Senate bill would make all students eligible for vouchers intended to help poor families pay for private schools

A senate bill filed Tuesday would remove income eligibility requirements for the state’s so-called “Opportunity Scholarships” created to help low-income families pay private school tuition.

Senate Bill 711 was filed by Sen. Ralph Hise, a Mitchell County Republican. Sen. Bob Steinburg, a Republican from Edenton and Sen. Norman W. Sanderson, a Republican from Pamlico County, are co-sponsors.

Hise did not respond to an email message about the bill on Wednesday.

SB 711 was quickly denounced by Sen. Natasha Marcus, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County.

“It seems particularly callous right now to make this a priority,” Marcus said. “increasing funding for a program that is already over-funded, that’s taking money out of the coffers that will be needed in so many other places right now. It’s just not the right priority. Funding more private school vouchers is not a critical need right now.”

The program has never used its entire state allocation since launching in 2014.

Marcus noted that the state is facing an estimated $2 billion budget shortfall.

“At a time when our state revenues are taking a huge hit, and we didn’t even pass a state budget this year and we’re not going to, and we haven’t given teachers the much overdue raise that they deserve as well as all the COVID-19-related expenses we’re going to have, this is particularly egregious in my mind, to file a bill like this,” Marcus said.

She said the bill appears to be another attack on public schools and a blow against the mandate in the state’s constitution to provide all students with an opportunity to receive a sound basic education.

“This is part of a pattern for them [conservative lawmakers],” Marcus said. “They’d rather funnel money into these private schools that have very little accountability to the state about what they teach, who is teaching there and about any kind of outcomes for kids.”

Marcus said she’s not against private schools, only against spending “taxpayer money” to support them.

“I hope that people will see that this bill is an attempt to make North Carolina taxpayers bankroll private school education for an even greater number of families at a time when we’re taking a $2 billion hit in our budget,” she said.

SB 711 would pour millions more into the program that provides as much as $4,200 year for families to send children to private schools.

Hise’s bill would add an additional $2 million to the program’s budget each year beginning next school year through the 2026-27 school year.

The program, for example, is set to receive $74.8 million next school year. It would $76.8 million under SB 711.

State law mandates that the program’s budget increases by an additional $10 million each year. It would increase by $12 million next school year to incorporate the additional $2 million, then increase $10 million each subsequent year until the 2026-27 school year. The cummulative effect over seven years would be an additional $14 million above the amount originial authorized.

The program’s budget would jump another $10 million — from $136.8 million to $146.8 million — for the 2027-28 school year. The $146.8 million would establish a “base” budget for the program.

This school year, 12,283 students received $47. 7 million to attend 451 private schools.

The previous school year, 9,651 recipients received $38 million in private school vouchers.

Public school advocates contend the voucher program weakens public schools by shifting valuable resources to private schools. They also say there’s no evidence that students who received them perform better. They also complain the program fosters school segregation and lacks academic accountability.

Meanwhile, voucher proponents say the scholarship provide low-and moderate-income families with financial assistance to flee failing schools and to choose schools that better fit their children.

Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, could not be reached for comment on Wednesday.

Here’s what he had to say about the scholarships in a PEFNC newsletter in February.

“These scholarships provide up to $4,200 each year for students from over 12,000 low-income and working-class families to flourish in the educational environment of their parent’s choice,” Long wrote. “That is a privilege that more fortunate North Carolina families already enjoy — those with the incomes high enough to buy a house in a good public school district or pay private school tuition on their own. Without Opportunity Scholarships, low-income families can remain stuck.”


Report: 1 in 4 prospective college students ruling out some states due to political climate

The impact of politics on colleges and universities across the country isn’t just making headlines. It’s also driving prospective colleges students away from certain states, a new study released Monday suggests.

One in four high school seniors reported they ruled out certain campuses based on the politics, policies or unfolding legal situations in certain states, according to polling from the Art & Science Group, a consulting firm specializing in higher education.

The findings held true across the political spectrum, with self-identified liberal students (31 percent), conservative students (28 percent) and moderates (22 percent) all reporting they avoided certain states.

“Possibly the most interesting subgroup difference is the lack of a difference,” the report on the study reads. “In our research, students who identify as conservatives are about as likely to reject an institution on politically charged grounds overall as are students who classify themselves as liberals. Indeed, for those intent on generationally derived behavioral explanations, our study suggests that ‘snowflake’ students may exist on both the conservative and liberal sides of the aisle, with the phenomenon of ruling out an institution being cited by around 30% of both liberals and conservatives.”

The study’s authors note that their polling was fielded this winter, before the biggest political conflicts in higher education erupted in Florida, Texas and Ohio.

The states most likely to be ruled out by students: Alabama (38 percent), Texas (29 percent), Louisiana and Florida (both 21 percent).

