NC State Budget Draft expands voucher program for private schools

 By Maggie Newland

September 20, 2023

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Under the new budget draft, all North Carolina students could be eligible for vouchers to attend private school, regardless of income level.

The move would give students money to put toward a private school education, but could mean less money for public schools.

Rosie Mayberry, from Asheboro, used the state’s voucher program to send her children to private school. She described it as a “great experience,” but said, at the time, only two of her three children qualified for vouchers. She said her oldest daughter did not meet the requirement, at the time, to have previously attended public school.  “We had to withdraw from the program because of the financial burden from our oldest daughter because we were having to pay completely out of pocket for her,” she noted.

The draft budget opens up the voucher program to all students. Opportunity scholarships provide families with thousands of dollars to put toward a private school education.  These would be available to students regardless of income but would be given on a sliding scale. According to Senator Berger’s office: students with the highest level of family income could receive just more than $3,000, whereas students on the lower end of the income scale could receive more than $7,000.

Mayberry supports the change. “People should be able to put their kids where they feel their child can have the best opportunity and shouldn’t have to worry about crunching numbers to make that happen or sacrificing,” she said.

Parents For Educational Freedom in North Carolina released a statement praising the expansion of the voucher program, saying, in part, “Make no mistake about it, the state of education in North Carolina is improving because of parental school choice…”

But, some say public schools will pay the price.

“These private school vouchers drain funds from our local public school districts, and we are concerned because we know funds can be used to improve the academic experience of students in our schools,” said Tamika Walker Kelly, the president of the North Carolina Association of Educators. 

Public school advocates are concerned about the amount of money that public schools could lose if taxpayer money goes to fund private education. Heather Koons, with the nonprofit Public Schools First NC, is also concerned about taxpayer money funding schools that are able to choose which students can and can’t attend.

“In some cases, if you don’t get a high enough test score, they they won’t admit you on the basis of religion, lifestyle, gender, LGBTQ status,” she said. “Flat out, they say ‘If this is you, we will not accept you,’ and that’s taxpayers’ money.”