9 investigates as opponents debate NC vouchers for private schools

by: Torie Wells Updated:

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. —

It’s the idea behind a brand new North Carolina law: state money given to private schools.
 
Families can apply for money to use to send their children to private school.
 
The idea was to give families more school choice, but opponents said it’s not how tax dollars should be used.
 
Dr. Christina Christian is the head of a private middle school in Charlotte, where tuition is $7,900.
 
The school gives financial aid, but for some families it's not enough.
 
“We have to console them because they wanted this they knew this was the place for their child but could not afford it,” Christian said.
 
Starting this month, low income families can apply to the state for an opportunity scholarship grant or voucher.
               
Those approved will receive up to $4,200 from the state for private school next year.
               
Christian's school has nine students right now, but she said the numbers could grow under the new program.
 
Judy Chambers said taxpayer dollars shouldn't be spent on private schools.
               
She and 24 other North Carolina parents and educators are suing the state, claiming the new program “will send taxpayer money to unaccountable private schools in violation of the North Carolina Constitution."
               
Chambers said she's concerned about quality and accountability because private schools don't have to be accredited and teachers don't have to be certified.
 
“You don’t know what type of education your child is going to end up getting,” Chambers said.
 
Mecklenburg County has more than 60 private schools, more than half are classified as religious.
               
Tuition ranges from $3,750 to $22,000 a year.     
 
Chambers and other opponents say a $4,200 dollar grant isn't enough for families in need.
 
“It’s not going to cover tuition for that private school,” Chambers said. “It’s not going to cover lunch or breakfast. It’s not going to cover transportation.”
 
Channel 9 took her comments to the law’s sponsor.
 
“It’s about the choice of the individual, who is a taxpayer,” said Rep. Rob Bryan.
 
Bryan acknowledges that $4,200 does not cover tuition at many private schools.
               
He hopes some schools will help cover the rest.
 
He said there would be accountability, in that participating schools will have to report some test scores and graduation rates.
               
Schools that receive a certain amount of scholarship money will be audited.
 
“Any kind of school that’s partially afloat on public dollars. I want to make sure we have proper oversight,” Bryan said.
 
Bryan believes this program is constitutional, pointing to similar programs in other states.
               
He thinks for some families it will open doors. Opponents asked at what cost.
               
Bryan said the $4,200 grant will save taxpayers money because the state spends even more on children in public schools.
 
The lawsuit against the voucher law is moving forward in the courts. A judge in Raleigh refused to dismiss it.
                               
There are separate lawsuits from the North Carolina Association of Educators and a group representing the state's 115 school boards.