@NCCapitol

@NCCapitol

Senate panel clarifies grants for special-needs students

Posted June 18

A bill clarifying requirements of a scholarship program allowing children with disabilities to attend private schools gained approval from the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

— A bill clarifying requirements of a scholarship program allowing children with disabilities to attend private schools gained approval from the Senate Education Committee on Wednesday.

The legislation would tighten the language of a law passed last year that gives grants of up to $3,000 a semester to families that want to send their special-needs children to private schools. The new provisions came after lawmakers stripped and replaced the contents of a House bill pertaining to expert court witnesses, a procedure sometimes known as “gut and amend.”

The bill would also exempt the records of students in the program from the state public records law and clarify murky eligibility requirements from the previous law. It would also exempt certain private school-run childcare programs from licensing requirements, drawing concern from some lawmakers.

Proponents of the bill called it “family-friendly,” saying the licensing loophole would allow schools to continue operating childcare programs that are already in place.

“Its purpose here is to allow those non-public schools to continue what they’ve been doing,” said former state Sen. Richard Stevens, who spoke in favor of the bill.

But Senate Minority Whip Josh Stein, D-Wake, questioned the merit of childcare programs forgoing licensing.

“‘Family-friendly’ may make it easier for these schools to operate in the way they’ve been operating in the past,” Stein said. “‘Family-friendly’ could also be ensuring that programs meet basic standards.”

The program, which shifted from a tax credit to a scholarship program last year, is separate from a state-funded voucher program allowing low-income students to attend private schools.

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