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May 19, 2024 3:44 pm

by Ahmed Jallow, NC Newsline
May 6, 2024

At a press conference on Monday, Gov. Roy Cooper reiterated his call for increased investment in public schools and outlined new legislation that proposes a moratorium on additional taxpayer-funded private school vouchers until public schools are “fully funded.” Cooper called efforts by Republicans to expand the voucher program “larceny.”

The governor was joined by state House and Senate Democratic leaders, Rep. Robert Reives and Sen. Dan Blue, as well as other Democratic legislators and public education advocates.

The legislation Cooper endorsed, House Bill 993 and Senate Bill 853, would require voucher students to take state standardized tests and mandate that private schools provide services for students with disabilities that comply with federal and state law. The bill would also mandate additional reporting from private schools, including graduation rates, attendance records, financial audits and aggregate test scores.

“Let’s be clear about something, I’m not against private schools,” Cooper said during his speech. “But a private school education is not constitutionally mandated, while a public school education is. That’s why I oppose this reverse Robin Hood scheme that steals taxpayer money from public schools and gives it to private schools.”

A bill that would allocate an additional $463 million to the state’s private school voucher program over the next two years gained traction in the Senate last Thursday, passing on a vote of 28-15. The legislation now returns to the House for concurrence in Senate changes.

Republican backers of House Bill 823 say the additional money is needed to clear the waitlist of more than 54,000 people for the state’s “Opportunity Scholarships.” The income-based program that helps parents cover private school tuition costs, with awards ranging from $3,000 to $7,000.

Funding for the program ran out after scholarships were offered to 13,511 applicants in the lowest income tier and about 2,300 in the second income tier.

“Republican leaders are pushing forward with a plan to funnel more than half a billion dollars into their unaccountable voucher scheme,” said Rep. Reives. “Elected officials have a duty to be good stewards of your tax dollars and ensure that money is well-spent. We are calling for commonsense oversight and accountability for private schools receiving taxpayer money.”

Cooper also pointed to the potential impact on rural schools, arguing that these measures divert funding away from public schools in those communities. He expressed confusion over support for school voucher legislation among some rural lawmakers.

“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.”

Nearly one-third of North Carolina counties, primarily rural, have only one or no private schools participating in the voucher program, according to the figures provided by the governor’s office.

“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,” said Governor Roy Cooper. “This scheme is shockingly irresponsible, and the legislature must stop spending more taxpayer money on private school vouchers until they fully fund our public schools.”

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