Lawmakers want to increase scholarships for disabled students

Posted March 24, 2015


— The scholarship program that helps disabled students attend private schools would become more valuable and easier to use under a bill that cleared the House Education K-12 Committee on Tuesday.

In 2013, the General Assembly turned what had been a tax credit program into a $3,000 grant for disabled students who leave public schools and attend private schools. At the time, backers said it would help families of students whose needs weren't being met in public schools.

Unlike a separate program that provides so-called Opportunity Scholarships to low-income students who wish to leave public schools, which is controversial and the subject of a fierce legal battle, the scholarship for disabled students has generally had bipartisan support.

House Bill 133 would increase the value of the special education scholarship to $4,000 per semester. It would also provide the grant at the beginning of the semester rather than at the end, making it easier for families to use.

The bill easily moved through committee Tuesday morning. The biggest point of discussion had to do with clawing back money that a family is granted if a student stops attending the private school in question. The bill will next be reviewed by the House Appropriations Committee before heading to the floor.

"I'm pleased this is a bill that takes public money to educate public citizens," said Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham.

Some Democrats, including Rep. Rick Glazier, R-Cumberland, back the bill. However, there are some holdouts, including Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, who said he generally opposes giving public tax dollars to private schools. He also pointed out there was nothing in the bill that requires disabled students to attend a private school with a specific special education program.

"I think that's a serious problem with the bill," Luebke said. "There's no requirement of a special education program. Where are we sending these children with disabilities?"


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