Public education starving for funding
In addition to cutting funding for text books and buses, the General Assembly has also removed the cap on charter schools and is diverting more than $10 million in tax revenue to private and religious schools through the State Educational Assistance Authority which will run the voucher program. The program will provide grants of up to $4,200 per pupil to be used for tuition.
To provide the funding, legislators reduced funding to public schools by about $12 million.
At press time, the vouchers were being challenged in court but were to be distributed in advance of a court hearing on Aug. 19. An earlier ruling in Superior Court which resulted in an injunction to stop the flow of money out of state coffers until the legality of the program can be ruled on was overturned by the N.C. Supreme Court.
Following that ruling, legislators moved up distribution of the voucher by a month to begin Aug. 15 – four days before the court hearing to determine the Constitutionality of the program.
The plaintiffs in the case are a group of taxpayers, teachers and the state’s 115 public school boards, who contend the voucher program violates North Carolina’s Constitution.
In the upcoming school year, those seeking scholarships must qualify for the federal free or reduced-price school lunch program, which has an income limit of about $43,,568 for a family of four. The grants aren’t available to students already attending private schools.
The qualifications change in 2015-16 year allowing those whose family income doesn’t exceed 133 percent of the amount to qualify for free or reduced price lunch to participate. That income cap is $57,945 for a family of four.
In addition to the loss of revenues, plaintiffs in the case also point out that schools participating in the voucher program do not have to accommodate children with disabilities and are permitted to discriminate in admissions based on race, gender, family income or wealth and religion.
Private schools do not have to hire licensed teachers, administer proficiency tests or provide report cards.