North Carolina GOP move on school choice with new supermajority after Dem’s stunning party switch

Republican lawmakers in North Carolina are poised to push ahead with school choice legislation and other education reforms, a key policy area where the GOP has surging momentum following the high-profile defection of a Democratic legislator. State Rep. Tricia Cotham announced last week that she’s joining the Republican Party after serving her deep blue Charlotte-area district as a Democrat. While North Carolina Republicans already held strong majorities in both chambers of the state legislature, Cotham’s decision gave Republicans a veto-proof supermajority in the House in what observers described as a “political earthquake.” The threat of a veto from Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper had prevented Republicans from implementing much of their agenda, but now the GOP has a clearer path to push a wide range of legislation — including on school choice. “The House Republican caucus has for several years pushed for more reform on school choice. We believe that giving parents power over their child’s education improves educational experiences for everyone,” Rep. Jason Saine, the North Carolina House GOP caucus leader, told Fox News Digital. ” NORTH CAROLINA GOP GOES ON OFFENSE, PUSHING AMBITIOUS AGENDA WITH NEW SUPERMAJORITY IN STATE HOUSE “Representative Cotham, as a former teacher and principal, is in a unique position as an elected member of the House, to assist in badly needed reforms,” continued Saine. “She was already part of the reform team, and she’s now freer to openly work on those reforms in an environment that cares more for children than antiquated systems.” Cotham referenced school choice at a press conference last week when announcing her change of party affiliation, suggesting the Democratic Party’s stance on the issue was one reason why she became a Republican. “On issues like school choice, like charters, we have to evolve,” Cotham said in explaining her change of party. “One-size-fits-all in education is wrong for children … [Democrats] didn’t really want to talk about children. They had talking points from adults and adult organizations.” As chair of the Education K-12 House Standing Committee, Cotham is in a prime position to influence education reform bills that come out of the House. And fellow Republicans, armed with a veto-proof majority, are looking to press their advantage. “The GOP will push through significant bills on education choice and parental involvement in schools,” said Chris Sinclair, a political strategist in North Carolina. “I believe Cotham will be on board with a lot of these forthcoming bills.” NORTH CAROLINA LAWMAKER OFFICIALLY LEAVES DEMS FOR GOP, SAYS TURNING POINT WAS AMERICAN FLAG CRITICISM One such measure, House Bill 219, is designed to provide equal funding for charter school students as well as those attending traditional public schools. It would change the current factors which determine per-pupil funding that public school districts must share with local charter schools, with proponents arguing money should follow the student if their family chooses to attend a charter school. “If a student attends a charter school, the local school administrative unit in which the child resides shall transfer to the charter school an amount equal to the per pupil share of the local current expense fund of the local school administrative unit for the fiscal year,” the legislation states. According to critics, however, the current education structure in place is sufficiently fair and House Bill 219 would be taking money away from public schools. “We believe every student should have the same per-pupil amount of local tax dollars, no matter what school they go to, ” Bruce Mildwurf, director of governmental relations for the North Carolina School Boards Association, told WRAL News. “This bill significantly tilts the scales in favor of the charter schools.” “That is money out of the classroom; it is fewer teachers; it is fewer resources. Charters are benefiting at the expense of district-wide students,” continued Mildwurf. “School boards want fair funding. We currently have fair funding. This bill is unfair funding and will take millions of dollars away from school districts each year.” GOV. DESANTIS SIGNS UNIVERSAL SCHOOL CHOICE INTO LAW: ‘MONUMENTAL DAY IN FLORIDA HISTORY’ Saine dismissed such claims as “political double speak,” saying the money should go toward educating students, not supporting the current system. “Going so far as to suggest that the bill seeks to take funding from traditional students when the fact is we believe money should follow the child, not an antiquated system that has bred disparity in outcomes across the state,” said Saine.” This bill, cosponsored by several House leaders, including Rep. Cotham and myself, seeks to end the practice.” Charter school attendance in North Carolina has surged by more than 19% from 2019 to 2022, according to the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction. Such growth seems to be an indication of increased unhappiness with traditional public schools. Saine argued that while some public-school systems do well in educating students, many “fall way short and unfortunately do a great disservice to many families,” calling for new innovations to the status quo. EMBOLDENED BY NEW SUPERMAJORITY, NORTH CAROLINA REPUBLICANS GO TO WORK ON TRANSGENDER BILLS “Unfortunately, many in education refuse to innovate or acknowledge shortcomings,” said Saine. “What probably alarms guys like Midruff is his message rings empty on representatives like me and others. The district I represent has never received the ‘fair funding’ he claims exists and actually receives the least under the current system he defends. What’s an even bigger counter to the educational left’s argument is our district does far more in performance measures with less money than all other systems.” House Bill 219 may be just one of several education reform measures pushed by Republicans. “Expansion of school choice, election law reforms, as well as many other issues are still being discussed and planned,” said Saine. “Having just completed the House budget proposal and receiving the vote of nine Democrats on our budget bill, which also included a number of policy reforms, we think we are in a good place to continue to move our agenda forward.” The state House on Thursday approved a two-year budget plan that now goes to the Senate for a vote. The budget expands school choice by growing private-school choice programs and charter schools, in part through the Opportunity Scholarship Program, a means-tested scholarship designed to allow low- and moderate-income families to attend the private school of their choice. Cooper had proposed a budget that would eventually phase out Opportunity Scholarships.
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