NC Democrats propose bill to halt private school voucher expansions

North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper speaks during an event at the Wilmington Convention Center, Thursday, May 2, 2024 in Wilmington, N.C., where President Joe Biden announces his administration is providing states an additional $3 billion to replace lead pipes across the country. (AP Photo/David Yeazell)

By Dylan Rhoney

May 8, 2024

The bill comes as the Republican-controlled General Assembly is preparing to increase the state’s total commitment to its private school voucher program by $463 million.

As Republicans in the North Carolina General Assembly seem poised to further expand the state’s private school voucher program, Governor Roy Cooper and Democrats in the legislature unveiled a counter proposal this week that would instead halt further voucher expansion.

State Reps. Lindsey Prather, Robert Reives, Cynthia Ball, and Diamond Staton-Williams on Monday filed HB 993, while State Sens. Dan Blue, Gladys Robinson, and Michael Garrett are the primary sponsors of the Senate version of the bill, SB 853.

The legislation would halt future expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship beginning with the 2024-2025 school year, limiting the program to those who already received vouchers during the current academic year. The bills would also cut future funding from the scholarship after the 2035-2036 school year.

The legislation would also require private schools receiving funding from the opportunity scholarship to comply with all testing requirements set by the NC Department of Education for students from the third grade through high school. These private schools do not currently need to comply with the state’s testing requirements. The bills would further prohibit private schools from discriminating against students based on race and national origin, or against students with disabilities in accordance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The latest proposal from the GOP, which passed the Senate last week, with the House likely to pass in the coming days, will further expand the legislature’s commitment to the Opportunity Scholarship by $463 million per year. This could lead to annual funding of the scholarship increasing to around $800 million by 2031.

“This latest larceny, and that’s what it is, is on top of the hundreds of millions in taxpayer money they’ve already siphoned out of our public schools for vouchers,” Cooper said in his remarks on Monday, expressing strong criticism of the latest Republican proposal.

Cooper said the voucher expansion proposal will benefit some of the state’s wealthiest residents at the expense of public schools and their students.

“Instead of raising teacher pay and investing in public schools, legislators want to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars on private school vouchers that even millionaires with kids already in private schools can receive,” he said.

Democrats have also pointed out that because state funding is tied to enrollment figures, school districts will lose extra funding if students leave public schools for private schools under the voucher program.

Sen. Val Applewhite, a Democrat, says Cumberland County will see a significant hit from enrollment declines. “It’s a $17 million impact to Cumberland County Schools,” she said last week.

Tameka Walker Kelly, the President of the North Carolina Association of Educators has criticized the lack of accountability for private schools, telling WRAL in March that there needs to be higher standards for private education institutions receiving public funding.

“We believe that lawmakers should institute lots of means of accountability for public dollars being used by these private institutions,” she said.

Cooper strongly criticized Republican legislators from rural areas who voted in favor of the voucher increase.

“I think maybe the most confounding mystery is why so many rural legislators vote to take taxpayer money out of their own public schools and send it to the large number of private schools in the city,” he said.

As of the 2022-2023 school year, nine counties, all rural, did not have any private schools. Furthermore, of the 126,768 students enrolled in private schools, nearly half (47.9%), lived in the state’s five largest counties (Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford, Forsyth, and Cumberland).

Author

  • Dylan Rhoney

    Dylan Rhoney is an App State grad from Morganton who is passionate about travel, politics, history, and all things North Carolina. He lives in Raleigh.

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