Raleigh, NC — Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina (PEFNC), released the following statement regarding the finalized budget of the 2017 Legislative Session:
“As a statewide education advocacy organization, PEFNC supports state spending priorities that target better educational outcomes for all North Carolina children. We commend state lawmakers for finalizing a budget that does just that: funding anticipated growth in our state’s public schools, raising teacher pay, and expanding school choice programs for North Carolina families.
We enthusiastically applaud legislators for creating North Carolina’s third state-funded school choice program since 2011. This historic measure, a Personal Education Savings Account funded at $3,450,000, will expand support for special needs families. Our work alongside groups like the Autism Society of North Carolina and others has shown us the tremendous potential such a program could have in ensuring exceptional children receive an exceptional education. The Special Needs ESA would provide up to $9,000 a year to offset the cost of educational expenses for families with exceptional children. Eligible students with the highest need may stack their ESA with the existing Children with Disabilities Grant (up to $8,000). Where an exceptional education for exceptional children seemed out of reach for some families, it will now be possible in North Carolina.
We’re especially pleased that the state budget continues to fund the multi-year expansion of the popular Opportunity Scholarship Program ($44.8 million for 10,700 scholarships during the 2018-2019 school year and $54.8 million for 13,100 scholarships during the 2019-2020 school year). Lawmakers have remained steadfast in their support of expansion, despite the governor’s proposed budget seeking to shrink the Program. Demand from North Carolina families for these private school scholarships is at an all-time high this year, as nearly 10,000 new applications have been submitted in just four months. In total, North Carolina families have submitted over 33,000 applications since the Program was established.
We commend lawmakers for including in the budget a newly-established task force that will determine the parameters of future uniform testing and assessment of North Carolina’s Opportunity Scholarship Program. We’re pleased that PEFNC is a standing member of this task force and we look forward to doing our part in affirming the Program’s accountability to taxpayers, K-12 stakeholders, and families of this state.
Finally, and with the pending passage of this budget, North Carolina continues to solidify its status as a national leader in providing highly impactful and innovative educational options for children and families — especially those needing these options the most. We are encouraged by the General Assembly’s ongoing commitment to initiatives and programs that contribute to improved educational outcomes and we urge Governor Cooper to support the historic expansion of parental school choice within this budget.”