State Politics

NC House rejects attempts to cut funding from private school vouchers and shift it to public schools

Teacher assistant Aimee Pattison, right, helps first-grader Jaeden Clayton-Valdez with reading exercises at Lake Myra Elementary in Wendell in June 2015.
Teacher assistant Aimee Pattison, right, helps first-grader Jaeden Clayton-Valdez with reading exercises at Lake Myra Elementary in Wendell in June 2015. File Photo

The N.C. House shot down two efforts to shift funding from private school vouchers to public school budgets.

The House voted 69-43 Thursday to table a budget amendment proposed by Rep. Rosa Gill, a Raleigh Democrat, a procedural move that prevented further consideration of the amendment.

Gill sought to reduce funding for the Opportunity Scholarship program, which helps families pay for private school tuition, by $20 million and instead use the money to hire more classroom teachers in kindergarten through third grade.

Gill argued that the move was necessary following concerns about a mandate to lower class sizes that some school districts had worried would prompt cuts to arts and other specialty teachers. Legislation to delay the class size mandate was signed by the governor in April. Still, Gill says more teacher funding is needed.

“Never have I met a parent that wants to choose between lower class sizes and the specialty teachers,” Gill said. “They expect both; it’s really not too much to ask. We need a budget that allows our schools to do both.”

But Rep. Jeffrey Elmore, a Wilkes County Republican, said the amendment isn’t needed because the state is currently studying class size needs.

“I don’t really understand how you can take a step when you don’t know the direction and you don’t have a map,” Elmore said.

The House also tabled a similar amendment filed by Rep. John Autry, a Charlotte Democrat, who sought to move the $20 million from private school vouchers to public school districts to hire more support staff.

“This amendment prioritizes giving public schools the resources needed to hire support personnel, rather than to further fund vouchers in private schools,” Autry said.

Both the Autry and Gill amendments would have kept about $25 million in the voucher program for the coming fiscal year. But Rep. Bert Jones, a Reidsville Republican, said the program shouldn’t be cut.

“I think it is something that benefits the citizens of this state,” he said. “We’ve heard from the families that benefit.”

Autry’s amendment was rejected in a 76-41 vote to table it.

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