NC budget plan would expand access to private education vouchers


More taxpayer money would help North Carolina families pay for a private school, and public schools would be protected from losing state money to have fewer students this year, as part of ‘a new state budget proposal.

Traditional public schools still haven’t recovered from the sharp drop in enrollment that took place last school year during the coronavirus pandemic. But the new state budget developed by Republican lawmakers and released on Monday would continue to fund school districts at their enrollment levels before the pandemic, avoiding a potential reduction of $ 132 million this year.

The state funds school districts and charter schools based on the number of students they have. The General Assembly maintains the “keep it harmless” provision it included for schools last year.

The Republican-led General Assembly will vote on the budget this week. It’s unclear whether Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper will veto the budget due to concerns he is expected to have about other parts of the spending plan.

Here are some of the elements related to education in the budget proposal:

More Leandro funding

GOP lawmakers still disagree with a state judge over a plan he says will help the state meet its constitutional obligation to provide students with a solid basic education.

Superior Court Judge David Lee last week ordered the state to transfer $ 1.7 billion from its reserves to fully fund the first two years of the corrective action plan linked to the long-running trial by Leandro on financing education. GOP legislative leaders say Lee does not have the power to order the money transfer.

The new budget funds more parts of the Leandro plan than previous versions, but not the entire proposal. For example, the budget includes new items such as state funding to supplement the salaries paid to teachers in low-income school districts.

But the budget foresees an average increase of 2.5% this year for teachers instead of the 5% increase foreseen in the Leandro plan.

More voucher funds for private schools

The budget expands the number of people who can get taxpayer funds to attend private schools and increases the amount of money they could receive.

Currently, the state provides up to $ 4,200 per student to low- to middle-income families who use scholarships to attend private schools. The budget would change the voucher to 90% of the amount the state spends per year per public school student. GOP lawmakers estimated the new annual bond amount to be $ 5,850.

The budget would increase income eligibility to include families representing up to 175% of the amount needed to qualify for the federal free or reduced meal program. That’s $ 85,794 a year for a family of four.

The current eligibility limit is 150%.

The budget also provides an additional $ 15 million each year for the voucher program, bringing the amount forecast in fiscal year 2023-24 to $ 120.5 million.

The expansion comes as opponents filed a lawsuit claiming the program is unconstitutional, in part because it provides funding to schools that discriminate against students or their families on religious grounds, The News & Observer previously reported.

Help charter schools

The budget contains provisions designed to help charter schools, which are taxpayer-funded schools that are exempt from some of the rules that traditional public schools must follow. The provisions would be:

â–ª Make it easier for charter school operators to get approval for new schools quickly. The budget says they would have to demonstrate that the majority – but not all – of their existing charter schools are doing better academically than the surrounding school district to gain fast-track approval from the State Board of Education.

â–ª Require municipalities to provide water and sewer service to charter schools. Lawmakers cited how Durham City Council refused to extend public services to a new charter school.

Demand Holocaust education

The budget requires the National Board of Education to include education on the Holocaust and genocide in the English and social studies standards used in middle and high schools.

Supporters say it is necessary because some people still deny that the Nazis killed millions of Jews, Roma and others they considered unwanted.

There has been a national push to demand that public schools teach about the Holocaust. Languages ​​requiring Holocaust education have been included in past state budgets.

No more billing teachers for personal days

The budget ends the requirement that teachers pay a substitute teacher to cover their classes when they take personal leave on a school day. To get this exemption, teachers would have to give their principal a reason for the personal day.

Teachers have always been required to pay $ 50 each time they use a personal day. This has prompted teachers to use sick days instead, even if they are not, to avoid paying the undercharges.

Teachers have been complaining for years about having to pay for the submarine. But some teachers object to how lawmakers would like them to give a reason to take a day personal.

No mandate to publish lesson plans online

Some items from previous versions of the budget that were dropped include:

â–ª Require teachers to publish lesson plans online.

â–ª Require school districts to create committees where the public can challenge educational materials used in schools.

â–ª Withholding state funding for salaries of superintendents whose school districts do not teach cursive writing and multiplication tables.

â–ª Remove wording from state law that says inappropriate language, disrespect, dress code violations, and minor physical modifications are not examples of serious violations of student discipline.

For more information on North Carolina government and politics, listen to The News & Observer and NC Insider’s Under the Dome political podcast. You can find it on link.chtbl.com/underthedomenc or wherever you get your podcasts.

This story was originally published November 15, 2021 6:32 pm.

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees, and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina . Its main focus is Wake County, but it also covers education issues statewide.


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