Raleigh, N.C. — Legislation moving through the General Assembly would increase private school vouchers available to some families, tying the annual amount to what the state spends on the average public school student instead of having a hard cap.
House Bill 32 would also bring a group in to advertise the state’s Opportunity Scholarships to boost enrollment in a program that typically doesn’t spend all of the money the state legislature puts into it.
The bill would also authorize counties, which typically supplement state funding for local schools, to add $1,000 in local funding to the vouchers, which have previously been funded solely by the state.
The bill is a political football at the legislature as the Republican majority and Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper joust over education and budget policies. Cooper has repeatedly tried to phase this program out, and his latest budget proposal, released last week, would do so again.
The bill cleared a key House committee Thursday morning, with a handful of committee Democrats questioning the measure, as well as the underlying program that Republicans created several years ago.
The program is open to families that make less than 150 percent of the federal free or reduced-price lunch threshold, which at the moment is about $71,500 for a family of four.
Current scholarships are capped at $4,200 a year. This bill would increase that to 70 percent of the state’s per-pupil allotment, a measure of how much the state spends per student each year on K-12 public schools. It would eventually increase to 80 percent of the allotment.
That allotment is about $6,600 per child right now, but it changes year to year.
The program has about $64 million budgeted to it this year and is on track to spend more than $60 million. It’s allowed to carry forward whatever doesn’t get spent to the next year and has built up a balance of roughly $18 million, according to the state legislature’s Fiscal Research Division.
Under current law, the program’s total allocation automatically increases by $10 million each year. The governor would cut the program instead, allowing students on scholarship to keep their vouchers but ending new enrollments.
His budget would reduce funding in the coming year by $20 million, then steps it down further each year with an ultimate goal of zero. Republicans leaders at the statehouse have made it clear they won’t back elimination of a program they’ve worked hard to create and support.
Democrats have long complained the program saps funding from public schools and that it doesn’t benefit the truly needy because large private schools often cost much more than $4,200 a year. Republicans argue it’s a way for lower-income families who feel trapped in failing public schools to find a better situation.