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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.
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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. Read More

The NC House gave tentative approval to a $20.6 Billion budget Wednesday after debating more than two dozen amendments.

Some of the most impassioned debate followed an amendment by  Rep. Ed Hanes Jr. — a primary sponsor of the controversial House Bill 944 — to take school vouchers out of House budget. The Forsyth County Democrat argued while he still supported vouchers, the issue was too important to tuck inside the budget where it would not “receive full consideration, discussion, and debate.”

Co-sponsors of the bill urged House members to vote against the proposal, ensuring the Opportunity  Scholarship Act would be funded.

Prior to the vote on Rep. Hanes’ amendment, House Speaker Thom Tillis took the unusual step of speaking in favor of vouchers, while also being careful to say that he no longer believes that K-12 public schools are broken.

The Hanes’ amendment, removing vouchers from the larger budget bill, failed 52-65.

Thursday’s debate on the full budget begins in the House at 9:00 a.m.

To watch some of the debate over school vouchers from Wednesday’s House session, click below:

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Members of the House appropriations committee gathered today to debate their proposed budget for 2013-15.

The budget includes all of the language from the school voucher bill, or HB 944 Opportunity Scholarship Act, which would siphon $50 million over two years from public education and funnel that money to private schools.

Rep. Chris Whitmire, a Republican from Transylvania County, put forth an amendment that would have removed the school voucher language from the budget, calling the voucher bill a “Trojan horse” that would have brought the government into private settings and had not been fully vetted by the entire House. Read More

At a round table discussion for reporters and policymakers, hosted today by the University of North Carolina’s journalism school, new State Board of Education chair William Cobey expressed his discontent with the state of teacher pay in North Carolina.

“I want our teachers to be paid better and I want the best public school system we could possibly have,” said Cobey. “But we have to get a handle on Medicaid. It limits our choices.”

Cobey, recently appointed to his post by Gov. Pat McCrory, also pointed to reducing North Carolinians’ tax burdens and improving the state’s unemployment rate, which is the 5th highest in the nation, as additional ways to increase investment in public education.

Today’s discussion coincided with the release of the House budget proposal, which includes provisions for a school voucher program that would siphon $50 million from public schools over the next two years.

“My personal view is I’m for it,” Cobey said about vouchers. “Over time, you will save tax dollars for having a voucher system. There is a net savings.” Cobey said that he and NC State Superintendent of Schools, June Atkinson, disagree on the voucher program, saying that she has a problem with the accountability aspect of the program. Read More