North Carolina legislative leaders, parents and advocates are looking to expand the state’s private school voucher program.
They say they want to lift the cap so that all low-income families that applied and qualified for the program can receive help.
The program gives families up to $4,200 in tuition money at private and religious schools. More than 5,000 families – most of them minorities - applied for the coming fall, but less than half will be randomly picked, according to leaders of Parents for Educational Freedom North Carolina.
“You have parents in desperate need of finding an option that’s going to work for their child,” said PEFNC president Darrell Allison.
Allison said more families were looking to take advantage of the vouchers, but the application process was stalled earlier this year when a judge issued an injunction. The state Supreme Court lifted the injunction last month.
Senate leader Phil Berger and House Speaker Thom Tillis joined advocates at a news conference to show their support for the program. Other lawmakers from both parties were also present.
“We need you to work hard for us and have your voice heard, to make sure we can have as many children have that choice, have the choice that so many who speak against this have taken and put their kids in private schools,” Tillis said.
The legislature set aside $10 million last year for the program. Leaders of PEFNC say between $6 million and $8 million would be needed to provide vouchers for all families who applied and qualified.
Critics of the law say they have no problem with children wanting to attend private schools, but that it should not come at the expense of public schools. They argue that spending taxpayer dollars on private schools is unconstitutional, particularly because they do not have the academic standards or accountability of public schools.
Two lawsuits challenging the program’s legality were filed by the North Carolina Association of Educators and the North Carolina School Boards Association and continue to be held up in court.