Under the Dome

Dome: Revamped voucher plan debuts in House committee Tuesday

May 20, 2013 

House lawmakers will consider a revamped plan to provide taxpayer dollars to help send public school students to private schools.

Rep. Rob Bryan, a Charlotte Republican and lead sponsor of House Bill 944, said the new provisions help address concerns about accountability by requiring schools that receive more than $300,000 in voucher money to submit to audits. Another part of the bill requires schools with more than 25 voucher students to report aggregate test scores.

The maximum voucher is $4,200 for a child who is eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, or $3,780 for families with income at 133 percent of the threshold that qualifies for the federal program.

Bryan said the plan will cost $10 million the first year and $40 million the second year as it’s phased in. The House plans to put the money in its budget proposal; the Senate plan being considered this week doesn’t include the voucher funds.

The N.C. State Education Assistance Authority, which currently offers a college financial aid program, will administer the program.

Bryan rolled out the plan with a group of private school administrators and lawmakers, including Democratic Reps. Marcus Brandon of High Point and Ed Hanes of Winston-Salem.

Cynthia Perry of Wake Forest also spoke at the press conference. Perry said she wants to send her daughter, who struggles with reading comprehension, to a school with fewer students and more attention from teachers. As a single mother, she can’t afford private school tuition at this point. “I am a parent who only wants the best for her child,” she said.

The House Education Committee meets at 10 a.m. Tuesday to consider the new version of the bill.

Public Schools First NC, which opposes the legislation, called it radical.

“We ask our lawmakers in NC to step up for our children, teachers, and public schools by investing in our schools and lifting our students up from 48th in per-pupil funding toward the national average,” the group said in a statement.

Avoiding the executive branch

Yolanda Stith, the wife of Gov. Pat McCrory’s Chief of Staff Thomas Stith, is working as a lobbyist for the N.C. Association, Long Term Care Facilities, as well as several other groups, reports Patrick Gannon of The Insider.

The name of Stith’s lobbying firm: Capitol Access.

Despite the company’s name, one of Stith’s clients and a McCrory spokeswoman told Gannon that Stith focuses her lobbying efforts on General Assembly lawmakers, and doesn’t lobby the governor’s office or any executive branch agency.

McCrory spokeswoman Kim Genardo told Gannon the governor and his legal counsel know who her clients are and have taken steps to avoid conflicts.

On his Statement of Economic Interest filed with the State Ethics Commission, Thomas Stith reported his wife as a lobbyist and listed her clients, Gannon reports.

According to N.C. Secretary of State lobbying records, Stith worked as a lobbyist for The Longmire Group in Raleigh since 2011, and has represented the N.C. Association of Community Development Corporations, the N.C. Minority Women Business Enterprise Coordinators’ Network, Opportunities Industrialization Center of Wilson, Opportunities Industrialization Center of Rocky Mount and The Support Center.

Shanahan criticized

Now that the N.C. Senate is trying to move the State Bureau of Investigation to the N.C. Department of Public Safety, an outside group is putting a spotlight on Secretary Kieran Shanahan’s record.

Progress North Carolina Action, a political group opposed to the Republican governor and legislature, is trying to draw attention to a News & Observer report earlier this month about Shanahan moonlighting in a second job. To keep his law firm role, Progress North Carolina says, Shanahan should release a client list – or resign from office.

“As one of the top law enforcement officers in the state, Shanahan’s conduct must be beyond reproach,” Executive Director Gerrick Brenner said in a statement. “Furthermore, to avoid any potential conflict of interest, Gov. McCrory should also ask Sec. Shanahan to release his client list or resign.”

Staff writer John Frank

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