Charlotte, NC
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May 19, 2024 4:26 pm

By Shanteya Hudson, May 14, 2024

Legislation to boost private school voucher funding in North Carolina is raising concerns among educators, particularly in rural areas. Educators say when private schools get vouchers, that’s money public schools won’t receive.

House Bill 823 aims to allocate about $500 million of additional taxpayer money over the next two years for the state’s Opportunity Scholarships.

Deanne Meadows, Columbus County School District superintendent, has personally witnessed the consequences of underfunded public schools.

“We have closed or consolidated from 18 school facilities down to 12. And we did that because we had a lot of schools that were very small, and we could not accommodate the cost of those smaller schools,” she explained.

She said parents should have the freedom to decide which school their child attends, but emphasized that it is crucial to ensure public schools receive full funding before allocating funds for vouchers. According to Meadows, when a student transfers to a private school with a voucher, the funds allocated to that student go with them, which might impact the number of teachers, nurses and essential services available in public schools.

She added if a student decides to transfer back to a public school midyear, the previously allotted funds do not return. Supporters of the private-school voucher expansion argue that the additional funds would help clear a waiting list of about 55,000 students.

Another major concern highlighted by Meadows is the lack of accountability faced by private schools when compared with public schools. Public schools have to meet specific requirements for their teachers and testing, among other things. She also pointed out that public schools have to meet the needs of all students, which isn’t a requirement at private schools.

“Charter schools, private schools, home schools, they don’t have to serve anybody,” she said. “They can serve whoever they choose to serve, but we serve every kid that comes through our door.”

Research from Public Schools First NC has raised additional concerns about discriminatory policies in private schools. These policies allow private schools to turn away students based on such factors as religion, LGBTQ+ status, and disabilities.

Meadows also worries about the long-term economic impact on the district, particularly for vulnerable students.

“They’ve got to have an education in order to be able to be successful in their future. And when we start taking away from public education, we are taking away the chance for those kids to be able to be successful and productive and be able to come out of a poverty situation, ” she explained.

In light of these concerns, Democratic legislators have introduced H.B. 993 to restrict future expansion of the Opportunity Scholarship program. The proposed legislation, and a companion bill the Senate, aim to limit the program to current voucher recipients starting from the 2024-2025 school year. The bill also seeks to phase out funding for the scholarship after the 2035-2036 school year.

If passed, the legislation would also require private schools benefiting from the Opportunity Scholarship to adhere to state testing requirements for students from the third grade through high school.

References:  Voucher acceptance by school district N.C. State Education Assistance Authority 2024

This story is republished from Public News Service under a Creative Commons license. Read the original story.