2017 State Budget: Education/School Choice | Eastern North Carolina Now | Once clear message from the 2017 budget discussion: School choice remains a priority for the General Assembly

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    Publisher's note: The author of this post is Lindsay Marchello, who is an associate editor for the Carolina Journal, John Hood Publisher.

Publisher's note: This post is part of a series, where the other associated posts can be found here.

    Once clear message from the 2017 budget discussion: School choice remains a priority for the General Assembly. Both the House and Senate have included funding increases for Opportunity Scholarships in their respective budgets, with a few key differences.

  • The House and Senate add $10 million each year to the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Reserve Fund, bringing it to $44.8 million in the first budget year and $54.8 million in the second. Gov. Roy Cooper adds $4.75 million to the fund in the first year to honor commitments made to students but does not expand the fund to allow new scholarships.
  • The House and Senate pay for software to administer the Opportunity and Special Education Scholarship programs. Cooper's budget apparently does not. The House would provide $1.8 million for software the first year and roughly $900,000 over the two-year cycle to pay an independent research organization to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The Senate provides $1.8 million the first year and $800,000 the second year for software.
  • The House requires Opportunity Scholarship recipients to take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills as a way of monitoring student progress. The Senate does not, nor does the governor.

    "The House put in some accountability measures, so that we have some understanding of outcomes," said Rep. Craig Horn, R-Union, the House Education Committee chairman. "There's an old phrase that goes, 'What am I getting for what I'm paying?' I believe the legislature is obligated to answer that question in every aspect, which includes am I getting my money's worth?"

  • The House also created a $2.5 million pilot program awarding Department of Transportation grants to reimburse some charter schools in remote areas that offer students transportation. "Charter schools already get a share of transportation money allocated in the same manner as those of traditional public schools," Horn said. "However, there are charter schools in some of our more rural areas that are faced with exceptional challenges." Neither the Senate's nor the governor's budget includes that funding.

    "Charter schools cast a bigger net than do traditional public schools, therefore, they have a greater challenge in being able to get their students to the school," Horn said. "Those charter schools are seeking additional help."
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