By Lauren Williams Staff Writer
January 24, 2014
The Sampson County Board of Education discussed Tuesday the call for support from the North Carolina School Boards Association (NCSBA) in the battle against school vouchers.
Passed by the General Assembly last year, the Opportunity Scholarships Act sets out to establish a new voucher program where taxpayer dollars would be used to fund grants which would help certain eligible students attend private schools. Legislators have designated $10 million in the budget for the program thus far, an amount which could help approximately 2,500 students attend private school on state education dollars starting in the 2014-15 school year.
According to the bill, eligible students would be those who are full-time, currently attending a public school, and “reside in a household with an income level not in excess of the amount required for the student to qualify for the federal free or reduced price lunch program.”
If selected, eligible students could receive grants worth up to $4,200 per year, an amount that taken off public schools’ allotment and would be used to pay for some, but probably not all, of the selected students’ private school tuition.
The NCSBA filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the school voucher legislation on Dec. 16, 2013. Now, following this suit, the association has asked that the 115 local boards of education show their support of the lawsuit by signing and submitting a resolution that stresses their opposition to the school voucher program.
According to interim superintendent Mike Warren, “over half of the systems” or “close to 50” school systems across the state have already acted and approved the resolution.
Sharing that the county school board’s support would add them to the list of plaintiffs in the pending litigation, Warren explained that signing the resolution is “simply adding our support to the lawsuit that’s been filed, arguing that it’s unconstitutional and that it be reversed.”
When school board chairman Telfair Simpson asked each board member for their thoughts on the issue, all expressed a desire to throw their support behind the NCSBA and its lawsuit. The school board will officially vote to approve the resolution at its regular board meeting Monday, Jan. 27 at 7 p.m. in the central office auditorium.
Back in the summer, legislators representing Sampson County were asked for their thoughts on the school voucher program and all were on the same page as local educators and boards of education, opposing the legislation and wondering what would happen if it became law.
In June, Sen. Brent Jackson, R-Sampson, shared that he “believes that every child in North Carolina deserves a quality education that adequately prepares them for college, technical school, or direct entry in to the work force. Public schools have traditionally been a strength in our state.”
“While I want to encourage expanded opportunities to pursue a quality education through vouchers, I am unwilling to sacrifice the quality of our public schools,” said Jackson. “We need more choice but we also need to protect and strengthen our public schools.”
Likewise, Rep. Larry M. Bell, D-Sampson, was also unwilling to support the school voucher bill.
“I am against any universal vouchers being given to people,” said Bell. “We are sworn to provide a free education for everyone and we can’t know how these vouchers are being used in school that we don’t have any authority over.”
“I am not against private schools, but I think that parents who send their children there do so because they want to and they because they can provide the funds for that,” Bell continued.
However, despite his own feelings, Bell anticipated the bill being approved.
“I think it’s going to pass and that we’ll be dealing with it in the future,” noted Bell in June, adding that the bill seemed to have a lot of support for reasons he didn’t understand.
“I am interested in the students and providing them with the best education we can, and I don’t think it’s best,” he added.
Lauren Williams can be reached at 910-592-8137, ext. 117 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.