Democrats claim school vouchers detract from child care grants

Democrats claim school vouchers detract from child care grants File photo

As the July 1 budget deadline for Child Care Stabilization grants approaches, it appears the Republican-led North Carolina House and Senate are struggling to agree on how to spend the $30 billion or so taxpayer dollars slated for the upcoming fiscal year. 

Perhaps the hottest topic in the new budget is whether $500 million should be included to provide vouchers to help families pay for private school for their children. While Republicans claim that including that money would be a massive win for school choice, Democrats argue that it provides a means for taxpayer dollars to go toward religious educational institutions normally attended by children from wealthier households.

Ultimately, Democrats argue that the money could be better spent — for example, $300 million of that money could fill the gap in child care stabilization grants that are set to expire at the end of this month (see CHILD CARE CRISIS).

Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper hasn’t been shy in letting legislators and residents know about the serious issues he has with the proposed voucher money, and it seems likely he will veto any budget that includes it.

“They [private schools] don’t have to tell taxpayers what they teach, how their students perform, which students they will reject or whether students even show up at all,” he said in a March press conference. “That is a reckless, reckless waste of taxpayer money.” 

Meanwhile, some Democratic legislators have outright said the money for vouchers should instead go toward child care.

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A May 30 NC Newsline story quotes the House and Senate Democratic leaders, Rep. Robert Reives (D-Sanford) and Sen. Dan Blue (D-Raleigh) as saying Republicans’ priorities in those two areas are backward.

“Rather than ensuring that every child in North Carolina has access to high quality education and child care, they’re funneling taxpayer dollars into private school vouchers,” said Blue.   

That story notes that Reives said the federal grant money has been a “lifeline” for working families and the business community, helping ensure child care centers continued to function and working parents could balance work and family life.

“With that money ending, now the state needs to step up and bridge the divide,” he said. “But instead, the focus of this session so far has been to subsidize private school education for millionaires.”

“In this building, we have had our priorities backward,” Reives added. “How much more of an impact would hundreds of millions of dollars for child care centers have on our state than handouts to wealthy families for private school tuition.” 

“It’s a ridiculous, to me, supposition, that what we need to do is take care of the wealthiest of us,” Reives concluded. “I think that responsible people here — corporations agree with this, the NC Chamber agrees with this, wealthy people agree with this. But for some reason, we decided that we’re going to prioritize our top 1% economically and just tell the other 99% figure it out as you go.” 

However, Sen. Kevin Corbin (R-Macon) strongly disagreed that there’s some kind of binary choice between any two potential budget items.

news Clampitt Corbin

Mike Clampitt (left), Kevin Corbin (right). File photos

“It’s easy to make comparisons and pit this part of the budget against that part,” he said. “The process is politically charged and always has been, but I don’t pit one item in the budget against the other, even though that might make for interesting conversation.” 

To wit, Corbin said he supports both the $300 million for child care stabilization grants and the $500 million for school vouchers, although he was more passionate about the funding for child care stabilization grants.

While Corbin was less enthusiastic about the school vouchers, saying simply “it’s a thing in the budget” that he supports, Rep. Mike Clampitt (R-Swain) strongly supported the vouchers, called “opportunity scholarships.” However, he did note that he thought those vouchers may work to the benefit of urban areas more than rural districts like the one he represents.

“Because of the nature of these locations, there will be more of the opportunities in the urban areas because of more availability of schools in those areas, but it does still give people opportunities here,” Clampitt said.

Clampitt noted that he doesn’t like the framing of the vouchers and the child care stabilization grants as a binary choice either, although he did concede that tough decisions will have to be made.

“The media initially reported a $1.6 billion surplus for the state, but that’s closer to $1 billion,” he said. “Since we didn’t meet those projections, we’ll have to think about some of these things.”

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