Students who identified as liberal-leaning said they were more likely to rule out schools in the South or Midwest while conservative-leaning students said they were more likely to rule out New York and California. Read more

Weekend reads: A chilling effect on education, NC takes a bet on sports gambling, and how Medicaid expansion finally won approval

In this issue:

1. GOP bill to limit topics of discussion in public schools wins state House approvalParents, Democratic lawmakers decry censorship and “chilling effect on education”

A controversial bill that would restrict how the state’s public school teachers discuss race, gender and sexuality was approved by the state House by a 68-49 party line vote on Wednesday, and is now headed to the state Senate.Rep. Julie von Haefen

Several Democrats from the state’s urban centers vigorously opposed House Bill 187. The Republican-backed legislation would require school districts to give a 30-day notice to parents and the state Department of Public Instruction if teachers or invited guests plan to expose students to more than a dozen concepts GOP lawmakers deem unacceptable. [Read more…]

Bonus read: GOP bill establishing a federal parental bill of rights passed in U.S. House

2. North Carolina should learn from other places and try to do marijuana right

Cannabis – aka marijuana. Most Americans already live in a state where it’s lawful to sell, obtain and possess – either for medical purposes, recreational purposes or both – and the genie is clearly not going back in the bottle.

What’s more, if a bipartisan group of North Carolina lawmakers gets their way in the current legislative session, North Carolina will soon become the 38th state to embrace such a statutory environment. Senate Bill 3 – the “Compassionate Care Act” – would make marijuana a lawful treatment in this state for several specified medical conditions.[Read more…]

3. EPA asks for feedback on shipping waste to Sampson County, then admits it’s been doing just that — since 2017.

The stench punched them in the face. People scurried across the parking lot of the Snow Hill Missionary Baptist Church, trying to escape the clammy miasma that had descended over the neighborhood.

“It’s the landfill,” neighbors told the newcomers. “Some days we can’t even sit on our front porch.”

The Sampson County landfill, operated by GFL, is the largest in the state. It ranks second in methane emissions in the U.S. and first in North Carolina for vinyl chloride. But most of the time, it just stinks. [Read more…]

4.‘Beyond anything that most of us could have imagined’: Health officials, lawmakers tackle youth mental health crisis

Marcella Middleton grew up in foster care in Colorado and North Carolina and was taken to therapists and put on medications at a young age.

“A lot of people who really weren’t experienced were trying to diagnose me,” she told a town hall on the youth mental health crisis in Winston-Salem last week.

A good therapist helped her sort through the trauma of her early childhood and the experience of living with strangers, adjusting to foster homes. Now an adult volunteer with youth advocacy group SAYSO and the Pembroke County Housing Authority, she’s trying to help a new generation of young people navigate caring for their mental health. [Read more…]

5. Sports wagering advances with bi-partisan support and plenty of reservations
Legislation that would authorize gambling on professional and college sports in North Carolina cleared its first House committee on Tuesday.

After efforts failed last year, Rep. Jason Saine (R-Lincoln) said he and the co-sponsors of House Bill 347 began work on how to make the legislation more palatable.

“This is a truly bipartisan effort.The four sponsors are two Republicans and two Democrats, and we’re joined by 52 other members of the House representing both parties. I hope whether you are for or against the bill, you appreciate the effort to move something in a truly collaborative fashion.” [Read more…]6. NC House bill would ban COVID-19 vaccination requirements for public employees and students

A public health strategy meant to prevent the spread of COVID-19 would be outlawed under a bill the state House is considering.

State and local governments, public schools, the community college system, and the UNC system would not be allowed to require workers, job applicants, or students to show proof that they were vaccinated for COVID-19. There are some limited exceptions, including for people working in federally-regulated health facilities.

Rep. Jon Hardister, a Guilford County Republican and a bill sponsor, said the state Department of Health and Human Services is not interested in a vaccine mandate. [Read more…]7. North Carolina’s existing abortion restrictions harm patients, doctors sayAs Republicans in the state legislature contemplate more abortion restrictions, doctors who treat pregnant patients highlighted the existing legal barriers that present obstacles to good medical care.

Among the state’s restrictions are a 20-week abortion ban, a 72-hour waiting period, a prohibition on telehealth appointments for abortion pill prescriptions, a requirement that patients take the first pill in the presence of a doctor, and a prohibition on medical professionals other than doctors prescribing abortion pills.

Sponsors call the bill lifting those restrictions and others “The RBG Act,” an homage to former US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.[Read more…]

Bonus read: “More important than ever” UNC Panel talks faith and abortion

8. “A long, bumpy history”: North Carolina House gives final approval to Medicaid expansion. (w/video)

After more than a decade of contentious debates, it took the North Carolina House of Representatives less than two minutes on Thursday to pass Medicaid expansion.

Rep. Donnie Lambeth (R-Forsyth) wasted little time in urging his colleagues to support the bill that will extend health insurance coverage to about 600,000 North Carolinians who currently fall into the coverage gap.

