A proposal to move money from road maintenance to a new grant program for charter schools divided the House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.
A budget amendment from Rep. Jon Hardister, a Greensboro Republican, cuts $2.5 million in road maintenance money to provide grants for charter schools that serve low-income students and that want to provide student transportation – a service many charter schools don’t offer.
“If a student’s on free and reduced lunch, it can be harder for them to get to school,” Hardister said.
To qualify for a grant, a charter school would have to have at least 50 percent of its students receiving free or reduced-price lunch. Grants would cover up to 65 percent of the cost of running buses or providing other transportation. Hardister said that of North Carolina’s more than 150 charter schools, only 20 to 30 offer transportation.
The pilot program would serve a limited number of schools, so some Democrats raised concerns about the fairness of the proposal. But Democratic Rep. Cecil Brockman of High Point joined Hardister in backing the program.
“This amendment is all about accessibility for low income, poor students,” Brockman said. “One of the biggest critiques folks have about charter schools is they’re not accessible to everyone.”
Some voiced concerns about taking the money from the transportation budget – which has in past years become depleted because it was a popular source of funding for unrelated projects.
“We need to keep as much of our transportation funding in building and maintaining our roads as possible,” said Rep. Grier Martin, a Raleigh Democrat.
Rep. John Torbett, a Gaston County Republican and transportation budget writer, said the House won’t make it a regular practice.
“This is not a foot in the door to access transportation dollars,” he said. “This is a one-time experiment.”
The amendment passed the Appropriations Committee in a split vote and is now part of the House budget that is due to get a vote on Thursday.