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Add another candidate to the race to replace Mel Watt

George Battle III announced Tuesday he would enter the race to replace Congressman Mel Watt in a Charlotte area district.

Battle, a Democrat, is the attorney for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, a post he's held since 2010. He is the son of Bishop George Battle Jr., a former school board chairman.

Marcus Brandon forms committee for congressional bid

Democratic State Rep. Marcus Brandon made his intentions to seek Congressman Mel Watt's 12th District seat official, according to Federal Election Commission documents made public this week.

Watt is President Barack Obama's nominee to lead the Federal Housing Finance Administration. If confirmed, a Democratic frenzy is expected in the race to replace him.

A campaign treasurer for Brandon, a High Point political consultant, filed papers May 1, the day the president announced Watt's appointment, to create the Marcus Brandon for Congress political committee, the first step needed to raise money for a potential bid.

Big voucher bill postponed, little voucher bill moves

A hearing on a broad voucher bill was pushed to after crossover, but a bill offering vouchers for disabled students to attend private schools continued its march to the House floor.

A bill offering vouchers of up to $6,000 a year to pay private school tuition for special education students who leave public schools cleared the House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday. The bill would replace a relatively new law that offers tax credits to parents for the same purpose.

Low-income parents are excluded from the tax credit's advantages.

"We want to give everybody the opportunity to have a high quality education," said Rep. Marcus Brandon, a High Point Democrat and a bill sponsor.

The bill's opponents said that the money won't come close to helping needy families, just those who can afford to supplement the voucher with their own money.

"We need to be pouring more money into the public system to help all children," said Rep. Verla Insko, a Chapel Hill Democrat.

Voucher bill, with changes, headed to House committee

The House Education Committee is set to hear a bill Tuesday allowing parents to spend taxpayer money on K-12 private school tuition.

Rep. Marcus Brandon, a High Point Democrat and one of the bill's primary sponsors, said there have been some changes to the original bill.

The bill as filed would have offered vouchers worth $4,200 a year. In the second year, children from families with incomes of 300 percent of the federal poverty level or below would qualify. This year, that income translates to $58,590 for a family of three. Brandon said the revision tightens the income guidelines and will have 50 percent of the money each year reserved for children from families at 185 percent of the federal poverty level or below. That's the level at which kids in a family would qualify for free or reduced lunch in public schools.

"It's a drastic improvement over what everybody first saw," Brandon said. The bill also lowers the income ceiling, he said. "You can't make more than $45,000 and get it."

Lawmakers, advocates push for second chances

State lawmakers and advocate took to the halls of the Legislative Building on Tuesday to push for second chances for criminals.

"The essence of who we are is we give people second chances," said state Rep. Marcus Brandon, a Greensboro Democrat.

Brandon and other lawmakers are pushing a measure to "ban the box," that is remove the question about one's criminal history from job applications. Employers could still conduct background checks, but not until later in the hiring process, under HouseBill 425.

Tillis to address gospel concert crowd Tuesday

House Speaker Thom Tillis will address a crowd of gospel concert attendees Tuesday night in support of efforts to have tax revenue pay some students' private school tuition.

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina is sponsoring a concert in Greensboro featuring gospel singer Marvin Sapp. About 2,000 people will attend the event "advocating for expanded educational options for all families," according to Parents for Educational Freedom.

The organization supports a bipartisan House bill that would offer vouchers to parents who move their children from public to private schools. The bill, which sets out income guidelines for qualifying families, proposes spending $90 million over the next two years on a voucher program.

The bill's four primary sponsors, Reps. Marcus Brandon, Ed Hanes, Rob Bryan and Brian Brown, are expected to attend.

Bill proposes $3,000 grant to send disabled students to private schools

Rep. Paul Stam, R-Wake County, is behind a bill introduced this week that would give students with special needs taxpayer-funded scholarships to attend private schools or be home-schooled.

Brandon remains the General Assembly's only openly gay member

Rep. Marcus Brandon remains the only openly gay member of the North Carolina General Assembly.

Brandon is an incumbent Democrat first elected from Guilford County in 2010. He faced no general election challenger this year. The state's two other openly gay candidates fell short on Election Day.

Bipartisan back-patting on the special education tax credit

The audience at a forum explaining the tax credit for special education showered their love on House members and advocacy groups that fought for a $6,000-a-year tax credit for special education students whose parents enroll them in private school.

North Carolina is the eighth state to allow such a credit, said Darrell Allison, head of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina. The group worked for the new law and sponsored Tuesday night's educational forum for parents and school directors.

There was time at the beginning of the forum for reps from disability advocacy groups, House members (and former member Laura Wiley) to bask in the crowd's appreciation and make speeches.

Rep. Marcus Brandon, a High Point Democrat, gushed from the stage about the work of Majority Leader Paul Stam, the Apex Republican who worked for years to get the tax credit passed.

"My leader over here," said Brandon, pointing to Stam in the audience, before describing Stam as the "leader on the Republican side."

Charter school talk returns

A pro-charter school group wants to get people talking about the issue again and is trying to return a charter expansion bill to the foreground.

The legislature hit the 'pause' button on a bill intended to lift the 100-school limit on public charter schools. After the House and Senate passed vastly different versions of the bill and appointed negotiators to come up with a compromise, the whole thing went underground for nearly two months.

Parents for Educational Freedom, a group that wants more charters, has organized a news conference for Tuesday morning to bring the issue back to public attention. The only Democrat to support the House bill, Rep. Marcus Brandon of High Point, is scheduled to speak, as is Democratic Sen. Malcolm Graham of Charlotte.

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