The bill, which has at least 16 Republican and zero Democratic supporters, would come with significant appropriations
(The Center Square) – While Medicaid expansion in North Carolina hinges on Gov. Roy Cooper and legislative Republicans agreeing on a budget, efforts to expand school choice may become a significant factor in negotiations.
Republicans’ staunch opposition to Medicaid expansion shifted last year. Cooper signed the state’s two most recent budget bills following regular vetoes since taking office in January 2017.
Last week, the General Assembly sent the governor legislation to expand Medicaid that’s contingent on a separate state budget bill to be enacted into law to finalize the deal. That reality complicates efforts to close the gap between Cooper’s proposed budget to increase spending by 18%, and Republicans’ vow to cap growth at 6.5% in the first year and 3.75% in the second year of the biennial budget cycle.
Republican-sponsored legislation pending in the House will undoubtedly weigh on those negotiations.
House Bill 420, sponsored by Rep. Donnie Loftis, R-Gaston, aims to “Expand and Consolidate K-12 Scholarships” by phasing out the Opportunity Scholarship Program in favor of one that would eventually provide 100% of the state’s per pupil allotment for any student to attend non-public schools. Cooper, despite personal family decisions, has opposed school choice and surprised many in 2022 when he signed a proclamation for School Choice Week, something he did not do this year.
HB420 would establish a new education savings account program eligible to any North Carolina family without regard to income, phased in over three years. The program would launch in the 2024-25 school year by providing students 33% of their share of state per pupil funding, which would increase to 66% in the 2025-26 school year, then to 100% in 2026-27. The bill would also offer homeschooled students 28% of the allotment each year.
The per-student state funding was worth $7,426 in 2022. HB420 comes as North Carolina experienced significant growth in school choice during the pandemic while public school enrollment declined.
Students and their families could use the money for approved educational expenses, including private school tuition, technological devices, tutoring services and textbooks.
HB420 would replace the state’s Opportunity Scholarship Program and ESA+ program, the former aimed at helping low-income families attend private schools and the latter for students with special needs.
The bill, which has at least 16 Republican and zero Democratic supporters, would come with significant appropriations. The funding would range from between about $50 million and $326 million for fiscal year 2024-25 and increase each year to between about $57 million and $1.5 billion by fiscal year 2032-33.
Cooper, meanwhile, plans to phase out the Opportunity Scholarship Program in his proposed budget, though he’s suggested the same in prior budget proposals without success.
Cooper also now has less leverage to reject any budget approved by the General Assembly following the November elections. Republicans expanded a supermajority necessary to override vetoes in the Senate and came one seat shy of the same in the House.
Cooper’s veto on Friday of Republicans’ effort to repeal a 110-year-old pistol purchase permit could provide the first test of the lame-duck governor’s remaining political power if Republicans attempt to override.
Senate Bill 41, which also included measures to allow concealed carry of firearms at religious services that share locations with private or charter schools and a two-year firearm safe storage awareness initiative, cleared the Senate on a party line vote and garnered support from three Democrats in the House.
HB420 was assigned to the House Committee on Appropriations last week.
Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.
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