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School vouchersIn 2012, many of the politicians who now control the North Carolina General Assembly ran on pledges of “fiscal conservatism” and reducing government spending. Indeed, many prominent members of the current majority continue to style themselves as “common-sense fiscal conservatives.”

There’s a disappointing lack of common sense, however, in the proposed “Opportunity Scholarships” program included in the current House budget. The program would provide school vouchers—up to $4,200 each—for K-12 students to attend private schools instead of traditional public schools. The current budget proposal appropriates $10 million for the program in the first year, and jumps to $40 million for the second. In a time of huge cuts to our public school system, there is no common sense in taking much needed resources from our students and teachers and asking them again to somehow do more with less.

Instead of being fiscally conservative, this voucher scheme is fiscally irresponsible, since it will cost the state money every year after the first. In fact, the larger the program becomes, the more money it will lose for North Carolinians. Read More

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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

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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