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Politicians, advocates react strongly to GOP budget plan

The Republican-crafted $20.6 billion state budget is eliciting strong reactions from across the North Carolina political spectrum. Much of it focuses on the education funding changes. One person yet to respond: Gov. Pat McCrory. But in the meantime, check out a roundup of statements below.

--Senate Democratic Leader Martin Nesbitt: “With this budget and last week’s tax bill, we can clearly see the Republican agenda: hoarding power in Raleigh and cutting vital services to the middle class in order to pay for massive handouts to the wealthiest 1% and out-of-state corporations. This is ‘big-government’ conservatism that prioritizes power over people and special interests and the super-wealthy over middle class families."

School voucher bill filed in House

A bill that would give students who transfer from public to private schools up to $4,200 a year to pay tuition was filed Monday in the House.

House bill 994 would set aside $40 million in the budget year beginning July 1, and $50 million the following year to award the scholarships.

Rep. Rob Bryan, a first term Republican from Charlotte is the lead sponsor. Another Republican and two Democrats are signed on as primary sponsors.

Under the bill, families that are at 300 percent of federal poverty level or below would be eligible. This year, 300 percent of the federal poverty level is $70,650 for a family of four.

Battle lines have already been drawn over this issue. A group of public school supporters is working on fighting it.

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina sent out a statement praising the bill: "This bipartisan measure represents the demand of parents who, despite their committed efforts, have to watch their children suffer academically because of where they live and how much they make."

Clarification: In the first year, 2013-14, the income ceiling is 225 percent of federal poverty level.

Durham makes charter school growth list

Durham is the state's only county with at least 10 percent of its students enrolled in charters, according to a recent report from the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools. Nationally, more than 100 districts have at least 10 percent of students enrolled in charters.

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina pointed to the report as evidence that parents are demanding "high quality educational options."

"We hope that our education leaders continue to increase the number of quality public charters, especially in rural areas and other parts of the state where there is great need for high quality schools," Parents for Educational Freedom's Darrell Allison said in a statement.

But this statistic is an example why Durham education and political leaders are resisting more charters there. They say charters drain money from traditional schools.

Education advice for McCrory. Privatize. Or Don't.

Governor-elect Pat McCrory got a welcoming message from a group that wants more charters and public money to support private-school education.

“We look forward to working with the McCrory administration to create more quality parental school choice options for all families that will help prepare their children for a 21st century economy," says Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

The group worked for the law last year that eliminated the cap on charter schools, and this year pushed unsuccessfully for a law that would have corporations get dollar-for-dollar tax refunds for contributions to private school scholarships.

Candidate McCrory expressed support for more charters and for some type of taxpayer-supported private school scholarships.

Calls go out for tax-break funded scholarships

Parents for Educational Freedom NC, pushing a bill that would give corporations 100 percent tax breaks for contributions to private school scholarships, says more than 4,000 people have called lawmakers in less than a week supporting the measure.

The group had a big march and rally for the bill a few weeks ago. Scholarships would be available to students from families with incomes not more than 225 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $50,000 for a family of four.

The bill has not had a committee hearing, but Minority Leader Paul Stam, an Apex Republican, continued to work on revisions last week.

The bill is highly controversial. NAACP President William Barber criticized the proposal yesterday as a plan to privatize schools.

In a letter to legislative leaders, Barber wrote: "The Stam Plan will cause North Carolina to lose much-needed revenue from wealthy corporations. They can divert the tax money they owe to the state to private nonprofits to finance private schools."

Parents for Educational Freedom President Darrell Allison countered with his own statement: "The perception that this measure is part of a right wing, anti-public school agenda is not the case. Low income parents don’t care what the educational model is, whether public or private. They just want a school that works."

NYT writes about problems with corporate-funded scholarship programs

The New York Times on Tuesday published a report on corporate-funded scholarship programs allowed in some states and that the group Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina wants here. 

Several states have passed laws allowing corporations to make donations for 100 percent tax credits to state-approved non-profits that use the money to offer private school scholarships. According to the Times article:

"While the scholarship programs have helped many children whose parents would have to scrimp or work several jobs to send them to private schools, the money has also been used to attract star football players, expand the payrolls of the nonprofit scholarship groups and spread the theology of creationism, interviews and documents show. Even some private school parents and administrators have questioned whether the programs are a charade."

Coincidentally, Parents for Educational Freedom on Tuesday held a march and rally in Raleigh trying to get such a program started here.

Group plans march for private school scholarships

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina has planned a Tuesday afternoon rally and march to push for a program that would use corporate tax breaks to get more low-income students in to private schools.

Parents for Educational Freedom paid for a trip for 11 legislators, including House Speaker Thom Tillis, to learn about the tax credit program, N.C. Policy Watch reported last week.

Tillis general counsel Jason Kay and Educational Freedom lobbyists also went on the Florida trip with the bipartisan group of lawmakers.



Document(s):
Attachment-2008 State Ethics Commission Advisory Opinion-PEFNC.PDF

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 debate heats up

The pro-charter school group Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina sent legislators an email and video today promoting the charter school expansion bill now in the state House.

The "Waiting for Superman"-style video shows lottery day at Charter Day School in Leland and features short interviews with parents whose children did not get seats.

The video comes just as House Democrats intensify their criticism of the Senate-written bill which would eliminate the 100-charter cap, eliminate charter enrollment caps, require school districts to give more of their money to charters, and create a state commission that would make decisions about the schools and their growth.

House Democrats plan a news conference today to talk about their version of a  charter school bill.

Gov. Bev Perdue, state Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison and state Superintendent of Public Instruction June Atkinson have said they have reservations about the Senate bill.

Forum to boost charters and tax credits

National school voucher and charter school champions will participate in a forum in Raleigh a few days before the new legislative session begins as part of a campaign to change education policy in North Carolina.

Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina, which is working for more charter schools and tuition tax credits, is bringing in former Milwaukee school superintendent Howard Fuller and Peter Groff, president of the National Alliance for Public Charter Schools, to Raleigh for a Jan. 24 forum.

Fuller championed a school voucher program in Milwaukee. Groff is the former president of the Colorado Senate. State legislators will also participate, said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom.

The state group sponsored free viewings of the documentary "Waiting for Superman," this fall that Allison said more than 2,000 people attended. 

The new Republican legislature has promised to lift the 100-school limit on charters, and legislators are likely to see a proposal for tuition tax credits.

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