State Treasurer comments on school vouchers

Published 4:35 pm Friday, March 1, 2024

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State of North Carolina Treasurer and Republican candidate for governor, Dale Folwell says time will tell on how the statewide Opportunity Scholarship Program will affect funding for public schools. 

“In your life, you can’t manage what you can’t measure, and I think that applies to this issue,” Folwell said. He is waiting to see data that shows just how school vouchers will impact public school systems statewide. While supporters praise the newly expanded Opportunity Scholarship, critics say it could have devastating effects on public school systems, especially rural ones like Beaufort County. 

“Anything that is getting a taxpayer dollar needs to be held to the same level of transparency, and same level of accountability,” Folwell said. 

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Folwell is a North Carolina native who attended Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools and later served on the county’s board of education. He has a Bachelor’s Degree and Master’s Degree in Accounting from University of North Carolina – Greensboro. Folwell worked as a garbage collector and motorcycle mechanic before working as an accountant and running for public office. He has served as Treasurer for the State of North Carolina since 2017. He served four terms in the North Carolina House of Representatives, including a term as speaker pro tempore from 2011 to 2013. 

The Opportunity Scholarship Program provides parents with public money – a voucher – for their children to attend a private or religious school. These funds, typically spent by a school district, would be given to parents to pay either full or partial tuition for their children’s education. 

When the North Carolina General Assembly passed the state budget in September, they expanded the Opportunity Scholarship Program to include all North Carolina families who have K-12 students. The General Assembly allocated $250 million more over the next two years for the voucher program, for a total of $4 billion over the next ten years, according to the North Carolina Governor’s Office. 

The program was enacted in 2013, then launched in 2014. As of September 2023, 25,568 students participated in the in program. North Carolina is one of 16 states that has a school voucher program. Other states include – Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, Wisconsin, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico. 

Under the expanded Opportunity Scholarship Program (OSP), all North Carolina families who have K-12 students are eligible to apply for an annual, renewable scholarship regardless of their income level. Maintaining past regulations, low-income families have priority to receive scholarship money. How much money each family receives depends on their income level and is tied to a percentage of per-student public school spending between $3,000 to $7,000 for the 2024-2025 school year, according to the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority.  Also, students are no longer required to attend a public school for one school year before they are eligible to apply. 

According to the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority, there were 139 students in Beaufort County receiving scholarship money for either one or both semesters of the 2023-2024 school year. A total of $488,840 was dispersed among Pungo Christian Academy, Unity Christian Academy and Terra Ceia Christian School. That equates to roughly $3,516 per student. 

As of Monday, Feb. 19, there were 31,603 completed OSP applications, according to the News & Observer who quoted Kathy Hastings, a spokesperson for the North Carolina State Education Assistance Authority. 

“The applications received during the first five days this year is well above the 11,617 completed applications that the NCSEAA received in all of February 2023. It’s also nearly as many as the 32,341 students who are receiving an Opportunity Scholarship this school year,” T. Keung Hui, a News & Observer reporter, wrote earlier this month. 

NCSEAA accepted OSP applications Feb. 1-Mar. 1 for the 2024-2025 school year. 

Folwell’s stance on parent’s choice when it comes to education is, 

“With all the awful things that occurred during COVID, one thing that it did do is put sunshine on people’s frustrations with public education,” he said. “Good government starts at home. Let parents be parents.” 

Mike Long, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina released a statement in September of 2023 when the General Assembly expanded the OSP. 

North Carolina is leading the way on education reform and parental school choice!  The newly passed bi-partisan budget ensures our state takes the next step forward for parental school choice options while funding students over systems,” said Long.

Critics of the Opportunity Scholarship Program say it will have a negative impact on funding for public schools.  

This includes Governor Roy Cooper’s office who says, “some school districts will lose up to 8% of their operating revenue to private schools and some rural schools may be forced to combine with other schools or to close. In more than a third of North Carolina counties, public schools are the largest employer and a top three employer in more than 80 counties – eviscerating their funding would have devastating impacts on the local economy.” 

Per an analysis from the North Carolina Office of State Budget and Management,  Beaufort County is projected to see a two percent decrease if more families opt for the Opportunity Scholarship Program. This translates to approximately $910,210.