(The Center Square) – With an estimated 77,000 on charter school waiting lists, lawmakers in the North Carolina House of Representatives on Tuesday will consider several bills designed to open up school choice for families.
The House Education Committee will hear three bills that could provide more school options for North Carolina families: one to expand Opportunity Scholarships, another to streamline charter school approvals, and a third to allow open enrollment in public schools.
House Bill 823, known as Choose Your School, Choose Your Future, is sponsored by top House Republicans including Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, to expand Opportunity Scholarships to all students through a tier-based system based on income.
The program is currently restricted to low- and moderate-income families to cover private school tuition and other educational expenses. Parents for Educational Freedom President Mike Long contends the expansion would mark “an incredible step toward funding students over systems in North Carolina,” while the state’s teachers association is lobbying against the bill.
The program currently helps more than 25,000 students attend 544 private schools.
The committee will also review House Bill 618, to create a Charter School Review Board to take over responsibility for approving, amending, renewing and terminating charter schools. It would reshuffle the authority of the State Board of Education; the legislation is aimed at streamlining the process, though the state board would retain oversight over the review board.
A Charter School Advisory Board as it is now can only make recommendations to the state board.
“Current members of the Charter School Advisory Board would become initial members of the Charter School Review Board,” according to a statement from the bill sponsors, including Moore. “The North Carolina Superintendent of Public Instruction’s existing ex-officio designee on the board would be changed to a voting member, bringing the total board membership to 12.”
A third bill in the House Education Committee on Tuesday would expand school choice in the public school system by creating open enrollment.
House Bill 793 states “a parent or guardian of a student who is domiciled in this State may request that the student be enrolled in a local school administrative unit other than the local school administrative unit that the student would have been enrolled in based on domicile” under current law.
Public School Open Enrollment, as the bill is known, would require school districts to adopt an open enrollment plan that details the application process and to use a lottery if there’s more demand than available. HB793 would further require schools to list on their websites capacity at each grade level, and to create a wait list if a school is at capacity.
In some counties, open enrollment already exists; in some, it’s a mix of assigned and open in an effort to be good stewards of existing buildings.
Tuesday’s hearing comes two days before a legislative crossover deadline to send legislation to the upper chamber.
HB618 and HB823 have the backing of top House Republicans, the latter with a total of 72 in support, the threshold necessary to override a veto from the governor.
HB793 is sponsored by Rep. John Bradford, R-Mecklenburg, and Rep. Allen Chesser, R-Nash, with two Republican co-sponsors.