HB944 Seeks To Offer Vouchers To Public School Students Who Want To Go To Private Schools

5:49 PM, Apr 24, 2013   |    comments
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Raleigh, NC -- Public school or private school? Is one better than the other?

For a lot of parents, no matter the answer, the issue comes down to affordability.

But lawmakers want to give more parents and their kids a choice, without money being a factor.

There's a proposed house bill in Raleigh that would give students in public schools a scholarship to go to a private school.

A bipartisan group including 10 Triad lawmakers support the program which has been dubbed "The Opportunity Scholarship Act" or House Bill 944.

In it, lawmakers propose setting aside $40 million of the general budget to fund the scholarship in the 2013-2014 school year.

Each eligible student would receive a maximum of $4,200 to transfer to a private school if a parent chooses.

"I support it because it will empower parents to make decisions based on what's best for their children's education. It will allow parents to have more choice and therefore children will have more opportunity," said Jon Hardister, a Guilford County representative who supports the proposal. "We're not trying to take money out of public school systems."

Hardister said, in a recent meeting where lawmakers explained the proposal, there was a lot of support from parents with students in the public school system.

WFMY News 2 spoke with some of those parents who support the bill. Some said, a lack of funds is the primary reason their children are in public schools.

One said her child's school has continuously ranked low among other schools in the area and the voucher program would help her reconsider her options.

Sheila Clark, also a parent, told News 2, "It's absolutely phenomenal to have that advantage because the economy is rough right now."

However, critics of the bill say it would undermine a traditionally underfunded public school system that is already under attack.

"I think public dollars need to remain where there are accountability measures, where we know that it's meeting the needs of all of our children," said Kelly Langston, head of the Guilford County PTA.

Other parents in the association echoed her sentiments.

"To me it seems like they aren't trusting the public schools," said Sally Jabae.

"They say it's [about] choice. I think we have a lot of choices already," Brenda Dorsett added.

News 2 also reached out to the associate dean of education at North Carolina A&T State University.

Dr. Larry Powers explained that it is misleading for lawmakers to bill H.B. 944 as something that will help low-income families.

He says low-income families won't be able to afford private school even with the voucher.

The annual tuition for some private schools in the Triad ranges from $6,000 a year to more than $20,000 depending on the grade level.

Powers asks, where does a low-income family come up with rest?

But supporters of H.B. 944 hit back, saying every little bit counts.

Guilford County Schools and Forsyth County Schools say they do not support using public dollars to pay for private schools in part because of limited accountability. Also, when a parent decides to bring a child back into the public school system for whatever reason, the money - already paid - stays in the private school.  

Randy Doss with Greensboro Day School, a private institution, also weighed in on the topic. He said you can't go wrong by giving children a chance at the best education whether it is public or private.

If it passes, there are several requirements students and private schools would have to meet in order to get the Opportunity Scholarship fund.

Read: "The Opportunity Scholarship Act"; HB944

The bill passed its first reading in Raleigh.

It will have to go through the education and appropriations committees before making it to the house floor.

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