the nation, tremendous amounts of money.

And in New Jersey, Governor Chris Christie attempted to put a school voucher into the budget as well. In his budget, the Governor put aside $2 million for poor students to take up to $10,000 in public money and put it toward private school tuition. If that voucher program, also called the “Opportunity Scholarship Act,” becomes law, it could face lawsuits. New Jersey’s state constitution requires that all education monies be spent on “free” public schools and has strong language regarding the prohibition of spending public money on religious schools.

Ultimately Hanes’ amendment to remove vouchers from the House budget did not pass. Now the House and the Senate must work together in a conference committee to decide if the school voucher plan, which could cost North Carolina’s public schools $50 million over the next two years, will become law beginning in the 2013-14 school year.

 

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