All I’m gonna say to you is – thank you, thank you, thank you. Vote!” [Read more…]

9. ‘Kayla’s Law’ domestic violence bill clears committee with bipartisan vote

The proposal would allow survivors of domestic violence to testify remotely against their alleged abusers and increase the statute of limitations for prosecution of misdemeanor domestic violence.

Kayla Hammonds was afraid to go to court. She couldn’t bear the thought of facing her ex-boyfriend in the courtroom alone, so she would bring her sister for moral support. Terror-stricken, Kayla would glance at the door throughout the hearing, afraid her alleged abuser would walk through it. Sometimes, she just didn’t go.

“He threatened her life, family members [lives,] it’s understandable why she didn’t show up in court numerous times,” her grandfather, J.W. Hammonds, said at a press conference Tuesday. [Read more….]

10. Cooper launches Office of Violence Prevention as Republicans send gun reform bill to his desk

Last week Gov. Roy Cooper announced that he’d launch an Office of Violence Prevention, an initiative aimed at reducing violence and firearm misuse across North Carolina.

“All of us deserve to feel safe in our homes, our schools and our communities,” Cooper said in a statement. “This new office will help coordinate the efforts to reduce violent crime, tackle both intentional and careless gun injuries and deaths, and work to keep people safe.”

Cooper created the office via an executive order. [Read more…]

11. Neighbors of abandoned Wake Forest golf course want to know what chemicals are in the soil

Nature — and spray paint — are reclaiming the old Wake Forest Golf Course & Country Club. The 160-acre tract off Capital Boulevard was once a destination for those who wanted to conquer a difficult course, including the first hole, a Par 5, that according to ForeTee, a golf course review website, “plays to a whopping 711 yards from the back tees.”

Now the club house is boarded up, its mint paint faded by the sun. The swimming pool is empty, serving as a concrete canvas for graffiti artists. Golf cart paths are overgrown and muddy, flanked by noble old trees. Turtles bask on logs in the ponds, where beavers have built their dams. The fairways are still mowed, though, and the property has become a de facto park for walkers, joggers and nature lovers. [Read more…]

12. Weekly Radio Interviews and Daily Radio Commentaries:

GOP bill establishing a federal parental bill of rights passed in U.S. House

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-NC) chairs the U.S. House Education and Workforce Committee and championed the “Parents Bill of Rights.” Photo: Screenshot from

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Republicans on Friday passed a bill designed to empower parents to inspect books and other teaching materials in local public schools, but Democrats sharply criticized the measure, saying it would censor teachers and ban books.

Trump criticizes DeSantis, calls for national ‘school choice’ at first 2023 Iowa event

Former President Donald Trump arrives for an event at the Adler Theatre on March 13, 2023 in Davenport, Iowa. (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

DAVENPORT, IOWA — Former President Donald Trump, in his first Iowa stop as an official presidential candidate, took aim at a potential rival, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Trump said if DeSantis joins the 2024 presidential race, his track record on ethanol and Social Security could cost him the Iowa caucuses. “I don’t think you’re gonna be doing so well here,” Trump said. “But we’re gonna find out.”

In 2017, DeSantis – then a U.S. representative – supported legislation that would have ended the Renewable Fuel Standard, which sets how much renewable energy must be be blended into the nation’s fuel supply. Trump said he would defend the Iowa ethanol industry from lawmakers seeking to cut subsidies, and he pledged to support increasing ethanol production.

“Just as I did for four straight years, I will protect the ethanol and I will go after anyone who wishes to destroy it,” Trump said.

Trump came in second in the Iowa caucuses in 2016 to another anti-ethanol candidate, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas.

But Trump said Monday that DeSantis’ record of supporting changes to Social Security and Medicare like raising the retirement age to 70, also will make him unpopular in Iowa.

Trump said DeSantis reminded him of Republicans like U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney and former U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, who he called a “RINO (Republican in Name Only) loser.”

More than 1,000 people came to see the former president speak at Adler Theater in Davenport, with a line stretching around the block. After the theater reached capacity, some people stayed outside while he spoke.

DeSantis held a book tour event Friday in Davenport. His stops there and in Des Moines with Gov. Kim Reynolds marked his first trip to Iowa.

Trump slips in Iowa Poll

While DeSantis has not yet announced a bid for the presidency, the governor is considered a strong alternative to Trump for the 2024 GOP nomination.

The most recent Des Moines Register/Mediacom Iowa Poll found a majority of Iowans still see Trump in a positive light: 80% of Iowa Republicans said they have a “very favorable” view or “mostly favorable” view of the candidate. If Trump wins the GOP nomination, 74% of Republicans responded they would likely vote for him.

But that support is shifting: 47% of Iowa Republicans said they would definitely vote for him in the 2023 poll, down from 69% who said in the June 2021 poll that they would definitely support him. Read more