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Moody’s Investment Services, one of the nation’s major bond credit rating businesses, put out a report this week warning that dramatic growth of charter schools can undermine the financial footing of public school districts.

The report found that urban school districts already on shaky financial terms are most at risk of a downgrade in credit ratings from a sudden surge in charter school enrollment.

From a news release about the report:

The dramatic rise in charter school enrollments over the past decade is likely to create negative credit pressure on school districts in economically weak urban areas, says Moody’s Investors Service in a new report. Charter schools tend to proliferate in areas where school districts already show a degree of underlying economic and demographic stress, says Moody’s in the report “Charter Schools Pose Growing Risks for Urban Public Schools.”

“While the vast majority of traditional public districts are managing through the rise of charter schools without a negative credit impact, a small but growing number face financial stress due to the movement of students to charters,” says Michael D’Arcy, one of two authors of the report.

Charter schools can pull students and revenues away from districts faster than the districts can reduce their costs, says Moody’s. As some of these districts trim costs to balance out declining revenues, cuts in programs and services will further drive students to seek alternative institutions including charter schools.

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During yesterday’s school voucher debate, Rep. Bert Jones (R-Casewell, Rockingham) compared the ability to select any school for your child (using taxpayer money) to selecting your favorite milk:

“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.”

Jones’ remarks seemed off the cuff as he spoke in support of the Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would provide $4,200 vouchers to parents wishing to send their kids to private schools. The legislation would take $100 million from the public school system over three years.

However, Jones is not the only person to have likened school choice to milk consumption. In his remarks last year to the Republican National Convention, Florida’s Jeb Bush, arguably one of the highest profile proponents of school vouchers in the nation, also conjured up a bovine analogy when talking about the merits of school choice:

“Everywhere in our lives, we get the chance to choose,” he said in a prepared version of his remarks sent to reporters. “Go down any supermarket aisle – you’ll find an incredible selection of milk. You can get whole milk, 2% milk, low-fat milk or skim milk. Organic milk, and milk with extra Vitamin D. There’s flavored milk- chocolate, strawberry or vanilla – and it doesn’t even taste like milk. They even make milk for people who can’t drink milk.”

“Shouldn’t parents have that kind of choice in schools?” Bush said.

In his analogy yesterday, Jones did not address the issue of how individual milk choices would be funded.

As supporters of the Opportunity Scholarship Act voiced the need for school choice Tuesday, Rep. Chris Whitmire told lawmakers that House Bill 944 would damage public school offerings and fail to benefit all districts equally.

The Transylvania County Republican argued the public schools within the three counties he represents have served students well, yet would be punished with less state funding if this bill becomes law.

“When you continually take away, take away, take away… folks, no matter what their political dominion is, their kids end up taking it in the shorts.”

Whitmire warned that a $4,200 voucher would not begin to cover private school tuition, adding that the non-public schools in his area did not have the capacity to serve more than a handful of new students.

“And in the end I have great issues with the transparency of accountability,” explained Whitmire, a former school board chairman.

Only two other Republicans (Reps. Josh Dobson and Jeffrey Elmore) joined with Whitmire in voting against House Bill 944.

For more on the House Education Committee’s debate of school vouchers, read Lindsay Wagner’s blog post here. To hear Rep. Whitmire speak up for his public schools, click below:

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Members of the House Education Committee will resume discussion today on the Opportunity Scholarship Act, also known as the school voucher bill.

House Bill 944 would offer $4,200 maximum scholarships to students wishing to attend private schools instead of their local public schools. The program would set aside $10 million in the first year, $40 million in the second year and $50 million every year after.

NCAE President Rodney Ellis weighed in on the voucher bill on News & Views with Chris Fitzsimon over the weekend. Click below to hear why his group opposes the current legislation. (For the full interview, visit the Radio Interview section of the Policy Watch website.)

The House Education Committee meets at 10:00am this morning in Room 643 of the Legislative Office Building.

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Usually, public meetings are announced on the House or Senate calendar. Well, they used to be.

Yesterday, Parents for Educational Freedom in NC’s (PEFNC) twitter page was lit up with tweets coming out of the House chamber, where Speaker Tillis was holding a meeting on school choice. The Speaker had invited many guests from around the state to hear from school leaders and parents about the benefits of school choice.

NC Policy Watch stumbled across the meeting after seeing PEFNC’s twitter feed and noted that a couple of speakers were from Christian academies and spoke of high graduation rates and a superior education for those who choose their schools. The bulk of the invited guests appeared to be African American students. Read More