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School voucher bill filed, would channel taxpayer funds to private institutions

House lawmakers filed a bill Monday that would siphon $90 million dollars from public schools to private institutions over the next two years.

Reps. Bryan, B. Brown, Brandon and Hanes filed HB 944, “Opportunity Scholarship Act,” which would create scholarship grants for eligible students in an amount not to exceed $4,200 per year, per student.

Eligible students would be those who reside in a household with an income level not in excess of two hundred twenty-five percent (225%) of the federal poverty level to qualify in 2013-14. That requirement would rise to 300 percent the following year.

Rep. Paul Stam, who has introduced similar legislation in the past, gave an exclusive interview to the Carolina Journal last week, indicating that he would file the voucher bill. *He is a secondary sponsor of the bill.

Proponents of the bill say that providing opportunity scholarships (also frequently referred to as vouchers or neovouchers) to students gives them a choice – in this case, the chance to attend a private institution that may better serve their individual needs.

Critics point to the fact that taxpayer money should stay within the public school system, and once that money is directed to private schools, there is no accountability to ensure that students are getting a high quality education.

In addition, vouchers frequently do not cover the full cost of attending a private school, so the low-income students for which the vouchers are intended are never able to have a true choice when it comes to their education. Many who take advantage of the vouchers are those who often have the means to go to a private school anyway.

According to WRAL.com, the bill would allow a family of four earning up to $53,000 to apply for tuition aid in 2013-14, and that would rise to $71,000 the following year.

Look for in-depth analysis on how vouchers work–and who benefits from them–from the NC Justice’s Center’s Matt Ellinwood and Cedric Johnson this week.

*This post was corrected to indicate that Rep. Stam is a secondary sponsor of the bill. We previously reported he was not a sponsor of the legislation. We regret the error.

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