House Speaker Pro Tem Paul Skip Stam plans to introduce a $90 million plan to provide vouchers that will allow many parents to send their children to private schools.
The Wake County Republican told the Carolina Journal that the bill will offer a maximum $4,200 equal opportunity scholarship grant per child for those who meet income eligibility requirements.
The income limits would indicate the vouchers are aimed at low-income families but Stam estimated that 52 percent of North Carolina school children would be eligible for vouchers for the 2013-14 school year, and 65 percent the following year. He said a scholarship could not exceed 90 percent of the cost of a private schools charges for tuition fees.
Stam said the vouchers would save the state money because it now costs state and local governments $6,745 per child, while the vouchers would cost $3,990 per child.
Weve been trying to do this for about 20 years, Stam told the Journal. It is nice to have a majority in the legislature to be able to actually do it.
Former U.S. Rep. Bill Cobey, the new chairman of the state Board of Education, voiced support for the proposal. During the campaign, Gov. Pat McCrory voiced limited support for vouchers, saying he backed tax credits for targeted groups of children.
Critics of such voucher programs say they drain money from public schools. Writing in NC Policy Watch, Chris Fitzsimon says they will leave the public schools with far fewer resources than they need and a mandate to educate every child regardless of their academic level or disability.
New limits for pre-K program
A bill already introduced in the House would limit eligibility for the states pre-kindergarten program.
The bill would reduce income eligibility from about 200 percent of the federal poverty level to 100 percent. If the income limit was in place this year, a family of three could not make more than $19,530 a year to have a 4-year-old qualify for N.C. Pre-K.
Some of the other ways to qualify, such as having developmental needs or being a child in a military family, remain in the bill, although a child with limited English proficiency would no longer meet the guidelines.
The program was started to help at-risk 4-year-olds get ready for kindergarten. But in the past two years, the definition of at risk triggered a heated debate between former Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue and the new Republican-led legislature. Poor school districts ended up suing and Wake Superior Court Judge Howard Manning said the legislature could not erect barriers to enrollment for at-risk children.
About 29,600 children are enrolled in N.C. Pre-K. A state survey of contractors from September showed that 11,678 children were waiting to get into a pre-K class.
Gov. Pat McCrorys budget proposal would add $52 million over two years to the $151.7 million budget, adding 5,000 more slots.
Rep. Justin Burr, one of the House bills sponsors, made a similar income proposal to limit income eligibility a few years ago, but dropped it.
Burr said the bill would complement McCrorys proposal by making sure the state is enrolling all the children who most need pre-kindergarten.
Rob Thompson, executive director of the Covenant with North Carolinas Children, said the states goal should be to enroll as many children as possible in preschool.
Limiting to families under the federal poverty line is counter to that statewide goal, he said.
Serious talk about children
Organizers of a Child and Family Day event Wednesday at the legislature promise a life-size Chutes and Ladders game.
The lobbying effort to remind lawmakers that its important to invest in children is being organized by Action for Children NC, Covenant with North Carolinas Children, NC Child Care Coalition, NC Pediatric Society, NC Moms Rising and Prevent Child Abuse NC.
Speakers include the Henderson police chief, a pediatrician, a banker and a mom.
The event is from 11 a.m. to noon on Halifax Mall behind the General Assembly.
Staff writers Rob Christensen, Lynn Bonner and Mary Cornatzer
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