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Feds consider making Title I into a voucher program

Given all the hubbub around school vouchers being slipped into the NC House budget proposal last month, you might have missed that a few weeks ago members of a U.S. Senate committee voted down an amendment to the ESEA/NCLB Act that would have allowed states to turn Title I funding into school voucher programs.

The amendment, authored by U.S. Sens. Rand Paul (R-Ky) and Tim Scott (R-S.C.), would have allowed states to have Title I federal funds follow low-income students to private and religious schools.

Title I funds are currently directed to schools that serve low-income students. To understand just how much North Carolina’s public schools rely on Title 1 funding, consider this: in 2012, NC’s public school districts received a total of $405,272,019 in Title I funds. That’s nearly half of all federal funding North Carolina receives annually and around 5 percent of the state’s total budget for education last year.

That’s a lot of money when compared with the voucher bill currently in the state budget proposal, which would cost North Carolina’s public schools at least $50 million over two years.

Proponents of vouchers, including Reps. Skip Stam, Marcus Brandon and Speaker Thom Tillis, say that it’s important for parents to decide where their children go to school because they are the best equipped to make that decision.

Yet evidence points to a different scenario.

Case in point: the Louisiana Department of Education is suing one of their voucher schools, the New Living Word Church School, for $400,000 in overcharges and excluding them from further participation in the voucher program. The school also has no proper classrooms, insufficient technology resources and the primary method of instruction is via DVD.

Diane Ravitch chronicles further abuses of the Louisiana voucher system and total lack of accountability at the top over on her blog.

Whether or not Congress will decide that states can take their Title I funds and turn them into vouchers for private education is still up in the air: next week the House will consider reauthorization of ESEA/NCLB and someone could run a similar amendment that was voted down in the Senate.

As for NC’s budget and the proposed school voucher program, a conference committee continues to hammer out the details. Stay tuned.

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