Voucher bill clears committee

Posted May 28, 2013
Updated May 29, 2013

— Some low-income students would be able to get publicly funded grants to help pay for private school tuition if a bill that cleared the House Education Committee 27-21 Tuesday becomes law.

As currently drafted, the measure would set aside $10 million for 2,000 scholarships in the fiscal year that begins July 1. Another $40 million would let 7,000 more students attend private schools starting July 1, 2014.

Each student would be eligible for a grant of $4,200. According to a report by Parents for Educational Freedom, the average annual private school tuition in North Carolina is $6,235.

School leaders say they know that tuition puts a private education out of reach for some families.

"If they can't afford it, they have no choice," said Dwight Ausely, administrator at Raleigh Christian Academy. "I'm in favor of putting that choice back in the hands of parents."

Opportunity Scholarship bill Private schools back scholarship bill

Opponents of the bill said the pilot would open the door to more public funding of private schools while demanding little accountability from private institutions.

Parent Amy Womble worries the measure, known as the Opportunity Scholarship Act, is mislabeled.

"I think the Opportunity Scholarship Act is really an opportunity for private companies to come in and take public tax dollars from our public schools already struggling with funding," Womble said.

Many of the bill's most vocal supporters are teachers and administrators from schools with religious affiliations and missions, a key point of contention for many of the bill's opponents.

"Just because one believes that a parent has a God-given right to raise his child does not mean one is against public schools," said Rep. Bert Jones, R-Rockingham, responding to criticism that the measure would deplete funding headed to public school classrooms.

"This is an issue of separation between church and state," said Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, who noted that many of the schools that would be eligible to receive public tax money have missions that explicitly call for the religious indoctrination of children.

Other critics of the bill, including Rep. Susan Fisher, D-Buncombe, pointed out that the $4,200 voucher would not cover half the cost of tuition at most non-religious schools in the Raleigh area, ticking off a list of schools, including Ravenscroft Academy, that cost $10,000 to $20,000 or more. 

"The difference is, of course, private schools get to choose," Rep. Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland, said. "They get to turn away the (English as a Second Language) kid, they get to turn away the kid who has a discipline problem, they get to turn away the kid who has health care concerns they can't meet."

Ausely said that is not the case, touting the diversity of Raleigh Christian's student population. About 32 percent of the 350 students there are African-American, 10 percent are Hispanic and 9 percent are Asian.

An Opportunity Scholarship, while not covering all of the Raleigh Christian tuition, would give interested families a leg up, Ausley said. The school, through its church congregation, offers scholarships that could help fill the gap.

The measure next goes to the House Appropriations Committee, but its course through the legislature after that is uncertain.

House lawmakers could pass the bill as a stand-alone measure, or they could tuck it into the version of the budget that they began drafting this week. The Senate put several education policy measures in its version of the budget.

If the bill does pass the state House in one form or another, its fate in the Senate is uncertain.

"We've just not talked about it at all," said Sen. Jerry Tilliman, R-Randolph.

The chairman of the Senate Education Committee. Tillman said he was personally "not there yet" on the bill.

"I don't like taking public money and giving it to private schools," he said. He pointed to the state's efforts to expand the number of charter school available in the state. Charter schools, he said, are still public schools.

"When we go into sending money to a private school, that's taking another leap," he said. 


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  • itsyoureternalsoul May 29, 2013

    See if the private schools can offer the support public schools are required to provide students with any type of disability.

  • Plenty Coups May 29, 2013

    "There is a reason they are called 'private schools' and its not to keep anyone out, but its to see that kids get a better quality education without the government's hands being involved!"

    So exactly why should the government then get involved and pay for a voucher for a private school?

  • Poboy1963 May 29, 2013

    There is a reason they are called 'private schools' and its not to keep anyone out, but its to see that kids get a better quality education without the government's hands being involved!

  • 68_dodge_polara May 29, 2013

    Living in Durham I can tell that these charter schools are the only hope we have of our children to get any kind of education at all.

  • goldenosprey May 29, 2013

    "All you poor kids just stay were you belong, in public schools... that's where the libs want you to stay." capt Obvious

    Please put down the Kool-ade! How can anyone be so deceived? The bill is not about helping poor kids get a private school education. The GA deliberately assures that. It is about re-distributing taxpayer money to unaccountable enterprises and religious schools, with the greater overall goal of destroying or severely marginalizing public schools.

    The fact that the same crowd pushing this tried to slowly re-segregate schools for years should be your first clue.

  • Krimson May 29, 2013

    BillO: "A tax credit is even more useless than a voucher for poor people."

    LOL! That critique would have to assume that vouchers have some "useful" purpose... I think we both agree that the current proposal is also "useless" in that neither offers a way for the truly needy to afford Private Schools...

    No, I was trying to point out that you can deliver subsidy to poor parents in a way that doesn't equate handing them a check...

  • bill0 May 29, 2013

    "If we really want to help poor families, why not give them a tax credit toward tuition at the school of their choice?"

    A tax credit is even more useless than a voucher for poor people. That would mean that a poor family would need to come up with $6,000-$20,000 per kid and then wait a year to get some of that money back.

  • Krimson May 29, 2013

    No one here has even attempted to answer my earlier question: what is to prevent any Private School from raising tuition to take advantage of the Subsidy? Its free money, and good business...

    If we really want to help poor families, why not give them a tax credit toward tuition at the school of their choice??? Oh, b/c that takes away from tax revenue (GOP's wallet) and doesn't take away from the Public School Budget (GOP's target).

  • Plenty Coups May 29, 2013

    "So, how many truly poor people will be able to come up with several thousand dollars per year in new out of pocket expenses in order to participate?"

    A fact that Capt. obvious doesn't acknowledge. If this was truly about helping the poor, it would pay all fees, tuition, and transportation costs.

  • Plenty Coups May 29, 2013

    "I was discussing allotment not expenditure. $ 10,500 is I believe an average of allotment;"

    It isn't. The average expenditure per child in NC is around $8500. 48th in the country. Individual allotments vary but the average is the per pupil amount. Now they want to take even more money away from the public schools as if that number wasn't embarrassing enough.. Not one poster favoring vouchers can give an accurate or logical defense of why this should happen.