The Citizen-Times of Asheville is reporting this week that North Carolina has spent about $12 million this academic year, out of a budgeted $17.6 million, on the state’s controversial private school voucher program.
The vouchers, provided by the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program, offer $4,200 scholarships for low-income children to attend the state’s private schools, which are mostly religious schools.
From The Citizen-Times:
Statewide, officials received 8,675 new applications for the current school year. Of that number around 6,100 students were deemed eligible.
“I do think that the uncertainly around the court case had to have contributed to some families’ hesitation (to accept scholarships),” said Kathryn Marker, associate director for K-12 programs for the State Education Assistance Authority.
Conservative lawmakers in Raleigh have been ramping up support for the scholarship program in recent years, despite objections to the use of public money on private schools. Critics have also pointed out that private schools lack the same accountability standards as public schools.
Opponents have also noted that the program could be used to funnel public cash toward schools with arguably discriminatory admissions policies.
As Policy Watch reported in January, one such voucher-eligible school in Lee County was requiring students and parents sign a pledge that denounced homosexuality as “immoral and sinful.”
Despite the criticism, according to The Citizen-Times, voucher supporters say they expect that applications for the program will only continue to grow.
Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina which supports the program, said one issue this year was the late passage of the state budget. School had started before state lawmakers approved the additional money and families had already enrolled children in a school.
He predicts the program could have a waiting list for the next school year even with another increase in state dollars. Funding for the 2016-17 school year will increase to $24.8 million.
“Really, this is the first year of the program where there’s no legal cloud and there’s funding and we know that in advance,” Allison said.
He points to the nearly 5,500 new applications submitted in a single month for the 2016-17 school year.
The application period opened Feb. 1 and it will remain open as long as funding is available, Marker said.
Allison said more private schools are also participating in the program.
We’ll continue to follow this important issue.