By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
May 24, 2013
RALEIGH — Low-income families who feel their children aren’t excelling in the state’s public schools could get help affording private options under a bill taken up this week in the House Education Committee.
The bipartisan Opportunity Scholarship Act, H 944, would give eligible students up to $4,200 to use for tuition and fees at the non-public school of their choice with the first grants to be awarded for the 2013-2014 school year. Those eligible would include all students who qualify for free or reduced price lunches and have been full-time students in public school during the prior spring semester. In the program’s second year, criteria would expand to take in families whose income is within 133 percent of the free lunch limits, but at least half of new grants would be reserved for those in the lowest income bracket.
“This bill is aptly named because it will give students broader opportunities, and it will give parents, who may never before been able to afford better education options” said the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League. “We urge Christians to let their lawmakers know they support this measure.”
Presented in committee by primary sponsors Rob Bryan (R-Mecklenburg), Brian Brown (R-Pitt), Marcus Brandon (D-Guilford) and Edward Hanes (D-Forsyth), the bill would create the State Education Assistance Authority to oversee the grants and ensure that schools meet accountability requirements. Schools accepting students on grants would have to conduct criminal background checks for their highest ranking administrators, give parents written explanations of their student’s progress, submit standardized tests scores and graduation rates to the SEAA, and, if their grant funding was more than $300,000, contract with a CPA to have an annual financial review. The SEAA would report annually to the Department of Public Instruction on the learning gains made by grant students as determined by an independent research organization beginning with the 2016-2017 school year.
Following Rep. Bryan’s explanation of the H 944, Rep. Brandon described the proposed legislation as “one of the better bills we have had in the General Assembly, because it encompasses the values of both parties,” and supports “justice, equal opportunity and equal access.”
Rep. Brown said the sponsors had heard from thousands of parents across the state that supported the bill, which he said was an effort to “align ability with opportunity.”
And Rep. Hanes, himself a product of Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools, told the committee that “talents are universal but opportunities are not,” especially when it comes to access to the “sound and basic education” promised in the state Constitution.
“I firmly believe that it is perhaps the number one civil rights issue of our day — education,” Hanes said. “It keeps our homes sound; it keeps the futures of our students sound. And, according to every statistic, once our students are reading at a proficient level at the end of third grade, it keeps them from being qualified for jail.”
While the legislation is supported by Americans for Prosperity, the North Carolina Values Coalition, the Center for Education Reform, Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, the Christian Action League and other organizations, it has drawn the ire of public school boards, State School Superintendent June Atkinson, the N.C. Justice Center and others, many who contend it could undermine public school efforts or that private schools lack the accountability and open admission policies of their public counterparts.
Dr. Creech said that while he understood initial concerns from public school advocates, in truth the bill should benefit the public schools as well as non-public and provide cost savings to the state.
“Right now it costs state and local governments about $6,745 for every typical child educated in the public schools as compared to $4,200 per grant,” he said. “Then, when you consider the fact that those students who are having the most academic trouble and are most desperate for a different option will be the ones leaving the public schools, you can see that state schools will be better able to focus on the remaining students. It looks like a win-win situation to me.”
He said the bill’s biggest benefit would be giving parents more say in how their children are taught.
The committee heard from a dozen speakers on May 21 and may hear from more as they take the measure up again this coming Tuesday.
Take Christian Action:
“Between now and then, take a minute to write an e-mail and make a phone call and leave a message for your lawmaker showing support for this bill,” Dr. Creech said. “H 944 is in no way an attack on the public schools. It’s simply about parents having choices for their children when it comes to education.” The vote is expected to be close and the bill may not pass without your input.
Here’s the best way to really help:
1] Send an email to your Representative in the NC House by clicking here When sending your email, be certain to note who your Representative is in the NC House.
2] Make a quick phone call to your NC Representative and express your support for this bill. You will find your Representative’s phone number by looking for his or her name on the House members list, then click on your lawmaker’s name. To go to the House members list, click here.