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Lawmakers put school open enrollment bill on hold

Lawmakers decided this afternoon to put the brakes on draft legislation that would allow a student to attend any school in the state.

“I have some concerns about this legislation,” said Rep. Bryan Holloway (Rockingham, Stokes), who moved to put the bill, titled ‘Open Enrollment/Home School Pilot,’ on hold so that members of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee could spend more time discussing its provisions and talking with local superintendents about the plan’s logistics. The bill was first put forth by a subcommittee chaired by Sen. Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus, Union).

The open enrollment legislation would require local school districts to establish an open enrollment policy so that parents of students could apply to send their children to any school within a local school district, or even to a school in another district, if that local board approves. The law, which is largely based on Colorado’s Public Schools of Choice Act, would take effect for the 2015-16 school year.

Rep. Marvin Lucas (D-Cumberland) expressed concern about the lack of a transportation requirement, especially for students with meager means who wished to access the school choice plan. 

Local school districts would not be required to provide transportation for students wishing to attend a school different from the one to which they are typically assigned — although the language in the bill does encourage districts to transport them anyway.

Rep. Edgar Starnes (R-Caldwell) saw potential problems with the plan, especially for schools that are already overcrowded or highly desirable. The law does provide for school districts to deny a student’s application to attend a certain school, but the denial is limited to the following criteria:

  • there is a lack of space;
  • a student has a history of discipline problems;
  • the district is under a federal desegregation order and the student’s application request would bring the district out of compliance;
  • the student is not academically prepared according to a school’s eligibility requirements; or
  • a school cannot handle a student’s special needs.

Today’s proposed bill contained a separate section, also put on hold, that would set up a pilot program requiring local school districts to provide academic enrichment programs to home school students. Schools would have to provide 90 minutes of academic instruction per student per semester to home school students who are interested– and in exchange, the district would receive 50 percent of ADM funding for that student. That program is also similar to an initiative coming out of Colorado.

The News & Observer first reported that the open enrollment legislation comprises language similar to that of model legislation penned by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group known for pushing education privatization bills in statehouses around the country. Click here to compare ALEC’s Open Enrollment Act with North Carolina’s Open Enrollment bill.

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