The NC Senate has put forth their version of the state budget for the 2017-18 fiscal year, and school choice continues to be a top educational priority. In addition to maintaining an increase in funds available for Opportunity Scholarships, the budget introduces a new way for parents of children with special needs to utilize state resources.
• Opportunity Scholarships: The budget proposal would increase funds of at least ten million dollars each fiscal year for 10 years to the Opportunity Scholarship Grant Fund Reserve. The Opportunity Scholarship Program allows families with qualifying incomes to apply for educational scholarship grants of up to $4,200 per child, per year to help cover the costs of sending their children to a participating non-public school.
• Personal Education Savings Account: The proposal would establish a Personal Education Savings Account (ESA) Program for children with disabilities. This means that eligible students would “receive up to $9,000 for use by the student’s parents on expenses such as: tuition and fees at a nonpublic school; textbooks; tutoring; fees for exams; educational therapies; educational technology and transportation. Eligible students with certain severe disabilities may combine an ESA award with the existing Children with Disabilities Scholarship of up to $8,000.” The Children with Disabilities Scholarship program allows for eligible families to be reimbursed up to $4,000 per semester for education expenses, which is a total of $8,000 per year.
In addition to these provisions, the Senate’s budget proposes to boost compensation for public school teachers by a 3.7 percent average increase this year and 9.5 percent average increase over two years. Overall, the public education budget would be $13 billion (of the proposed $22.9 billion) with almost $9 billion of that allocated for K-12.
Other “Choice” Bills: A couple of other pending bills that would provide opportunities for non-public school students include: SB159 – Access to Sports and Extracurricular Activities for All Students, which would permit students who attend a public school, private school, or home school without an interscholastic athletic program in a given sport or a particular extracurricular activity to participate in that activity at a public high school. Public high school students who don’t have access to a particular sport or activity at their school may participate in that sport or activity at the school closest to the student’s school that has that sport or activity. Similarly, private or home school students would be able to participate in the sport or activity at the base public high school for the student’s address. If the student’s base school does not have a program in their sport or activity, the student may participate in the sport at the public high school closest to the student’s base school that has a program in that sport or activity. The public high school would be able to charge a reasonable fee for participation to any student not enrolled in that school.
Also, HB 329 – Home School Education Tax Credit, would establish an income tax credit for children who are home schooled. The credit would be $1250 per semester for a total of two semesters per taxable year.
Families interested in learning more about how to home school in North Carolina are invited to the North Carolinians for Home Education (NCHE) annual conference being held this weekend at Winston-Salem’s Benton Convention Center.