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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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michael-ward-phdDr. Mike Ward, who served as state superintendent of Public Instruction from 1997 to 2004, warns in a Wednesday editorial in the News & Observer that “the nation will witness the backslide” of North Carolina following a series of legislative proposals that undercut public education:

‘How sad we were to move back to Raleigh last fall and find some legislative leaders committed to a sprint to the bottom. After being far more competitive, North Carolina now ranks 48th in per pupil expenditure and 46th in how well we reward our hard-working teachers. And some in the General Assembly appear poised to make it worse.

Here’s just a sample of the proposed policies that stand to hurt our public schools and our students:

1.) Massive cuts to school funding. This means thousands of lost teaching positions. It means crowded classrooms and the loss of teacher assistants in early elementary grades, even though research shows that smaller class sizes help students, especially struggling students.

2.) Vouchers. If you want to know where money to pay for teachers is going, one place to look is at the proposed voucher legislation. Proponents refer to them as “opportunity scholarships.” Vouchers are bad public policy, snatching millions of dollars away from public schools that desperately need them. We support the choice of private education, but taxpayers will foot the bill for some parents to send their children to private schools. Legislators backing these vouchers will tell you that the vouchers are for disadvantaged students, but the bulk of these vouchers will go to middle-income residents – and you’ll get to pay their children’s private school tuition. Vouchers are an expensive, divisive program with virtually no record of improving overall student performance. Read More

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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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The good people at Action NC and Progress NC are out with some new poll results courtesy of Public Policy Polling. The poll asked North Carolina voters four questions about education policy during the last week of  April. Here’s the Action NC release:

Majority of NC voter oppose school vouchers, limiting pre-K
New poll finds strong opposition to many forms of education disinvestment currently under consideration at General Assembly

Raleigh – More than 60 percent of North Carolina voters oppose a school voucher plan currently under consideration at the General Assembly, according to a new poll just released by Action NC and Progress NC. Read More