RALEIGH, N.C. – North Carolina lawmakers want to set aside $450,000 for the current school year to provide pre-paid debt cards loaded with up to $9,000 each to help students with disabilities with educational expenses.
According to WRAL:
The Personal Educational Savings Account, or PESA, is geared toward students with disabilities. Their parents would get a prepaid debit card with up to $9,000 a year on it, and they could use the tax-free money to pay for everything from tuition and books to tutoring and school transportation costs. …
The Senate budget sets aside $450,000 to start the program in the coming school year, growing to $1 million in 2018-19.
The plan, included as a provision of a Senate budget bill, builds on an existing Opportunity Scholarships program that offers vouchers of up to $4,200 for low income students to attend non-public schools.
The proposed Senate budget would also expand the Opportunities Scholarship program by $10 million a year over the next decade, from its current level of $35 million, according to the news site.
“Parents know best the educational needs of their child,” Civitas Institute senior policy analyst Bob Luebke said. “I think the paramount concern is matching the child to the school that best fits their educational needs, and that’s what ESAs do for parents.”
Senators approved the budget bill early Friday, sending it to the House where lawmakers will consider it and other spending proposals, including a much more expensive budget put out by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper that takes a drastically different approach to spending, the News & Observer reports.
Luebke said the PSEA program is the next logical step to help struggling families with school choice, according to the Courier-Tribune.
“Parents pay taxes, and the money should go to where the child wants to go to school,” he said.
The PSEA provision, however, is meeting resistance from those who depend on the public education system for their livelihood.
The North Carolina School Boards Association’s director of government relations, Leanne Winner, described the educational savings accounts as a “voucher program on steroids” and alleged families in similar programs in other states like Arizona are stealing from taxpayers.
“In Arizona, we have seen parents buy big-screen TVs,” she alleged. “There was one who was investigated for using the money to pay for an abortion.”
The News & Observer outlined how Cooper’s proposed budget differs from the Senate spending plan in regards to school choice.
“The Senate budget includes an additional $20 million for the private school voucher program known as ‘Opportunity Scholarships,’ an amount that was set in a previous budget bill,” according to the news site. “Cooper’s budget calls for reducing funding for the program because he believes it takes funding from traditional public schools. His budget includes $4.8 million to fulfill existing voucher commitments without issuing new ones.”
Both the North Carolina Senate and House are controlled by Republicans, who generally favor the Opportunity Scholarships and PSEAs.