New NC bill ties corporate break, private schools

NC measure would coax thousands into private schools, let corporations send taxes to tuition

Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) -- Tens of thousands of North Carolina public school students would leave for private classrooms if they got tuition help of up to $4,000 a year funded by corporations able to donate their money instead of paying state taxes, an analysis showed for legislation introduced Wednesday.

The bill introduced by House Majority Leader Paul Stam, R-Wake, and others would allow corporations a tax credit worth their entire yearly state tax debt for a tuition donation to a new plan to help parents afford private schools. Corporations that give more could take it off over five years, if the legislation is passed into law.

Those tax diversions would increase from $40 million next year to $98 million in 2016, according to estimates Stam said were performed by the Legislature's nonpartisan fiscal analysts. But analysts estimate the $4,000 per student tuition aid would lead 16,400 students to leave costlier public schools, ultimately saving money.

Taxpayers spent an average of $8,414 to educate each of North Carolina's 1.5 million public school students during the current academic year.

"You can get an excellent private school education in Wake County for $5,200 a year. In rural counties, you can get an excellent one for $3,000 or $4,000 if it's housed in a church building. But whatever it is, it's a whole lost more affordable with a $4,000 scholarship than without it," Stam said in an interview.

Tuition help would be limited to households earning less than 225 percent of the federal poverty level, or about $50,000 for a family of four.

While the legislation would mean a bonus savings for thousands of students already attending private schools — about 7,000 in 2016, according to the fiscal analysis — the family income cap would prevent it from being used by affluent families, said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom in North Carolina.

"At the end of the day, our focus is making sure low income children have better educational opportunities," he said in an interview.

Public education leaders were critical of the legislation, modeled on a similar law in Florida.

The scholarship programs in Florida and seven other states this year sent $343 million that would have gone into state budgets to pay for private school tuition for nearly 129,000 students, according to the advocacy group Alliance for School Choice.

State Board of Education Chairman Bill Harrison on Wednesday called the legislative proposal "the latest effort to dismantle public education."

"This money would be diverted away from the state's General Fund and given to support sending children to schools that are not held accountable to taxpayers for spending or for student performance," Harrison said in a statement.

North Carolina Association of Educators lobbyist Brian Lewis said the proposal further muddies an already complicated tax system North Carolina lawmakers have tried to revamp for more than a decade.

"Corporations should pay their taxes. North Carolina should use tax revenue to pay for quality public schools that provide an educated workforce," Lewis said. "This complicated voucher scheme of allowing corporations to make donations to private schools and the state issuing vouchers to those non-accountable private schools is nothing more than a raid on the state treasury and public school classrooms."

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Emery Dalesio can be reached at —http://twitter.com/emerydalesio

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